Paid Facebook search could become more of a focus for travel brands this year as the cost of appearing on Google search results continues to rise, an industry panel has predicted.
Speaking at the Melt Content Digital Breakfast event last week, experts discussed the balance of paid-for content on social media against ‘organic’ marketing, which is not paid for.
Ian Brooks, co-founder of Melt Content, asked whether Facebook was the “new drug” that marketers are getting hooked when they wean themselves off Google pay-per-click.
Andrew Shelton, managing director of Cheapflights, said: “We’ve started testing it, we have done some campaigns and I think we can see more of our budget going that way next year.
But he warned that companies need to be “careful” using paid Facebook.
“Increasingly now, all I see on Facebook is adverts now. I’m thinking how far can this go before it becomes far too commercialised? What I liked about Facebook is that it wasn’t particularly intrusive or asking you questions all the time, but now it’s following me. I know if I search for a flight to New York I’ll then get an advert about it and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
“So it’s a double-edged sword.”
Vicky Saunders, director of travel at News UK said the social reach of the Times was around six million.
She said: “Even though the main site sits behind a pay-wall, we actually have a really loyal subscriber base anyway
“We’ve seen airlines come in with advertising briefs of £1 million for a media company because they don’t want to spend that on Google any more. What they want is to buy into audiences. So we tap into the whole network [which includes Fox and National Geographic] now, we say come and look at our audiences and target them. People want to be more targeted and they don’t want it to be a static approach and they are willing to pay for it.”
Andrew Shelton warned companies must set up in-house customer service teams even if they are an intermediary.
He said: “We didn’t used to have one and the conversation would run away with itself and get out of hand. I think it’s important to recognise in our business that it’s not perfect and we have issues.”
For Cheapflights, he said, the single biggest issue is that a price a customer has seen is no longer available.
“That upsets people and, before you know it, it gets out of hand,” added Shelton. “We need to nip that in the bud very quickly. I don’t think there’s a choice in that any more. I think you have to do it. It absolutely creates more work but I think in the long run it’s positive. It’s here to stay.”
Melt Content’s chief executive Dan Hart added: “It’s a combination of making sure you’re using it as a channel to react to customer engagement or issues. You have to be on top of it. If not it can spiral quickly and your reputation can be completely trashed overnight.”
Helena Hall, chief commercial officer at Melt Content, said she foresees Facebook becoming more like Amazon.
She said: “Whereas organic social is becoming less effective and we are being pushed into paid.
“It’s going to evolve into like an Amazon, where you buy products from your Facebook. I think it pushes us more to build our own audience and have ownership.
“We can see how Google has changed and become more monetised which pushes us to own relationships.”
She said she thought travel firms need to adopt a balancing act between paid-for marketing and “organic”.
“To be able to afford to do paid search, you have to do the organic, the SEO, and the content so that there’s a balance between the higher cost-per-acquisition channels to the lower ones,” said Hall. “It’s that mix that affords you to be able to do paid search as well.”
Hall, who previously worked for Lowcost and Lastminute.com, added: “A few years ago everyone was still talking about how to get on Google search results but I don’t think that’s as much the case now from what I’ve seen. There are other channels now that will be just as monetised as PPC (pay per click) – but perhaps not as expensive.”
The cost of pay per click advertising continued to rise in 2016. The term ‘London hotel’ cost as much as €3.56 per click.
Shelton added: “You can’t get away from Google, obviously, but the rules keep changing and evolving and we have to assume that’s going to continue.”
He said companies such as Cheapflights were being pushed down the results since Google launched its flights search.
“If we were number one in organic, we would probably just about be in the fold, but now we’re way down [the page of search results]. We’ve seen that continue in search, it’s more prevalent than ever. But we’ve got to live with it and accept that.
“But some bits of paid search are very profitable. We invest a lot in it and we are happy to keep investing in it.”