Jake Steinman, founder and and CEO of eTourism Summit met recently with Lee McCabe, Facebook’s Head of Travel, for a candid discussion about tactical ways in which destinations and attractions can use Facebook as a more effective platform.
Like the Facebook platform itself, the company’s campus in Menlo Park has changed substantially in just the year since our E-Tourism Summit (ETS) group last visited for a field trip. The complex has since grown into Main Street in a Small Town USA, with three-story buildings on both sides of the street, and they contain restaurants, bike shops, printing shops and a Facebook flagship store with all types of Facebook branded t-shirts, hoodies, and bric-a-brac.
There are “twenty-something” hipsters who seem to mix freely with more seasoned “thirty-something” adults, creating an environment that gives the headquarters the appearance of a college campus—only with an air of accountability permeating everything.
McCabe comes most recently from Expedia, where he led its hotel partnership team, and seems to have a firm grasp of the travel landscape; he has plans to grow the travel vertical team, which is based in Austin, into sub-verticals that may include one to focus on destination marketing organizations.
An excerpted version of our question-and-answer session follows: (Photo : Lee McCabe (left) at FB headquarters)
ETS: What advice would you have for travel industry sectors such as DMOs or attractions that are using Facebook’s ad platform to target prospective fans that most likely to engage with them?
McCabe: One of the biggest problems that most travel companies have is that they built an original fan base that doesn’t have an affinity for their product or destination. A good example of a DMO success is Tourism Australia, as they follow these basic principles:
o The foundation of their fan base consists of Australians who are passionate about their country
o Their fans have friends who have visited Australia
o You have those who may not know anyone living in Australia, but have visited the country and have enough passion for it to continue engaging. Nearly 90 percent of their posts are user generated. Your best marketers are friends that have been to the destination.ETS: What can the average destination say Berkeley, California learn from them?
McCabe: You really only need a few hundred people to create a rich content engine. For example, if they only had 500 fans in the beginning and their average post is seen by 30 percent of their fans, that becomes their benchmark. That means that there are some posts that are seen by only 10 percent of their fans and others that might be viewed by 50 percent. The post with the higher engagement is somehow resonating with your fan base and the best way to expand is by:
o Including similar posts in the same time slot on a similar topic
o Boost your post by using non-organic ads on Facebook to help find your target audience. For example, if a post depicting a scuba diver has generated high engagement, you target scuba divers within a 1,000-mile radius of your destination.
o This advice can be summarized by:
Boost posts that engage beyond your benchmark
ETS: How many times per day should brands post?
McCabe: It varies per brand, but generally we recommend to post two to three times a day to stay consistent and engaged.
ETS: What analytic tools are available to higher spend advertisers that are not available to those using Facebook’s self-service model?
McCabe: This depends on their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). If we have clients that are trying to influence destination consideration, we partner with Nielsen for research measurement. If they’re trying to build traffic to their website, they can simply add a tag to the post and track the user’s visit to their site.
ETS: Are there any types of campaign or contests that you see working better than others in the travel space?
McCabe: Unless it’s something unique like Australia’s “Win the Job of Your Life,” which puts the destination at the heart of the competition, it’s difficult to see long-term success with contests or sweepstakes. In most cases, they don’t attract people who are passionate about your product. I think DMOs are best served by building campaigns around seasonal themes that support their TV, print and other (including social) efforts.
ETS: Has Facebook released any products that can be used by DMOs to enhance and assist them in preparing ROI reports for stakeholders and board members?
McCabe: We see some new models that are working well for CVBs and destinations in general.
Use Facebook Exchange to retarget your audience
Facebook Exchange (FBX) allows real-time bidding (RTB) on ad placement and retargeting. RTB lets advertisers bid in real-time on a specific ad impression rather than a larger group, allowing advertisers to show more relevant ads and run more effective campaigns. For instance, if a person is looking at a certain hotel on that hotel’s website, the next time they log into Facebook, that hotel’s ad can show up in the person’s News Feed (which is the most engaging part of Facebook).
Use Custom Audiences
Custom Audiences allows marketers to find their current customers on Facebook and reach them with relevant ads. So, for example, if an airline has a database of the emails for the people who flew to Hawaii last Christmas, they can use Custom Audiences to reach that same group of people on Facebook and show them an ad on Facebook for a discounted rate to Hawaii this holiday season.
ETS: What other spin-off opportunities does this create?
McCabe: There’s now a new opportunity for co-branding by creating a new packaging offer with an airline or hotel partner that is more attractive. This information can be obtained through data-share agreements with airlines or from Sojern, Adara and other full service DSPs (Data Service Platforms) such as Bluekai or Triggit.
ETS: With the growing importance of “photography marketing,” how can travel brands use the Instagram platform more effectively i.e., is it feasible to market certain images to specific targets, etc.?
McCabe: While we’ve said that ads will come to Instagram within the next year, there are no marketing products on the platform at this time. That said, we’ve seen brands across all verticals effectively build engaged audiences on Instagram, and if you think about it, travel makes sense. Instagram is an aspirational platform focused on beautiful content. Look at what a brand like Starwood Hotels has started to build on Instagram and you can see the possibilities: http://instagram.com/spg
ETS: What are the biggest changes in the past year for those who are seeking organic engagement?
McCabe: Your ads should be great quality and relevant to your target audience. We work with brands that believe to “always live in beta” and “if it works, it’s obsolete.” It’s important to learn how to target the fans that are willing to engage and they may not be your friends. We have over 1.1 billion people on Facebook and you may now find people around the world, for example in Scotland who somehow love your product. It’s all about finding the people who matter.
ETS: Are any companies doing a good job of understanding your full targeting capabilities?
McCabe: MGM Resorts has done an excellent job using Facebook to acquire new customers, convert them into guests, and ultimately brand loyalists. They have consistently seen returns on ad spend higher than 3X for each stage of the purchase.
Using products Custom Audiences and retargeting on Facebook Exchange, the brand has seen a positive return on ad spend
5X+ return on ad spend using custom audiences targeting its customers on Facebook
15X return on ad spend using Facebook Exchange
HotelTonight sought to acquire new customers who would download its last-minute hotel booking app and ultimately use it to book reservations.
To acquire users /app downloads
HotelTonight used Facebook’s granular targeting and two key products: the mobile app install ad and Facebook Offers.
10X higher click-to-install rate from the mobile app install ads, compared to standard mobile banner ads (between October and December 2012).
According to booking and registration data, 80% higher return on ad spend from Facebook Offers than average mobile advertising spend.
ETS: What is the spending threshold at Facebook’s travel vertical where they can receive live support?
McCabe: We aren’t able to share this information at this time.
ETS: One final question. Can you tell us what you plan to talk about at the E-Tourism Summit?
McCabe: My presentation will focus on customization and targeting for travel destinations and suppliers.