Today’s post is by Dan Morris, Sr. Product Manager at Marin Software.
Over the past year, signs of global economic recovery have brought optimism to marketers across key consumer-based industries. In particular, the travel industry has seen signs of growth from a number of trends including reduced unemployment rates, increased disposable income, and improved consumer optimism.
Despite the pervasive optimism stemming from significant improvements in forecasted consumer demand, marketers in the travel industry will also face several new challenges in 2013. Relatively new startups like AirBnB have shaken the hotel industry by offering a low-cost, community-driven alternative to traditional travel accommodations.
As social media adoption continues to grow exponentially, consumers will increasingly seek recommendations from their social networks on travel purchase decisions, and marketers cannot underestimate the influence of customer recommendations via social media channels. According to PhoCusWright’s Social Media in Travel 2012, more than 75% of travelers use social networks to find some type of shopping-related deal, while 30% specifically seek out travel-related deals.
It is clear that to succeed in this evolving social ecosystem, businesses in the travel industry will need to cultivate positive customer experiences that can be translated into efficient marketing opportunities through social media.
Positive reviews, user-generated content, and engaged, loyal customer networks on social media have proven they can make or break a travel service provider. However, despite this, recent research from Barclays bank found that over 10% of UK hospitality and leisure operators do not use social media, and over 60% see only a limited opportunity in investing in paid social media efforts.
This data suggests that a disconnect still exists between travel consumer trends and travel marketer investments. Fortunately, for marketers, Facebook has emerged as a viable channel for building awareness, shaping positive sentiment, promoting word of mouth marketing from loyal customers and driving website referrals and sales. With over 1.1 billion users, Facebook has become a hotbed for travel customers in their research process – which means travel marketers using the platform have a huge opportunity to influence decisions.
Below are four quick tips marketers in the Travel vertical for how to use Facebook and other social media to turn your customers into your greatest marketing asset.
1.) Ensure You Are Optimized For Facebook Open Graph Search – Facebook recently expanded its beta version of its Graph Search capability, which presents a massive opportunity for marketers in the travel space. If you have a local hotel, inn, restaurant, or tourism business, Graph Search may help you gain exposure to new audiences.
For example, let’s say a potential customer is looking to book a hotel for Labor Day weekend. He can query “hotels my friends like” to narrow down the list of hotels to those his social network has shown affinity towards. Graph Search could become an alternative to review sites as it simplifies and personalizes the travel research process to by providing you with endorsements from your network.
To ensure your page is properly optimized for Graph Search, ensure your location is spelled out clearly on your Facebook Page. Make sure to clearly describe the type of travel offering you provide as well as the location. Also, keep in mind that the larger your fan network is, the greater the likelihood your company will rank for a given query. Continue to grow your fan base, and ask satisfied customers to leave reviews of their travel experience on your fan page.
2.) Turn Customer Engagement Into Your Marketing Assets – Travel customers are increasingly looking to social media as a credible source of information when looking to make a travel purchase. In particular, Facebook has emerged the most useful and trustworthy for social media site (according to eMarketer.com).
Marketers can take advantage of this consumer research trend by posting content meant to engage their fan base, and promoting these engagements through paid ads.
For example, a leading global hotel chain posts pictures of their most alluring and captivating hotel locations and then invites Fans to share their experiences at said destination. This call to action will lead to often lead to comments, shares, and likes of the original post. The hotel chain’s marketing team then uses Marin Software to promote posts with high levels of engagement (based on the posts’ Virality score) to the friends of the Fans who have engaged with the post.
Additionally, the brand uses Sponsored Stories ad units to promote the Likes and Comments made about the Page Post to Facebook users not already connected with the brand. Effectively, the hotel chain is using Facebook to turn Facebook engagements with their brand into powerful marketing assets with the power to reach a vast set of new customers. Marketers in the travel vertical should take advantage of Page Post ads and Sponsored Stories ad units to influence travel customers who are passively and actively using the channel for research purposes.
3.) Encourage Check-Ins, Photo, and Video Sharing – According to PhoCusWright’s Social Media in Travel 2012, 52% of Facebook users said their travel plans were affected by seeing friends’ pictures of trips. Of people who had already made travel plans, only 48% stuck with their original plan after checking out what was being said on social media channels – 33% went on to change their hotel and 7% altered their entire trip by changing destinations.
Clearly, photo sharing on Facebook has emerged as a massive opportunity for marketers in the Travel industry to influence purchase decisions of potential customers. The question is not if customers are sharing photos of their travel experiences throughout their network; the question is how can travel marketers use this proactively generated user content to their advantage?
For one, travel marketers should integrate photo sharing into their offline events. For example, a Marin client in the hotel industry recently held an anniversary event and asked customers to share photos of the event in exchange for a free drink. Marketers could also hold a photo sharing contest on their website or through a custom app like Offerpop or Votigo, where loyal fans are asked to share their favorite photo at one of the hotel’s destinations in exchange for an incentive.
Finally, marketers should encourage check-ins at physical locations at every opportunity. Check-ins can be turned into Sponsored Stories ads and targeted to the friends of users who checked in at your location. Check-in Sponsored Stories can be effective word-of-mouth marketing, which Facebook users will interpret as positive affinity towards your brand from their social network.
4.) Re-Engage the Customers Who Have Expressed Interest in Your Brand – According to Forbes.com, 99% of travel customers visit more than one website when planning a trip (source). This statistic is critically important for Travel Marketers and highlights the need to retarget potential customers who abandon their website visit.
Travel marketers should leverage the Facebook Exchange (FBX) to retarget customers on Facebook who have expressed interest in your brand or intent to make a purchase. Customer data should be segmented based on purchase intent, or stage of the buying cycle the customer appears to be in. Marketers should utilize a platform that buys on FBX to deliver customers a customized, compelling message and a reason to return to your website.
For example, serve abandoned website visitors’ dynamic creative based on the destination or location they engaged with. Marketers should also look to cap the number of impressions each unique user can be served through FBX to avoid “over-serving” the user on Facebook.
Travel marketers can also leverage Facebook’s Custom Audience targeting to accomplish a similar goal. Custom Audience targeting allows marketers to retarget Facebook users based on offline information about the user captured and stored in the advertiser’s internal database. For example, hotel companies cluster their customer data in a variety of ways including properties visited, locations visited, average revenue per visit, and lifetime value. Using Custom Audiences, travel marketers can target Facebook users linked to their internal database with custom messages depending on the “list” or segment they fall under.
FBX and Custom Audiences both offer travel marketers a cost-efficient and effective means of influencing purchase decisions and driving potential customers back to their website for conversion.
The travel industry is forecasted to experience significant growth over the next several years, which has led to optimism amongst industry marketers looking to capitalize on increased consumer demand for travel products and services. It is more important than ever for travel marketers to adjust their strategies to the consumer’s increased reliance of peer recommendations to make buying decisions.
Marketers have the opportunity to influence buying decisions through Facebook, which travelers have found to be both the most useful and most trustworthy social networking website. Marketers in the travel industry should focus on encouraging positive feedback, photo sharing, and check-ins, which they can turn into word-of-mouth using Facebook ads. They should also engage interested prospects and loyal customers through data driven re-targeting using FBX or Custom Audiences.
– Dan Morris is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Marin Software, where he has worked since 2010. Dan has over several years of online marketing and client services experience in the agency and technology fields. Dan also holds an MBA from University of Massachusetts.