I’ve worked in the travel industry for nearly a decade and a lot has changed. That includes the growing buzz around mobile and social – specifically Facebook. Consumers use it and use it intensely (over 20 minutes per session). So, naturally, businesses are trying to harness that attention to drive interest and bookings.
Facebook recently announced major but controversial changes aimed at increasing stickiness to maximize ad revenues. Effects of these changes were immediate. Growth in unique visitors (UVs) (blue line) slowed as the influx of new visitors barely offset those “breaking up” with Facebook. Page views dropped 30% m-o-m (green line). Other KPIs such as Visits, Average Stay, Visits/Person and Pages/Visit also declined (not shown). The impacts may be short-lived as consumers adjust and, even with slower growth, Facebook still boasts over 800 million members worldwide, so its potential to reach vast numbers of internet users remains huge.
Today, travel brands use Facebook to drive brand awareness and audience engagement and ultimately increase visits and bookings on their sites. That’s evolving as some brands encourage visitors to book directly via their Facebook brand pages. Compete assessed how brand sites in our Travel category are reaching these users based on upstream and downstream traffic from Facebook.com, and benchmarked Travel against other industries.
Results are not immediately positive, despite most Travel brands referencing their Facebook pages on their sites and elsewhere. Travel sites accounted for 8.3 million Facebook referrals in September, but that was only 0.3% of the 3.4 billion total (not shown). The low share may signal a disconnect between Travel and Facebook. Search and email aside, sites in the Music & Video, News & Media, and Shopping categories were the leading upstream (not shown) and downstream categories for Facebook. Only 0.3% of people leaving Facebook subsequently reach a Travel site.
Compete next assessed the inbound and outbound rank of Facebook among the leading travel sites getting referrals from Facebook (sorted by inbound rank). Consistent with the general September decline in Facebook KPIs m-o-m, nearly all of the sites’ referrals to Facebook declined.
But within Travel Facebook is far more often a part of the research process for supplier shoppers than for OTA shoppers. Facebook’s average rank as a referring site for supplier sites is 4 vs. 11 for OTAs and for outbound it is 3 for suppliers and 8 for OTAs based on sites shown.
Consumer perception may be one of the reasons Travel appears to be under-indexing in Facebook interaction relative to other categories. Respondents to a recent Compete survey indicated their expectations of current or future travel services on Facebook are generally much worse than for current online travel resources for research and booking.
Clearly, Travel brands have a long way to go to realize Facebook’s full potential and so far there’s no clear winner. Unfortunately, this also means there’s no palpable success story to emulate. But the upside exists: Other Compete studies have shown a positive correlation between visits to Facebook brand pages and conversion. However, those studies also show minimal overlap between brands’ Facebook pages and the same brand’s website – less than 10% on occasion. Unless Travel brands are successfully using Facebook as a retail channel (resulting in less of a need to drive Facebook visitors to the actual website), it’s obvious they must improve their interaction with Facebook users. How might a Travel brand approach this issue?
- Understand and emulate the success of non-travel brands using Facebook, including the leading sites within each successful category
- Identify key variations in social media strategy among Travel supplier sites and OTAs that drive differences in referral results and subsequent behavior
- Prepare for changes on social media properties based on determining the extent to which consumers are shifting from Facebook to other social media channels
- Isolate consumers’ expectations of branding and advertising within Facebook, such as through behaviorally targeted surveys
Ryan Williams is the Director of Travel at Compete. At Compete, Ryan is responsible for interpreting online consumer behavior data and delivering custom competitive insight and recommendations to top brands across the travel industry. Prior to joining Compete, Ryan spent 14 years with major online retail and travel brands such as Expedia and Amazon. Connect with Ryan on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanewilliams.