With summer in full swing and Facebook more top-of-mind with consumers than years past (for a variety of reasons), I thought it would be timely to look at one area where marketing on Facebook has been particularly impactful -- the travel industry, especially as it relates to influencing summer travel decisions.
Recently, eMarketer released a report called "Social is the new normal for travel marketers." The report validated the great degree to which travel marketers are now leveraging social media, with the majority of travel brands rapidly increasing their social media marketing budgets. This report echoes a poll from a U.K. based flight comparison website in which, remarkably, more than half (52 percent) of Facebook users stated "that seeing friends' holiday pictures had inspired them to book a holiday to the same place."
A picture's worth 1,000 words -- or $1 billion
Though it may seem hard to believe that such a high percentage of people would book travel plans based on what they're viewing on Facebook, this behavior indeed jives with recent trends in social media data. Look no further than the explosive success of Pinterest. Pinterest has proven the "power of the picture" to engage users for hours on its site. The average Pinterest user spends over an hour a month on the site -- way behind Facebook at six and a half hours a month -- but still impressive. No site approaches Facebook in terms of hours spent -- Americans spend over 100,000 years each month on Facebook, with a majority of that time flipping through photos. Why? Image-based social media can connect with us in a powerfully emotional way that text simply can't. As the old saying goes, "a picture is worth 1,000 words" (Or, in the case of Instagram, $1 billion.)
Friends "like" friend's travel recommendations
But, it's more than just beautiful images of, let's say, the Cayman Islands that is driving us to book a trip to a particular destination. While striking photos are often core to getting us to choose a destination on social media, recommendations from other consumers usually play a critical role. The travel industry recognized the potential of user recommendations years ago with Trip Advisor being the most obvious example. Certainly, many of us have checked that site to gauge what other travelers have said about a particular destination or hotel before making a purchase decision.
And yet, while websites catering to the "wisdom of the crowds" have shaped travel decisions online for well over a decade, social media sites such as Facebook represent much more powerful opportunities for marketers to reach and engage with new travelers. In fact, today it's often trusted recommendations from our Facebook friends (via their Facebook news feed) that make us aware of a destination in the first place. And, when it comes to sharing stories about one's favorite vacation spot, "like" often turns to "love" (i.e., purchasing airplane tickets and booking hotel rooms).
Facebook sharing: A sunny forecast for tourism
In spite of Facebook's rocky IPO, the company's user base is still growing at a rapid clip. In fact, based on the activity we're seeing on our clients' Facebook pages, it seems apparent that travelers are embracing the platform like never before. But, how does this all work?
By way of example, my firm recently partnered with Innovation Norway, a group responsible for the development of the official travel guide to Norway, to create a few campaigns that have inspired and connected many with the arctic lights. The Visit Norway U.S.A. Facebook page is dedicated to promoting nature-based travel to the country. Recent campaigns have been designed – through contests and pictures -- to reveal lesser-known, "sharable facts" about this beautiful Scandinavian country. For instance, a daily interactive quiz, accompanied by beautiful imagery, has resulted in a significant increase in fan engagement (and a 195 percent increase in the number of fans).
While the Facebook campaigns are only one component of Norway's current multi-platform campaign (you've probably seen the posters at bus stops, train stations, etc.), the social network provides a way to "connect" with consumers that these traditional media can't.
Another example of a socially-savvy destination is the Cayman Islands. Similar to Innovation Norway, the tourism board for the Cayman Islands is finding that quizzes and comments -- along with beautiful photos -- leads to material fan engagement and travel bookings (a 182 percent increase in the numbers of fans, and a 400 percent increase in fan engagement). The Cayman Islands conducted a "Sweepstakes-Discovery" where Facebook fans can cycle through an array of activity choices, comment on their favorite, and then enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to the Cayman Islands. As is the case with many of these successful campaigns, consumers are drawn to a tantalizing photo within one of their trusted friends' Facebook feeds, click on the "like" button, engage further via an interactive game (e.g., a sweepstakes or quiz), and ultimately purchase a vacation package.
The summer of travel has taken flight
The 900 million hearts and minds of Facebook users are increasingly welcoming social media-inspired travel recommendations. So consumers, grab your sunscreen and get ready to be enticed with more perks and contests online. As for travel marketers, your industry is well suited to continue to lead the social media curve. Remember -- when it comes to travel -- while the wisdom of crowds is important, the advice of friends is golden. Who knows what you'll love best, after all?
Roger Katz is CEO of Friend2Friend.
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