Thursday, October 1, 2009
I recently spoke with social media expert and travel guru Michael Dalesandro, CEO of Whereivebeen.com to discuss his views on the social media landscape and the nature of his business. Michael had a lot to say about brand engagement in regards to social media, how social media is becoming the main gateway to the internet and how relevance is what drives purchasing decisions. Brands can speak to their customers where they live online and how they can turn that conversation into profit.
Michael's many responsibilities as CEO of Where I've Been include leading the strategic direction, positioning, finances and business development of the company. Because of his obsessive bidding at a charity auction, Michael purchased a trip around the world and has not stopped traveling since. His favorite travel destinations include Istanbul, Florence & Bali. Michael is a career long entrepreneur who started in the financial and derivatives space.
In our conversation, Michael focused on the fact that we no longer live in a "push" society, where advertisers push their messaging onto the consumer. The evolution is that social media is fast becoming a place where brands must become part of the conversation versus just deliver the message. Certain consumer brands, like Coca Cola, realize the relevance of social media, whereas, other segments are taking longer to find ways to engage their audiences. An exception to this is, Michael Dalesandro, a local Chicago business owner, his travel company WhereIveBeen.com embraces the conversation and understands the importance of always being social.
Five years ago, "social media" was not a top gateway to the Internet. People went online to search (Yahoo, Google, MSN) or check email. Today, that has shifted significantly. Many users are going online to check their Facebook pages, they are receiving information on Facebook, looking for information, whereas five years ago they relied mostly on search.
Where I've Been's goal is helping figure out where they want to go based on where their friends have been. People share their travels by the easy graphical interface. People use social media, they love to brag and they love to share. Travelers, in particular, like to share their experiences and people love to know where their friends have been - whether it is planning your next trip to Rome or what Italian restaurant to visit, right here in Chicago's Little Italy. Where I've been is able to focus on both the Global and Local. Our goal is to help you get to where you want to go and what to do when you get there based upon your friends experiences. Traditionally this conversation has taken place on the phone or in person, we've taken that conversation and brought it online enhancing it by adding beautiful visuals and maps.
Started out on Facebook
Started back in June of 2007, when founder Craig Ulliott wanted to share with his friends where he's been so he created a Facebook application. The creation of the original application took a weekend and from there, it ended up growing to over 9 million users. Being a seasoned entrepreneur, I was involved with a local design shop Blueye where Shannon Smith introduced me to Craig. We currently have eight employees (four developers, a community manager, content manager, account manager and me).
What is next for Where I've Been
We give our users the tools to create the conversation between each other, to share their experiences and we allow them to become the experts on travel. We want to socially enable the travel community. We want to be make it so people can see their map when they're booking their flights and hotels.
Collected over a half a billion travel intents (where people disclose where I've been, where I want to go and where I've lived on the WIB site) and by extending that relevance to other travel sites, we can not only socially enable our partners but by leveraging our rich database of travel intent and travel conversation, our partners and users can continue the conversation, seamlessly, throughout the social, travel web.
Other facts about WIB
Where I've Been is a Chicago start up, they reside in a loft office in the Bucktown neighborhood. They currently have 836,000 monthly active users on Facebook application, whereas, American Airlines has 1,402, Priceline has 99 active users on their Facebook application, Travelzoo doesn't have an application, nor do they have any fans. Michael Dalesandro refuses to leave Chicago because he understands that there is a really strong Social Media movement here that got started with the Obama Campaign.