ArnieWeissmannBerliners have a special word -- wende -- for the changes that occurred after the wall fell and their city, reunited, quickly became a very different place. It's a new usage for an old nautical term referring to a swift change in wind direction that requires an equally swift change in a ship's direction.

This week's cover story looks at various aspects of social media. Not surprisingly, social media was also the topic des Tages at the PhoCusWright Bloggers Summit held in Berlin last week in conjunction with the behemoth ITB travel trade show. And if the discussions there were representative of chatter among bloggers elsewhere, the virtual wende sweeping the blogosphere goes by the name of Twitter.

PhoCusWright conferences are unlike other industry shows. For example, attendees at the Bloggers Summit had several ways to ask questions during sessions. They could (in order of diminishing contemporaneousness) Twitter, send text messages, type in questions at PhoCusWright's website, send an email or simply raise their hands.

Questions submitted electronically were displayed on a large screen behind presenters, and the audience texted which ones they liked best. The most popular were answered first.

In one session, bloggers debated "The Top Social Media Trends for Travel & Tourism." Based on both panelist votes and the amount of time it was the topic of discussion, Twittering -- a medium to blast short messages to "followers" who have opted in -- was dominant.

(Interestingly, when it came time to actually vote on the various trends -- by texting, of course -- the audience best liked the idea that corporate CEOs would finally understand the importance of social media and would hire social media specialists. Of course, this poll might have been biased by bloggers in the audience who want to be hired as social media specialists.)

In contrast to Twitter, Facebook was not mentioned until 30 minutes after the session began, and "Google" wasn't uttered until 45 minutes in. (And then only because someone in the audience asked, "Isn't it amazing that no one has mentioned Google?") 

Twitter, on the other hand, "has become the new blog," said Kevin May, editor of Travolution.

Vasco Sommer-Nunes, founder of the social media advertising site Mokono said that Twitter enables users to "push your opinion into other communities."

And Darren Cronian, editor of a consumer blog about the travel industry, voted Twitter his top social trend, as did Austrian National Tourist Office Chief Information Officer Martin Schobert (http://blog.austria.info/main).

Several other concepts were in contention for "top trend," having been floated by panelists. Klaus Hildebrandt, editor of the German travel trade publication FVW International, suggested that traditional media companies will increase their adoption rates for any medium that enables them to strengthen their relationship with readers. "One brand, several media," he said.

Travolution's May predicted that public relations specialists would increasingly adopt social media to get their messages out, and might zero in on "crowdsourcing," a way to look at who is friends with whom, and who their friend's friends are, etc., to better understand their target's network.

He also brought up the concept of "hyperlocal," in which media companies can create niche services for small, localized communities, and cited a newspaper that creates communities for people on particular streets, who then, as citizen journalists, create news from their block and can also check out news occurring on the blocks around them.

Austria's Schobert believes one shouldn't merely adopt every medium just because it's available. "Don't just say, 'What tools should I use?' The first question should be, 'What are my goals?'" He believes there's tremendous potential for destination marketers in the use of maps with embedded information.

After the session, I returned to my hotel room and signed up to Twitter. I had been reluctant to do so before; earlier that week, I had told a fellow Travel Weekly staffer I couldn't possibly Twitter because, after company email, personal email, Facebook, my column, speeches and webcasts (can't remember if I mentioned my wife, three children and nonvirtual friends and relatives), my need and desire to communicate was exhausted.

But, I rationalized, a Twitter message -- a "tweet" -- is very short, limited to only 140 characters (about the length of this very sentence). Surely I can do that once a day.

(If you want to follow my progress on this resolution, become a follower at www.twitter.com. My user name is awtravelweekly).

While I fully intend to tweet once a day, I'm reminded of a story a friend once told me. He's a big fan of the Cleveland Browns and was a slavish reader of an e-newsletter devoted to the team. The newsletter was a one-man show, produced by another fanatical team supporter.

One day the e-newsletter stopped coming.

My friend wrote to ask what happened. He got a three-word reply: "Had a baby."

There's no question that the average age of attendees at the PhoCusWright Bloggers Summit was about 20 years younger than the folks who show up at most industry conferences. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace might not be only for the young, but they do put demands on one's time, and the longer one lives, the more demands tend to build up.

One question that appeared on the screen above the stage but never rose very high, was: "How in the world will I ever keep up with all this technology?"

I can relate. But for now, I'll Twitter. Yet, I eagerly await the next app, the one that combines all my communication needs in one neat package.

Please tweet me when you find it.

Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected].

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