Facebook’s global head of travel, Lee McCabe, was in town recently and spoke to micenet AUSTRALIA’s Lauren Arena about the corporate travel industry and how to capitalise on the world’s most popular social network.

It’s a question many in the industry have been grappling with since the beginning of the information age: How can I use social media to grow my business and maximise a return on investment?

According to McCabe, the trick is good, old-fashioned marketing.

“The companies that do it right, keep it simple. They stick to the basics. They stick to marketing. Social marketing is just marketing. It’s the same thing you’ve been doing for the past 50 years so be very clear about your objective, know the audience you want to capture, and make sure you can measure all your metrics well.

“Companies never have the objective of being ‘social’; the object has always been sales and awareness, or sales and conversion. The social piece is really a bonus at the end. If you’re doing it well and you target the right audience with the right message, then they will hit your primary objective. They’ll either become aware of your brand or they’ll buy something, and if you do very well, they’ll tell their friends afterwards. So the social and sharing component is a bonus, it should never be the primary objective.”

So while it all boils down to the basic principles of marketing, McCabe says a lot of businesses still get it wrong because they don’t understand the purpose of social networking platforms like Facebook.

“Here’s the evolution of social [media] – when companies first jumped onto Facebook they got confused about the word ‘social’.

“A lot of businesses thought the company that built-up the most ‘likes’ was going to win and so created competitions and sweepstakes to capture a volume of likes, but these likes were diluted. People were just liking pages because they wanted to win something, not because they had any affinity with the brand. So you end up with a lot of likes, but you can’t do a lot with them.

“The smart companies view social media as a marketing platform: if the objective is brand awareness then we can help you measure brand metrics and how you’re performing on Facebook; if it’s bookings and revenue you’re after, we can absolutely measure that and tell you how many bookings you’re getting from Facebook and what the return is.”

There are currently 12 million people in Australia on Facebook and according to Facebook Australia’s head of travel and finance, Paul McCrory, the companies that best utilise the power of this massive social network are those which seek out a targeted audience.

“Facebook is a platform with an immense amount of people and we know a lot about those people – so it’s about using data to get the right message in front of the right person. If you know who you want to reach then you can find them on Facebook and try to get them to engage with you and be part of the overall experience, and eventually subscribe to your brand.

“Tone of voice is really, really important on Facebook and some companies try to market at people, trying to shout their message, and that’s the wrong thing to do,” McCrory says.

“On Facebook your tone of voice should be as an individual. When you’re speaking to your audience on Facebook speak to them on a one-to-one basis. Don’t shout at them like a brand. That way you’ll see engagement skyrocket.”

Facebook and travel

According to McCabe, Facebook and travel go hand-in-hand.

“Travel sits very nicely with Facebook because if you think about the five stages of travel – dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, and sharing – people are in these five stages on Facebook more than ever.

“Facebook is now the number one place where people share holiday photographs and we currently house a third of the world’s photographs.

“We can also see that 70 per cent of people are updating Facebook when they’re on holiday and when they return home they curate the best 20 photographs and post them on Facebook. Their friends will see them and that’s a huge catalyst for these friends to start planning their next trip. So we play a huge part in terms of travel for the consumer. And for business it’s perfect because we have the consumers at every stage.

“Businesses, no matter what business you’re in, care about three things – (1) inspiration and driving awareness, (2) making the sale, and (3) retention. So there’s nowhere better than Facebook to connect the traveller to the travel business.”

Get appy

With the digital consumption of media on the rise, McCabe says the single biggest trend all businesses need to capitalise on is ‘mobile’.

“In Australia we have 9.3 million daily active users on Facebook and eight million of these are using mobile, so it’s a huge business, especially for the travel industry.

“Mobile is absolutely driving travel and research shows people are moving away from desktop and laptop, and adopting and using smartphones and tablets more than ever.”

According to McCabe, this paradigm shift from web to mobile has huge implications for the travel industry

“By 2015, 12 per cent of all travel bookings will be made on a mobile device, which is huge, and that share is increasing exponentially every year.

“Quite soon we’ll move away from checking 20-30 websites and clicking here, there and everywhere, to instead using mobile, where you’re restricted to the apps on your device. But these are apps that you’ve chosen, apps that you like, and apps you will become loyal to.

“So the next step as far as travel businesses are concerned is apps. We know that when you’re on your smartphone 86 per cent of the time you’re using apps, not the mobile web. We know that the average person only has 26 apps on their phone and we also know that one in every five minutes spent on a mobile device is on Facebook. So Facebook is the best place to get traction for your app.

“We have an ad unit in newsfeed called ‘Mobile app install’ (with direct links to the apple/android store where the user can download an app), and we’re working with companies to help get their app installed as quickly, and efficiently, and effectively as possible.

“The next stage for businesses is engagement. It’s not only important to get traction and get your app installed but it’s also important to keep people engaged in the app, and this happens with activity in Facebook’s newsfeed – this is the heart and the core of Facebook.

“Right now it’s a land-grab for apps. Travel companies should be developing the best app they possibly can and they’re making sure they land that app on as many mobile devices as possible because first-mover advantage is key.

“Once someone is happy with your mobile app they will stick with it. Companies like Skyscanner, Hotel Tonight, and Uber are doing a great job.”

“We also have another ad unit called ‘book now’ so a company like Hotel Tonight might have an ad with a link that says ‘book now’ and this will deep-link the user directly into their app. If the company is doing a great job they will even land the user on the hotel the user is interested in and allow them to check it out as quickly as possible.”

But how much does it cost?

“We measure ourselves up against other channels and in terms of efficiency and cost we’re exceptionally competitive at getting an app ‘landed’,” McCabe says.

“Companies are now looking at the lifetime value of an app, which is huge because once you have that app landed you have a direct connection with the consumer. You’re no longer spending dollars on marketing, trying to inspire them or trying to get them to come back, so not only is it very efficient, but the ROI is incredible.”