Scared yet? (courtesy Unfurled at Flickr Creative Commons)Look, I understand that there are still organizations that haven’t even reached the Cluetrain Manifesto stage – they still do not understand social media and they’re still scared of it.

That’s precisely why Becky McCray and I do social media training through Tourism Currents, with a “teach you to fish” philosophy.

I mean, I freak out about cooking and I’m still scared of math after making a blazing grade of “13” on my first college pre-calculus test.  We all have our problems.

But this is ridiculous.

If you are a professional tourism person, you are by default a professional communicator. Representing a destination, attraction, hotel, shop or restaurant means that you communicate with the public (and hopefully do it well) in a proactive manner.

Professional communicators don’t let someone else horn in on their conversations. They may not always have positive conversations, they may step on their own tongue occasionally, but it’s their conversation.

That’s why tourism people must understand why something like Seth Godin’s “Brands in Public” is taking them down a fool’s path.

Sure, it looks like the “Brands” idea – having a single page with most Web mentions of your brand aggregated into one spot – would make it easy to “manage” conversations. Here’s the page for the Best Western hotel chain, so you can see what I’m talking about.

Update: Brands in Public & Squidoo is now defunct so I’ve removed some links)

Herd all those cats onto one page and give ’em the spin, for only $400/month to Mr. Godin.

Don’t be a sucker, folks. The Web does not work that way. It’s messy. It’s splattered. It’s people in all their messy, splattered, opinionated selves.  To respond to their gripes, compliments, observations and suggestions, you must engage them at the source of the discussion.

It might be on Yelp or the Chowhound forums. It might be on TripAdvisor. It might be on their personal blog, whether they have positive or negative things to say about you. It would be great if lots of the conversations were on YOUR tourism blog or Facebook Page, wouldn’t it? You know, like the Arkansas tourism blog or Iowa’s Facebook Page.

I guarantee you that the conversations of value are not going to be on some aggregator Squidoo page like “Brands in Public,” and I don’t care if it is a product of Seth Godin, the marketing and philosophical wizard (who does not allow comments on his blog posts, but I digress.)

There is no magic social media bullet. It is your basic communications roll-up-sleeves-and-engage work, with two-way tools like Twitter and Facebook and souped up to a demanding 24/7 cycle.

You can do this. You might have to spend a little money to learn things and move your online communications strategy down the road, but don’t blow $400/month on attempting to herd a pile of Web links on Godin’s site.

You’re smarter than that.