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Facebook more Popular than Google? - The Big News is Not so Big After All

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Facebook more Popular than Google? - The Big News is Not so Big After AllA commentary on the recent news about Facebook surpassing Google as the most popular website in the U.S.

The Buzz
On March 15th, Experian Hitwise reported that Facebook.com has surpassed Google.com as the most popular website in the U.S. Indeed, Facebook accounted for 7.07 percent of all U.S. website visits for the week ending March 13th, compared with Google.com’s 7.03 percent share:
Most popular websites in the U.S as of March 15, 2010

Most popular websites in the U.S as of March 15, 2010

Here is a list of the most popular websites in the U.S as of March 15, 2010:
Most Popular Websites in All Categories ranked by Visits - Week ending March 13, 2010
WebsiteDomainVisits (%)
Yahoo Mailmail.yahoo.com3.80
Windows Live Mailmail.live.com1.63
Yahoo Searchsearch.yahoo.com1.23

Source: Experian Hitwise

Needless to say, last week the industry was abuzz with this exciting news. We heard questions tossed around like: “Is Facebook going to replace Google?” and “Are we missing big revenue opportunities by not advertising on Facebook?”

The Bottom Line
You can relax. Facebook is definitely here to stay and has experienced tremendous growth, but it is not going to replace Google as a travel planning tool anytime soon. Here are the reasons why:

Online Travel Consumer Behavior:
  • When consumers want to buy books online, they go to Amazon.com.
  • When people want to buy new laptops or PCs online, they go to Dell.com, Apple.com or BestBuy.com.
  • When people plan travel they go to:
    • Search Engines: Google, Yahoo, Bing
    • Meta Search Engines: Kayak.com
    • OTAs: Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, etc.
    • Major hotel brand websites: Marriott.com, Hilton.com, etc.
    • Independent/boutique/luxury hotel websites
    • Consumer review sites: TripAdvisor.com, to check out what their peers think of certain hotels, once they have narrowed down their choices

Eighty-four percent of Americans plan travel online (TIA) using the above approaches. In other words, social networks are not the first options that come to mind when planning a business trip or family vacation. Many travel consumer surveys attest to the above behavior, time and again.

Seeking Friends/Family/Peer Advice
There is no doubt that social networks are being used as channels to solicit friends/family/peer opinions about travel experiences—“Have you been to Boston lately?”, “Can you recommend a cool hotel in Miami? You just came back from there.”—in the same manner as people solicit opinions from colleagues by the office water cooler or chatting with friends over the phone.

But these opinion/recommendation solicitations are conducted on Facebook “behind closed doors” (i.e. within the private network of a Facebook user), and have nothing to do with a) hotel Facebook Fan Pages or b) hotel advertising on Facebook.

Case Studies
The following case studies illustrate that Google and the other search engines still rule as revenue generators for hotels, and Facebook’s contribution to hotel revenues is insignificant at best. Obviously, Facebook’s contribution should be measured using a different set of metrics to determine ROI.

Case Study A: Search Engine Contributions to Hotel Website Visits and Revenue

Percentage of Website Revenues and Website Visits Coming from Search Engine Referrals in 2009:
% of website revenues% of website visitors
Hotel Chain (200+ properties)48%71%
Resort Brand (22+ resorts)41%79%
Boutique Luxury Hotel-W. Hollywood, CA57%94%
Full-Service Golf & Spa Resort -FL60%82%
Luxury Hotel & Resort -Florida Keys41%79%
Hip Luxury Hotel -Santa Monica, CA58%82%
Full Service Casino Hotel -Reno, NV48%91%
Hotel Company (20+ properties) -Daytona Beach, FL40%92%
Full Service Meeting Hotel -Los Angeles, CA61%21%

Case Study B: Facebook Contributions to Hotel Website Revenues
Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) is the industry pioneer in social marketing. HeBS’ first social marketing initiatives, white papers, and workshops on the subject date back to four and a half years ago.

From Facebook Fan Pages to interactive contests and cool promotions for Facebook fans only, we have done it all. Here are some case studies from Facebook Fan Page initiatives we manage for hundreds of our hotel clients:
1) Full-Service Golf & Spa Resort in Florida
  • Facebook Fans: 1,703
  • Website revenue since January 1, 2009:
    • From Facebook referrals: $739
    • Total website revenue: $1,252,900
    • Facebook as % of total website revenue: 0.06%

2) Full-Service Hotel Casino in Nevada
  • Facebook Fans: 3,263
  • Website revenue since January 1, 2009:
    • From Facebook referrals: $1,216
    • Total website revenue: $7,218,916
    • Facebook as % of total website revenue: 0.02%

3) Boutique Luxury Hotel in West Hollywood, CA
  • Facebook Fans: 641
  • Website revenue since January 1, 2009:
    • From Facebook referrals: $915
    • Total website revenue: $1,695,031
    • Facebook as % of total website revenue: 0.05%

Though Facebook initiatives drive traffic to the hotel website, this trackable traffic is not directly responsible for any significant revenue. Obviously social marketing ROI has to be judged with metrics different from bookings and revenue.

Social Marketing ROI
What kind of ROI metrics should hospitality social marketers use to determine the success of their social marketing efforts? Here are some ROI metrics we believe should be used to measure the success of any hotelier’s Facebook initiatives:

User Engagement:
  • Reaction:
    • Number and quality of fan comments and feedback
    • Number of “likes” i.e. how many times fans “liked” your posting
  • Demand:
    • Number of times fans initiate the conversation

Fan Metrics:
  • How many fans/new fans have you acquired last month?
  • What is the growth in percentage of new fans?
  • Fan demographics: age, gender, location
    • Are you engaging the right customer segments?
    • Do they reside in your main feeder markets?

Fan Pages Metrics
  • Pageviews - Number of visits to the hotel’s Fan page
  • Growth in pageviews over time

Facebook Campaign Metrics:
  • Growth of new fans as a result of a campaign involving your Fan Page
    • Contests, quizzes, sweepstakes, scavenger hunts, etc.

Hotel Website Metrics:
  • Number of visitors to the hotel website originating from the hotel Fan Page
  • Bookings initiated, bookings, roomnights, revenue

Social media marketing is an important component of any hotel’s marketing mix and part of the comprehensive Direct Online Channel Strategy for any hotel company. Naturally, as discussed above, it is important to use the right ROI metrics to measure the success of social marketing efforts of the hotel.

The results of HeBS’ recent 4th Benchmark Survey on Hotel Internet Marketing clearly show that half of hoteliers surveyed (50% exactly) responded that in 2010 they were planning to create profiles for their hotels on social networks. The days of just waiting to see how social media will develop seem to be over.

More hoteliers are planning to engage in all types of Web 2.0 and social media initiatives across the board, as you may see in the table below:
What type of Web 2.0 & Social Media marketing initiatives are you planning for 2010?200820092010
A blog on the hotel website14.5%14%37.9%
”Share this site” and RSS on the websiteN/AN/A24.1%
A photo sharing functionality on the hotel website12.7%4.7%32.8%
Sweepstakes and contests on the hotel website9%3.5%36.2%
Survey and comment card on the hotel website18.4%14%31%
Subscribe to a reputation monitoring service8.4%2.3%19%
Create profiles for my hotel(s) on the social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Flckr, etc.)13.3%14%50%
Create and post videos on YouTubeN/AN/A46.6%
Actively participate in blogs that concern my hotel12.7%5.8%24.1%
Advertise on social media sites (e.g. TripAdvisor, Facebook, etc.)8.1%15.1%39.7%
I am not planning on Web 2.0 and Social Media initiatives for 2010N/A15.1%6.9%

But social media and social media marketing initiatives should be reviewed with “sober eyes” and within the context of what really generates revenues for hoteliers today. The hotel Internet marketing basics—website re-design, SEO, SEM (paid search), and email to the hotel’s opt-in list—consistently bring in the most bookings and the highest ROIs in the industry. HeBS estimates that 80%-85% of hotel website bookings originate directly from these four initiatives alone.

In addition, instead of only focusing on bookings and revenue when measuring results from social media marketing, remember that currently the best uses of social media are:
  • Buzz-building
  • Brand-building
  • Interacting with and engaging customers
  • Keeping up with the times, making the hotel look current, cool and up-to-date
  • Driving traffic to the property’s own website

Though Facebook initiatives drive traffic to the hotel website, this trackable traffic is not directly responsible for any significant revenue. Obviously, social media marketing ROI has to be judged with different metrics – not just bookings and revenue.

Any comments? Case Studies? We would appreciate your input.
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Glossary, news section: Across the board  Benchmark  Blog  Meeting hotel  Online  Opt-in  Post  Resort  ROI  RSS  SEM  SEO  SET  Show  Social marketing  Social media  Spa resort  Web 2.0 

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