Time to Rebrand Yourself as a Trusted Consumer

It’s no secret that consumers trust each other more—even if they don’t know each other—than a third party. They might take information they read on Twitter as fact, more readily than they would, say, an ad, or someone they believe is trying to sell them something. The growth of the website Yelp.com is a testament to this trend. Yelp, if you haven’t seen it, is a site comprised solely of consumer reviews of local businesses, which could include hotels, restaurants, and even dentists, hair salons and mechanics. I’ve used Yelp to locate a guy in my area who can replace zippers in leather purses (a fading craft, I must say) and I’ve gotten my haircut in a place that received good ratings for its service and pricing. I’ve used Yelp to sound off about the dry cleaner in my neighborhood who is rude to customers and to criticize the sandwich shop in my office building that overcharges for virtually everything it sells (don’t get me started).

I’m not the only one using the service. To date, “Yelpers” have written more than 7 million reviews; the site drew an audience of more than 25 million unique visitors in August. That’s a lot of people counting on the kindness and knowledge of strangers to advise them on where to shop and what to buy.

This entire concept got me thinking about where the travel agent falls into all of this. Are you a third party who is not to be trusted as much as a guy off the street who knows only a little about travel? Should consumers believe in him more because he has a college roommate who spent a semester in France and might know of some interesting places to visit? Of course not. You’re a trusted consultant.

The fact is, however, that you’re also a fellow consumer. If anything, you’re a super consumer, because you spend all of your waking hours researching the best travel suppliers and options out there. You’re also interfacing firsthand with your clients, who are buying and using the travel products.

For this reason, why not position yourself to the public as a super consumer rather than a salesperson? This would entail creating a public identity for yourself on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Yelp and others wherein you don’t promote specials to those viewing your postings. Instead, you would opine (and not necessarily positively) about the hotels and travel companies that you know about. By becoming part of the conversation in an unbiased manner, you might rise above all the noise that’s already out there. This will take some time to get results, but my sense is that you’ll engage other consumers of travel products more adeptly than you would if you were simply promoting a deal.

Another piece of advice: Research all these social networks to determine what is being said about the suppliers you are promoting to your clients.

That way, when your customers return to you the day after you’ve presented them with some vacation options, complaining that they’ve just read on TripAdvisor that the hotel you suggested “has service that is stodgy and slow,” or that someone “ordered a hamburger from the hotel’s restaurant and when they got it, it was overcooked,” you’ll know how to respond as a super consumer, as someone who already knows about the product and can give them trusted advice.