This blog post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review.
Travel budgets are under serious pressure right now. Trips that were once approved via rubber stamp now must pass through the Politburo Standing Committee to get a green light.
Thankfully, a host of social media tools can help you get the most out of every business trip you take and more clearly show ROI. They’ve certainly helped me get the most out of every hour I’m on the road. I run my own shop so getting approval isn’t an issue for me, but using these tools to fill my travel time wisely means that I can travel less, spend more time with my family, and reduce the total carbon footprint of my flying. Best of all, packing a lot into each trip means that I return home with fresh knowledge, relationships and inspiration.
Here are 10 ways social media can help you travel less but do more:
1. Have network, will travel. Nurture a national or international network of contacts in the cities you visit on a recurring basis. Commit 15 minutes a day to instant business trips: Use Twitter to respond to an update from a former co-worker. Find an old colleague on Facebook and drop a short note to connect. Build and maintain your long-distance relationships and they’ll be ready when you need them.
2. Do your homework. Set up your computer with an RSS reader that works offline (thanks to Google Gears, that now includes Google Reader). Fill up your reader with content from the sites of companies you’ll be meeting on the road. Set your reader to offline mode, and use your flight time to catch up on background research.
3. Meet and greet. Check for topical events in the city you’re visiting, before you commit to travel dates. Eventful andupcoming.org list conferences and professional gatherings in many cities.
4. Fill your dance card. Use LinkedIn, a professional networking site, to expand your network when you’re in a new city. Use advanced search to set the location you’re traveling to, and browse search results for current or prospective contacts. You can also search your destination city for fellow alumni and introduce yourself; many people are delighted to hear from alums of their alma mater.
5. Connect with fellow travelers. Don’t limit your networking to people who live near your destination. Use TripIt or Dopplr to track your travel details and share them with friends and colleagues. When you’re traveling to the same city as a fellow contact, these services will alert you to your chance to connect.
6. Grab that bulkhead. Use Seat Guru, which offers a map of airplane interiors on a huge range of models and carriers, to find the best seat on your flight. When you choose your seat using online check-in, aim for one with extra legroom (so you arrive well-rested) or an electrical outlet (so you can work in flight).
7. Pack your minutes. Use Google Maps to plot out your prospective meetings so that you can visualize all your meeting locations, and then schedule your appointments to minimize travel time and maximize meeting time. Either print out directions to carry with you, or use a GPS system to plot your routes on the fly; you’ll find you can schedule more appointments when you don’t need to allow extra time for getting lost.
8. Stay in touch. Use PhoneTag or another voicemail-to-email transcription service. When you’re on the road, it can be hard to find a quiet place to listen to messages. With PhoneTag you can get notifications and messages via e-mail (great for iPhone or Blackberry users) or via SMS (for everybody else). If you’re trying to juggle scheduling on the fly or worried about missing a call with someone you’re supposed to meet with, transcription will make your travel much, much easier.
9. Capture the card. Use shoeboxed to scan and digitize the business cards you collect on the road. Or do it yourself with Evernote: use your iPhone to snap a picture of each card you collect, and Evernote will use character recognition to make it full-text searchable (and accessible from the web or your desktop).
10. Restock your network. When you meet new colleagues on the road, ask them how they prefer to connect and stay in touch: connect on LinkedIn? Follow each other on Twitter? Become friends on Facebook? Follow up by adding them to your networks when you return, and be sure to drop them a note to thank them for meeting.
You’re now back at home with a network that’s stronger than when you left. Use your social network presence to strengthen those new connections and make the most of your leads, and you can enjoy a break before it’s time to hit the road again.
Any tools or tips I’ve forgotten that you find especially useful?