Travel Distribution Summit North America 2013

September 2013, The Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago

2013: Is this the year of real returns and social media coming of age?

Could it be that this year will be the year that social media starts to deliver a return on investment and that social evangelists edge their way up the chain of command. Pamela Whitby investigates

Mention social media and inevitably the powers-that-be will question its ability to deliver a return on investment. The fact of the matter is social media is dynamic and difficult to measure. Perhaps this explains declining levels in investment. According to the EyeforTravel Social Media & Mobile in Travel Distribution Report, 2013 executives are committed to social media and yet there has been a year-on-year projected decline in investment. But is this wise given that EyeforTravel’s research also finds that:

1.      Consumers in developed nations can spend up to seven hours engaged with social media daily – that makes it an attractive platform to engage with people

2.      Data is becoming social media’s key unique selling point for travel brands as user bases can be segmented on a granular level. So retargeting is becoming an important tool to capitalise on detailed data and the constant consumer interaction that is taking place on social.

Facebook’s Head of Travel Global Vertical Marketing Lee McCabe believes things are changing. “The biggest trend in social media in the coming year is going to be the realisation of a return on investment,” he says. He even goes as far as to say: “In the not to distant future, when a survey asks, do you see an ROI via Facebook? I believe the answer will be 100% yes.”

McCabe sees two reasons for this:

1.      Travel marketers are testing more and more, and they’re finding scalable ROI. Through constant testing of image, message, ad type, targeting, landing page optimisation (the standard components of performance marketing) travel marketers are increasingly seeing great ROI.

2.      Facebook has come a long way in the past six months. “With our solutions, listening to partner feedback and constant product innovation, finding scalable ROI is a lot easier,” he says, citing FBX and Custom Audiences, as an example. These should be advertising components for any ROI focused travel marketer. “We are seeing constant partner success with these solutions,” he says, citing MGM Resorts International, which features as a detailed case study in EyeforTravel’s recent research, as an example.

Okay, so Facebook would say that – they need to make some money too - but yes some travel executives are beginning to see value. Tom Valentine, managing director of luxury flash sales site, Secret Escapes, a speaker at the upcoming EyeforTravel Online Marketing, Mobile and Social Media in Travel, Europe, 2013, is one of those. He recently told EyeforTravel that Facebook’s technology has “suddenly become fit for purpose”. Previously Secret Escapes ability to target on Facebook was fairly limited and felt very much like display. But with the pots of information it is now sitting on (yes data is, as EyeforTravel’s research clearly shows, becoming social’s unique selling point) Facebook has become very good at facilitating targeted sponsored messages that customer that might want to see. “When something truly organic happens on Facebook and somebody shares a sale and then a friend signs up, those interactions are really profitable,” Valentine said.

Forget science, it’s back to basics

According to Phil Butler, Senior Partner at Pamil Visions PR the value of social media as a marketing, advertising, and customer feedback channel is undeniable. “Even if exacting measurement tools are not currently in place, reaching clients on their preferred channels is not a marketing and advertising preference, it's a sheer necessity," he says.

As someone work works in PR, one might argue that he would say that, but Butler has a point when he says that hoteliers seem to have forgotten that they really should be PR experts and not accountants. In today’s world, any negative statement on any channel should be turned into a positive – the annoyed guest should be converted into a brand evangelist. “It’s not rocket science, this is basic hospitality,” he says, adding that it does, however, require that social media executives are moved up the company chain of command.

While research suggests that customers are more likely to post positive things online, there are those that can wreak havoc. The recent case of disgruntled a British Airways’ customer who used a promoted tweet to express his dismay at how the airline had handled his father’s lost luggage is the most recent example of this. Just six hours later the tweet, which was picked up by Mashable, had been read by thousands of Twitter users, retweeted and commented on. Yet BA only responded four hours later. For a powerful brand like BA, perhaps the damage is relatively minimal but it raises the question: why did it take so long for the airline to respond and is this good enough? Is this a sign of things to come?

But if you really want to want to further proof that social media matters then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the value Google places on it – especially how it returns those brands with a little G+ attached in search – then, says Butler, ROI starts to become very apparent.

Three key opportunities for Facebook

1.      Targeting– Travel marketers are understanding, and getting far better at targeting on Facebook. A common question McCabe has had lately is: “What are the most important segments that travel companies should be targeting? Do you see any huge targets?” His answer is no and his promise is a big one. “I don’t see any huge targets, I see over 1.1 billion small targets. They are reachable, scalable and waiting to be engaged. Whatever travel sub-vertical the business sits in and whatever size, we can absolutely support the growth by offering that precise connection to the consumer. We can find the people that matter to the business.”  

2.      Text to image - A picture is worth a thousand words. That definitely rings true for Facebook. Marketers are moving away from text and realising the power of the image. The right images with the right targeting spell highly engaging and effective posts. “As we move away from desktop to smaller screens this becomes even more important,” says McCabe.

3.      Search– We will begin to see a convergence here. The information that people are exposed to is growing. People are looking for a better filter. The filter of friends is important. And for this, he recommends keeping an eye on Graph Search and Nearby developments.

For more insights from Facebook join us at the Travel Distribution Summit, North America (September 23-24 September)

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