Facebook and its new battle for the attention of travelers in a destination
There’s never really been a forceful value proposition for a social network for travelers – Facebook’s global dominance has pretty much kept the competition at bay.
Why invest resources in a network entirely dedicated to travel – which most people only do on occasion — when you can use the network you invest in every day to make those same connections?
The global scale of Facebook has never been more relevant than with its new City Guides. The network has doubled down on mining its data to create a painless way to plan trips.
As Facebook itself pointed out in a statement to TechCrunch, the company has this rich data already:
“This content already exists on Facebook, and during this test we’ll be centralizing it in a way that is more personalized and relevant to you. So, this new feature can help people get a better sense of their city, or a city they’re visiting through their friends’ eyes.”
Rather than actively ask your network where you should see or where you should go, Facebook compiles relevant data into individualized City Guides.
Each user will see a unique list of interesting places within a city, all curated by the user’s friends.
Each of these recommendations can then be bookmarked. This simple integration of existing content into individual city pages makes it much easier (and way more fun) to plan a trip on Facebook.
City Guides is a response to Google Trips. There’s no denying the value of Google’s standalone trip planning app, which helps travelers “plan less, see more” by automatically pulling trip information into an itinerary and making suggestions for activities.
Yet the barrier to downloading a standalone app is high, and Facebook has the most engaged user base in the world.
Now that users see recommendations straight from their networks, hospitality businesses (especially experience-based ones, like hotels) must carefully consider how to build themselves into this new travel planning flow on Facebook.
Incentivizing the social share
Travel businesses, especially hotels and restaurants, have benefited from social sharing since the dawn of the social media era.
City Guides places yet more pressure on hospitality establishments to encourage social sharing. Since the guides pull in passive recommendations from a user’s friend, every check-in, status update or geo-tagged photo becomes a soft endorsement of the business.
Definitely do not ask directly for social shares, as that can be seen as desperate — or worse, can risk violating the terms of certain platforms. Consider what you can do to make a space or experience more shareable. Is there a mural that acts as a great back-drop for photos?
Is there something that can be left at the table after a meal that triggers a desire to share? Is there an iconic moment or look that can be created for your guests? It doesn’t have to be massive – it just has to be memorable.
New implications for distribution
Hoteliers will quickly notice that there are only four featured hotels above the fold. While it’s hard to know how valuable these organic placements are, the value could be quite high if users adopt City Guides enthusiastically.
Each of these cards can be bookmarked, creating a user-defined list that could eventually be targeted through advertising. By delivering a more comprehensive view into a particular trip plan, Facebook could leverage this data for new paid distribution channels.
Similar to the way that Expedia’s Scratchpad sets alerts for specific hotels and flights, Facebook could provide a quick-look resource for travelers to monitor for the best deals.
These cards also link directly to a brand’s Facebook page. By encouraging more profile views from travelers in the planning phase, City Guide provides an organic lift to direct bookings via the Facebook channel.
This is a promising development for hotels, who are eager to drive more direct bookings. Any business can add a call-to-action button to their Facebook page — that’s not a new development. But for those hotels who have yet to do this, City Guides is yet another reason to add a ‘Book Now’ call-to-action button.
Large markets stand to gain the most
This initial rollout of the new City Guides focuses exclusively on the largest markets. It’s not yet known whether the Facebook Places team will encourage a rollout to smaller markets.
This means that those in the largest markets stand to gain the most. In these markets, brands that are benchmarking poorly against local competitors should look to step up their efforts on Facebook.
If your brand competes in a large market, do an audit of the City Guides experience on Facebook. Is your brand delivering the most relevant information to those who visit your profile?
What are your competitors doing that might be working to pull the user into a booking? Could you implement real-time customer service on Facebook, such as a Messenger bot, that would quickly answer questions of those in the planning stage?
Or at the very least, be sure to have the click-to-call/click-to-chat functionality enabled and supported by customer service staff.
After all, there are limited minutes in each travel planning sessions. Every minute spent with your brand is one less minute a consumer has to spend with your competition!
Yet another reminder that omni-channel matters
There is an abundance of marketing channels to manage. Love it or hate it, this is the way of the world. Don’t neglect one channel too much in favor of another. While there might be traction elsewhere, the balance of power can rapidly shift in digital marketing.
Maintain your skill, knowledge and leverage with each of your channels so you can dial them up and down quickly, as dictated by the business.
Keep at it, and understand that the nuances of how different channels feed into your funnel. Even with today’s sophisticated marketing technology, sometimes it’s not obvious exactly where a potential guest drops into the funnel. So be prepared to engage with them through whichever channel they engage with you.
Nick Vivion is a writer and strategist. He was a Tnooz reporter and global events lead between August 2012 and July 2015. He was the launch co-founder of Booty's, a global street food restaurant in New Orleans and was recently AVP Operations, North America, at Zomato.