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Join the social club for savvy travellers

Something to Declare

Recently I made friends with an airline. I hadn't meant to do it, but my wife had just flown to Hong Kong with our baby daughter. Such trips are fraught with tension, but upon their arrival word reached home that not only had our daughter not vomited everywhere but that the cabin crew had been marvellous. Touched, and mightily relieved that the flight had not been 14 hours of leaking nappy and grumpy neighbour hell for all on board, my wife posted the picture to Twitter, adding the airline's account and our thanks for good measure. They replied, and now we are all the best of friends.

Lonely Planet's adventures in social media have stretched into travellers sending guidebook selfies of their travel tomes near the places where the cover shot is from; live chats with travellers around the world; and most remarkably of all, arguably, helping arrange the world's most creative marriage proposal (bit.ly/LPmarriage).

It's not all about feelgood factor: far from being a creative way to waste time, social media has real utility for travellers. It's a fast way to find out what you need to know. Airports reply to tweets asking about queues and flying conditions, hotels pass on vital information about facilities, and travellers and rail companies alike share updates (and laments) when delays strike.

And that's not all. The lines between PR, customer service and community-building blur on Facebook, Instagram and other channels. Your holiday provider is keen to cosy up to your timeline. Witness the curiously addictive posts by tour operators flagging up excited outbursts from those fresh from booking their latest cruise or sunshine break.

This slightly fuzzy take on customer service, where travel companies keep an eye on mentions of them on social media, is pretty much de rigeur now. If proof were needed of the phenomenon, Ryanair - previously best known for Michael O'Leary's response to a female questioner in a live Twitter Q&A ("Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL") - now runs photo contests and hashtags with the best of them.

Among all the bonhomie, though, travellers should think hard about how to turn this to their advantage. Twitter should probably be regarded as the first port of call for non-urgent customer service from many travel companies. They're keen to avoid a "United Breaks Guitars" explosion of viral indignation, where irate Canadian singer Dave Carroll wrote a song about how his instrument got broken on a United flight and became an internet sensation. If the person manning the account can't help you, they'll usually promptly let you know how you can get what you need. One tip: in the search for answers, don't forget that your own messages are public, too. A trail of angry posts can backfire on the poster, too.

All of this adds up, hopefully to a speedy response and a faster resolved issue. A bit more power in your hands, maybe.

Tom Hall is the Editor of lonelyplanet.com and cannot promise to respond within seconds to any tweet sent his way