How Seriously Should Travel Marketers Take Google+?

Since Google launched its social sharing service Google+ 7 months ago, it’s remained at the bottom of the priority list for travel and tourism marketers – a poor third behind Facebook and Twitter. Even when Google launched brand pages to emulate those on Facebook, there was hardly a stampede of travel and tourism brands to set them up. But all of that has changed.


That’s because Google has announced the release of ‘Search Plus Your World’  – the integration of ‘public’ search results and private search results from the user’s social network.  And the user’s network is defined solely as their connections on Google+.


So now, if you’re a Google+ member and you search whilst logged into Google, you’ll see not only the usual results you’d expect to see from the public web but also content you’ve shared on Google+ and content your connections have made public or shared with you (see below).



Not only that but Google will also recommend ‘People & Pages’ results in a box on the right hand side of the main results page for certain searches – basically people and companies on Google+ that Google believes are authorities on the subjects you’ve search for (although the eg Google provides is a search for ‘music’ which returns Britney Spears as a recommended profile – debateable…).  This is a way of encouraging users to build out their Google+ connections but, as these results will also sometimes be delivered to those who aren’t logged into Google, it’s a chance to attract more subscribers too.


Now search has been a personal experience for some time.  For example, my results are tailored based on my location and, if I’m signed into Google, the sites I’ve shown a preference for visiting. But if Google+ and ‘Search Plus Your World’ takes off then the whole concept of chasing positions on the SERPs (search engine results pages) becomes meaningless as there won’t be a standard SERP for any query.


Travel companies have been rather slow to jump onto the social media bandwagon – you just need to look at the fact that British Airways has just 196,000 fans on Facebook compared to the following of another iconic British brand, Burberry, at 10m+. But this change is certainly going to make travel marketers sit up and take notice because it inextricably links social media with something we all know is a proven business driver – search.


By creating a Google+ page – and British Airways already has – building a following and creating and sharing content optimised for search, a travel brand increases the chances that the content created, and its Google+ profile, will appear in the personalised search results of their Google+ connections and the friends of those connections. And by focusing that content on a specific authority topic, they also increase the chance their profile will appear on searches related to that topic in the ‘People and Pages’ box.


Hence, social media is directly driving search results, and we know search engine results lead to traffic and bookings. Suddenly, social media has business case.


Or does it?  There are 4 drawbacks to note before rushing headlong to turn your social media strategy upside down.


Firstly, although Google+ is growing fast (90m subscribers announced by Larry Page last week) we don’t know where they are, who they are or, more tellingly, how much and what they’re sharing. Reports I’ve read suggest that the average Google+ subscriber is biased male and techy. How much sharing of holiday content is actually going on?


Secondly, marketers need to be where their target market is and their target market is more likely to be on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, on Twitter. Not only are their numbers bigger – much bigger in Facebook’s case – but we don’t understand how Google+ subscribers are using the service. Has it become their primary social profile or just a ‘handy to have’ extra on top of Facebook which they’ve subscribed to because they’ve subscribed to other Google services such as Gmail? And how compelling will social search prove to users – so compelling that they stampede to sign up to Google+?


Thirdly, how effective will social search be? Will it really drive traffic. We all know that recommendations from friends and family play a large part in the holiday decison process but will this translate to recommendations delivered ‘impersonally’ via search results?


And finally, I’m not sure this is the last move in what could be a long game. I can imagine antitrust legislators looking carefully at Google’s move to promote just it’s own social service within search results. Google must know this so maybe this is just part of a process designed to force the hands of their rivals and get access to more social data from Facebook and Twitter to enhance their search results and spike any attempts for Bing/Facebook to enhance their own search offerings.


That said, I’m recommending to my clients that they set up a Google+ page sooner rather than later.  The unknowns can tip both ways and I’d rather be playing the game and watching the impact on my business from the inside rather than wondered what’s happening from the outside.


So I’d recommend you set up your Google+ page, integrate buttons across your other channels (website, email etc) to build a following (although don’t raise your expectations too high – think Twitter following rather than Facebook following in terms of numbers) and start posting. To save time, you may want to post the content you’re sharing on Facebook anyway, although to make the most of the channel you’d be better advised to modify your posts to include your key search terms.


Then just wait and see. Watch referral traffic or changes in traffic from various search terms your posts are optimised around and let that be the guide to how much time you dedicate to managing your profile.


‘Liking’ – There’s Not of It Happening on Travel Websites (But There Should Be)

I’ve been meaning to write a blog on Facebook’s Open Social Graph ever since it was launched back in April, and having finally got round to it, I decided to do some research on which travel companies had integrated the functionality into the site. How many did I find? Well…..none actually.


That’s not hugely surprising. The adoption of these features has been much quicker over in the US as you’d expect, and in environments frequented by social media savvy types such as


So what is the Open Social Graph and why should you be paying attention to it?  Well, it’s a way of making the web a more social experience – with other Facebook users, and particularly your Facebook friends, guiding you around.


Facebook's 'Like' Button Replaces 'Become a Fan'

Facebook's 'Like' Button Replaces 'Become a Fan'

The first thing to note is that nobody ‘Becomes a Fan’ of your site or brand anymore. This has been replaced by a ‘Like’ button – something you’ll be familar with when commenting on your friends’ Facebook postings. So people don’t ‘Become Fans’ of your brand anymore, they ‘Like’ it instead.


Once a piece of content is ‘Liked’, a story appears in the ‘Liker’s’ friends’ newsfeeds – a nice piece of potential viral marketing. At the very least, it namechecks your brand to your Liker’s friends – and we all know how important friends recommendations are in generating new business. At best, their friend might be intrigued and click on the link created to find our more – valuable qualified traffic. And let’s not forget, you’ll have an incoming link that’s just been set up – great for boosting your search engine rankings.


But there are 2 other interesting things about the ‘Like’ button. Firstly, you’ve now got more than 1 bite of the cherry.  Previously, people ‘became a fan’ of your brand once. Now, they can ‘Like’ all sorts of content on your site – be it a product , an article or an offer – that’s lots of opportunities for different aspects of your offering to spread virally. Secondly, if you tag the content using the Facebook’s Open Graph guidelines, the ‘Liked’ content can form a permanant part of that person’s Facebook profile, becoming part of the ‘Likes and Interests’ part of their profile. Even more interestly, the ‘Liked’ page then becomes the equivalent of a Facebook page showing up in the same places pages show up in Facebook – namely in search. Hmm – lots more potential traffic.


The other way the Open Social Graph is manifested is via a number of social ‘plugins’ – little bits of Facebook functionality that you can ‘plugin’ to pages of your site just by dropping in a few lines of code. And it’s these that really power the social shopping experience.


For example, the ‘Comments’ plugin enables users to comment on your site’s content – be it a webpage, article or photo. And then the ‘commenter’ can share the comment on their wall, and in their friends streams. A nice way to capture comments but also a nice way to ensure they’re shared with as wide an audience as possible.


The ‘Activity Feed’ plugin shares the most recent activity taking place about your site or content- displaying if the content has been liked and shared and how many times. Also, if a visitor’s Facebook friends are among the ‘likers’ or ‘sharers’, they will be visible to that visitor, as long as the visitor is signed into Facebook. Hence, an overt recommendation, that may not have been made via word of mouth, has been made via the power of Facebook.


Facebook's Activity Feed Plugin on the CNN Site

Facebook's Activity Feed Plugin on the CNN Site

Now I’m a little sceptical about how powerful the ‘what have my friends liked/shared’ aspect of the social graph might become. The chances of one of my Facebook friends ‘liking’a particular piece of content I stumble across on the web when looking for a holiday are pretty remote. The chances of it being a friend who’s opinion I rate when selecting my holiday are even more unlikely.


However, I can see the ‘Like’ button taking off as an easy and less involved way of ‘commenting’ on content on the web without actually having to comment. Few people ‘create’ content, but lots of people are prepared to anonymously push a button to express their preference. And sites that are ‘Liked’ by more people, and content on the site that is more popular, is going to mean a higher conversion of visitors to bookings as people see that the company or product is legitimised by the favourable response of so many.


And I can see travel companions expressing preferences to each other by ‘Liking’ pages – why cut and paste links and then email them when you can ‘Like’ your preferred holidays and then tell your partner to check out your newsfeed entries to see if he/she ‘Likes’ them too.


So if I was you I’d be talking to my web developers and integrating the ‘Like’ button in particular and the the Activity Feed plugin on to all my company, product and article pages, unless you have compelling evidence that your audience isn’t using Facebook (and to be honest, they’d have to be positively geriatric for that to be the case).The response may initially be slow, but it will pick up as word spreads.


And as my research has proved, you’ll be at least one step ahead of your tardy competitors.

Has Social Media Re-Written the Rules of Travel & Tourism Marketing?

Have the rules of travel and tourism marketing been re-written with the emergence of Facebook, Twitter et al? Or are we simply playing the same game with a different set of tools at our disposal?

We’ve all heard quotes like ‘social media is a game changer’ or ‘you’ve lost control of your brand’ from the new crop of social media experts that have sprung up due to the rapid adoption of services such as Twitter and Facebook.  But have the rules of marketing really been re-written? For me, the answer is ‘no’.


A very clever chap called Marcus Codrington-Fernandez, a man who has worked on brands such as IBM, Mercedes and Orange (and has now invented a cricket bat) explained to many years before the social media revolution that a brand was communicated by a series of conversations. Some of these conversations the brand would be directly involved with and some not (see fig 1 below). A large part of the marketer’s brief was to get the right sort of conversations going about their brand.

Brand Conversations - the Good Old Days

Brand Conversations - the Good Old Days

So brands have always been about conversations, and people were having conversations long before social media came along. So what has social media changed?  Well I’m not sure ‘change’ is the right word. ‘Amplied’ and/or ‘Multiplied’ would be more appropriate.


What it has done is engendered new social connections, multiplied the level of conversation, increased the speed of diffusion of those conversations and made them much more visible (see fig 2 below).


Brand Conversations - Post Social Media

Brand Conversations - Post Social Media


To give you can example close to home, my wife is an avid ‘Facebooker’ and I dabble with Twitter. We’ve have both made new social connections as a result of these services with people we may not have been in contact with otherwise. For my wife, its old friends and colleagues she’d lost touch with and for me its people who share a professional interest.


And there’s no doubt that the number of conversations we have has increased. Both of us now have conversations with new and existing contacts that simply wouldn’t have happened before. You post something about your day you think your friends might be interested in, and ‘hey presto’ they respond. But we still email, we still skype, we still text and, heaven forbid, we still occasionally talk to people face to face.


Of course we’ve all heard the ‘wildfire’ effect of social media. The Jan Moir/Stephen Gately furore was whipped up on Twitter and most people who complained about the Jonathan Ross/Russel Brand incident never ever heard it live. But ‘old’ media could spread good and bad news – the Mail in the case of JR/RB – it’s just speeded things up and allowed us to more readily connect directly with the people in the heart of the firestorm.


And social media conversations, especially on Twitter, are much more visible than they were before – Google can’t index personal emails and IM like it can Twitter for eg. As a travel company, you can use twitter search to find someone looking for honeymoon ideas and make some useful suggestions. Or find someone moaning about your service and nip the problem in the bud.  But then again, you could find someone complaining about your service on TripAdvisor – it just that social media makes it easier to identify and connect.


As individuals. social media enables us to do things that we’ve always done and always wanted to do – have conversations with people we share an affinity with. It’s just made it a darn site easier and therefore encouraged us to do it more often. When push comes to shove, it’s people using these things, and people’s motivations are the same as they’ve always been.


So the game hasn’t changed – engender the right sort of conversations about your brand – you’ve just got a few new tools in your locker which means you need to re-think your tactics.  But don’t throw out the old rulebook.


And the de rigueur phrase that irritates me most of all – ‘you’ve lost control of your brand’. Rubbish.  You haven’t suddenly lost control of your brand because you never had complete control of it in the first place. Conversations were always taking place about your brand that you never had complete control over. But by focusing on delivering a customer experience consistent with your vision and values, you could influence those conversations in the same way you can influence the new conversations happening as a result of Facebook, Twitter et al.