Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you’re likely familiar with Facebook. Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has grown in to a cultural and financial phenomenon. With a user base that now exceeds 2 billion active monthly users, Facebook has risen to become the world’s 6th most valuable company.
- For years, businesses used Facebook as a free promotional channel
- Facebook’s algorithm now gives preference to updates from friends & family
- The number of Facebook ads shown to users is reaching a saturation point
- Facebook’s next area of growth may be in search
- More than 2 billion Facebook searches are made everyday
- This includes the ability to search for Facebook business pages (e.g. your hotel)
- Currently, all search results are organic, presenting a big opportunity for hotels to get discovered
In 2008, Facebook launched business pages; a chance for businesses of every size and industry to reach a massive new audience, build a following, and potentially convert new customers. Facebook’s business pages were especially helpful for hotels given the highly social nature of travel.
Studies have found that 52% of people dream about a vacation when on Facebook, even without one being planned. And of those planning a vacation, 55% liked Facebook Pages specific to their trip.
Hotels who interacted with people on Facebook began to grow a base of followers. These people who would be able to see updates from the hotel in their News Feed. It was a dream come true for hotel marketers – free promotion and strong engagement on the world’s largest social network!
The Good Times Never Last
But you don’t become a billion-dollar company by giving something away for free – especially not something you could be charging for.
In 2011, Facebook ads began appearing in peoples’ News Feed for the first time. Then last year, Facebook made a major change to its News Feed algorithm, essentially transitioning from a social network to a paid advertising platform for businesses. The update put a larger emphasis on posts from family and friends, stunting the organic reach of Business pages. Today, almost all the updates that appear from businesses in the News Feed are paid.
Facebook Takes Aim at Google
This has been a widely successful strategy for Facebook, now the second largest advertising seller behind Google. In Q1 2017, it posted a record $8 billion in revenue. But Facebook’s CFO, David Ebersman, has warned that the amount of ads Facebook shows its users is reaching a saturation point. For the company to continue to grow, it needs to find new revenue streams.
Surprisingly, where Facebook might see the most growth is in search.
Of course, it has a long way to go to rival Google, which controls 88.56% of the global search market. However, Facebook could be poised to take a run at Google in the not too distant future.
Facebook’s Search Functionality
Facebook’s search functionality is a lot more sophisticated than most people think. It’s not just for finding long lost friends.
In the last 3 years, Facebook has made it easier to find information by indexing more than 2 trillion posts in their network. So, that update you shared on the 5 best restaurants located within a 10 minute walk of your hotel can now be found in search results.
Users clearly like the improved search functionality of Facebook. It now handles more than 2 billion searches a day, up 33% from 2015 when there was 1.5 billion daily searches. That puts Facebook well ahead of Bing and only behind Google as the most used search function.
So, while your regular Facebook posts may have less visibility in Facebook’s News Feed, if you are producing and sharing useful content for travel shoppers, they will still be able to find it and ultimately get directed back to your hotel’s Facebook page.
Improved Business Search
Users simply select the city and the type of service they are interested in (e.g. hotel), and are given a list of business that match that criteria. Hotel results can be filtered by price, whether your friends have stayed there before, or if it’s suitable for groups.
From the search results, you can see reviews of the property, click through to their Facebook page to learn more, and if your hotel’s page is set up properly, navigate directly to your booking engine to complete a reservation.
Currently, all search results are organic. The top results are those that best match the search query. But it probably won’t be long until Facebook starts offering “sponsored” results, where you pay for placement, much like the OTAs. It is something Facebook has experimented with in the past and, if launched, would be in direct competition with Google’s largest source of revenue, search advertising.
Facebook’s Search Advantage
One of the biggest advantages Facebook has over Google is its access to over 2 billion personal profiles. Sure, Google has its own massive stockpile of user data too, but it can’t match the level of personalization and interaction-based data that Facebook controls.
To get a better sense of how much data Facebook has, in 2010 Max Schrems asked Facebook to send all of the user data it had on him. And they did, all 12,000 pages! That was 7 years ago. Can you imagine how much data it’s collected since?
This user data is being used to offer a differentiated search experience for travel shoppers.
In March 2017, Facebook started rolling out a new mobile feature called City Guides.
City Guides aggregates data from your Facebook friends and publicly available information, so you can see where your friends have stayed, eaten and toured in most major cities. You can then click through to these companies’ Facebook pages. You can also see a list of the most popular places based on the total Facebook user base.
It is this kind of technology that poses the biggest threat to Google, while offering perhaps the largest benefit to hotels.
According to a study by Blitz, word-of-mouth and Facebook are the two largest sources of travel inspiration for millennials. With City Guides, Facebook is combining both within a searchable interface, and leveraging previous guest experiences to reach and attract future guests, thereby helping hotels drive more bookings.
What Does It All Mean?
Google is still the king of search, and will likely remain so in the foreseeable future. But as the Facebook community continues to grow, and its search functionality continues to mature, having a strong Facebook presence will be even more important for hotels.
In Part 2 of this article, we discuss how to optimize your hotel’s Facebook page to drive more visitors to it. We also outline some strategies for how to convert your Facebook visitors into bookings, so you can start seeing meaningful ROI from your social media efforts.