metzAdam Metz is the principal at Metz, a strategic consulting firm whose clients have included Mighty Leaf Tea, Passport hotels and the San Francisco Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. His second book about social-media marketing, Dance on a Volcano, is scheduled to be released next year.

You’ve done a lot of work in the hospitality industry and spoken at the Social Media Strategies for Travel conference in San Francisco earlier this year. What’s different or challenging about marketing to airline passengers or hotel guests? How do you take into account the very specific frame of mind and spending habits of the transumer?

The transumer is interesting, because four or five years ago customers couldn’t do much about a negative experience unless they wanted to make a phone call, or maybe it would show up on their blog three or four days later. That’s no longer the case. Negativity is a real-time experience in this market. If I’m having a bad experience on an airline or checking in to a hotel, it’s not going to show up the next day on Yelp. It’ll show up immediately on Facebook, Twitter or some other channel. I’ve seen negative comments by prominent CEOs or celebrities who can do a lot of damage. Or if you happen to know the person making the complaint, and you know they’re a patient person, you’re like, “Oh, wow, if he’s complaining about this hotel, they must have really screwed up.”

That’s what’s so difficult about the travel industry. Brand monitoring has got to be a 24/7 thing. If an airline says, ”Oh, but we can’t do that, we like to send people home at around 6 p.m.,” my answer is, “Then it’s time to build offices in Dubai and Barcelona, so you can take care of your customers.” Just because a company shuts the door of its L.A. office at 6, doesn’t mean they stop doing business. I don’t really have much pity for a billion-dollar corporation that can’t handle its own reputation management.

Talking about reputation management, have you seen “United Breaks Guitars”? Last month, country singer Dave Carroll posted a music video on YouTube that skewered United Airlines baggage handlers for allegedly mishandling his guitar. The video went viral, the mainstream media picked up the story, and United’s online image seems to have suffered a serious blow. If United were your client, how would you advise them to respond? Is it better to downplay the issue until the story clears or address it head-on, even if that risks perpetuating the story?

I’d tell United to start a band, like, yesterday. Get every musician in the entire company and get them to sing a song called, “Dave, we’re sorry we broke your guitar.” They would really have to up the ante. There would be a hip-hop remix, a dance remix, a country version. They’d have to get the entire Chicago Cubs team, Mayor Daley and, it goes without saying, United’s CEO. Think “We Are the World” of broken luggage. If they did this, Caroll would probably say, “It’s cool. You made a really awesome video, and you replaced my guitar.”

I estimate the hard cost of that video would be close to $500,000 or $1 million, but that’s probably one tenth of the money they’ve lost at this point. Now every single musician in the free world who’s been on YouTube knows that if you’re bringing your instrument, you don’t fly United Airlines. That video’s been up for, what, a month now? United’s really dropping the ball on this one.

What are your thoughts on travel portals such as Virgin Atlantic’s vtravelled, British Airways’ Metrotwin and Air Canada’s enRoute Online? Some critics have questioned whether there really is sufficient marketing size for itinerary-sharing or user-generated content websites. Do these sites help build customer loyalty, or is it all just a big Web 2.0 experiment?

I’m not familiar with the other sites but I know some of the people behind vtravelled. In my opinion, the site has some wonderful content, but one critical flaw – a lack of social proofing. Users can’t communicate with each other through the interface. This makes it difficult to foster community and raises the question, ‘Why should I care about other peoples’ travel plans?’ If I’m not sure how other folks are using the site, I’m less inclined to stick around myself.

How important a role does content play in the social strategies you work on? What are some ways your clients have used non-advertorial content to help customers engage with their brands?

Content is absolutely core to what we do. We’re about to kick off an implementation for an international shoe company that has very little to do with shoes. Look at the Nike Women’s Marathon. It’s such a landmark event because it empowers many women to run their first marathon. That’s a life-changing event. People don’t get excited about new shoes; they get excited about life-changing events. In an age where we’re able to surf the Internet on airplanes, advertisers are not going to grab people’s attentions with content that’s blatantly advertorial. If content is not utilitarian, not valuable in itself, it doesn’t stand a chance on the social web.