Why Facebook Will and Will Not Work For the Travel Industry – Part 1

Over the last few weeks I have been involved in several conversations about Facebook and how marketers, specifically destination marketing organizations, can tap into this seemingly endless pot of consumer gold. First, during the Benson workshop which was part of my ‘How to Create an Interactive Marketing Plan‘ series offered by the Arizona Office of Tourism (Which, by the way, was a great experience).

Then again by Mo, who had been approached by someone who was using facebook as a marketing tool, but going about it in the wrong way.

Or at least we thought so.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Facebook or MySpace, read our ‘Word of the Week’ post on facebook.

Thoughts// What a perfect subject as we head into 2008, because there was no bigger buzz or buzzword than ‘facebook’ in 2007. It was everywhere, growing at an astronomical rate, and everyone, including your grandmother seemed to be on facebook. And in came the marketers. If there are 60 million people in one spot online, you can be sure that we marketers are going to figure out a way to get in front of them. Which starts our conversation, how should you use facebook as a marketing tool?

Basically, there are two options…(1) buy traditional banner (display) ads or some form of sponsorship on facebook or (2) set up a profile or group for your product and be ‘friends’ with everyone. Let’s talk about option #2, the method that everyone seems to be trying.

Anyone and any organization can set up a profile on facebook for free. Which is exactly the problem. Just because it is free and available does not mean you have to use it. Here is the first question to ask yourself before setting up a facebook page: Are people passionate about my product?

All of you saying, ‘yes, of course.’ Sorry, afraid not. Let’s look at some brands/things people are passionate about:

Diet Coke
Southwest Airlines
Key West
Movies / Actors
Music / Bands

Not Passionate:
Best Buy
Minute Maid
General Mills
Most States
Most Cities

You get the idea.

Of course, these are very general statements…there are some people out there who are very, very passionate about Minute Maid Orange Juice. However, when you look at a product like Diet Coke, which people are practically addicted to, you can begin to see a difference in ‘passion.’

For example, if you go onto facebook and search for Diet Coke, there are currently 500+ groups who are ‘addicted’ (in some form or another) to Diet Coke. On the first results page alone there are 10,393 members in 10 groups. 10,000 people who have proclaimed openly they like and want Diet Coke! Compare that to Best Buy, which lists one group…Best Buy Employees…with 2,774. Not a surprise, why would I want to be friends with a giant concrete and steel box (store)?

Same rule applies for Southwest, Disney and Key West. People, and you know some of these people, love these companies/brands. They have whole walls or even rooms filled with Mickey Mouse, little airplanes or conch shells that say ‘life’s a beach’ on them.

Now you could create a new group for these people to join, but if they are already part of another group, why would they want to join your corporate-controlled, PC, don’t use any bad words group? Most marketers would probably be more successful in marketing their products to this group of passionate people via traditional ads. Or perhaps giving the members exclusive downloads, wallpapers, etc.

As Mo mentioned while we were speaking about this subject, why would we (as consumers) want to use facebook or MySpace to network directly with brands? Most of us are on these social networking sites to connect with friends or family. Rather than be friends with my Toyota.

While there are some positive results from this type of advertising, unfortunately a lot of brands are trying to force their marketing efforts into the facebook model with limited success (see our post and thoughts on the Sprite Sips facebook effort).

As I have said repeatedly, this theory does not apply to all brands across the board. Each marketing situtation needs to be evaluated separately. However, in the case of social networking sites such as facebook, you need to start the evaluation by determining how many of those 60 million users would be passionate about your brand.

If the answer is not many, you should probably look towards another marketing opportunity.

In part 2 of this post, how the travel industry could use social networking sites as an effective marketing tool.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.