As attitudes about Facebook shift, travel agents are being
advised to start diversifying their social media presence to avoid the full
impact of what some researchers see as a declining user base in the U.S.
Facebook remains the platform of choice for the vast
majority of travel advisors. However, public trust in the social media giant
has been waning following a spate of negative headlines about data breaches,
misinformation, disinformation and myriad other issues.
"I don't know if there's a reason to panic yet,"
said Rosemarie Reed, vice president of marketing and strategic partnerships for
Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.
Reed said she still believes Facebook is a good platform for
advisors, but she acknowledged there have been shifts in consumer attitudes as
problems like data breaches have been revealed. She said the platform has not
seen a significant enough decline in its U.S. user base to signal that it's
time for agents to abandon it entirely, but she said now might be a good time
to become familiar with another platform.
"If [agents] don't diversify their particular online
footprint and they focus all their effort on Facebook, should something like
that happen again in the future and they see a bigger decline in users in the
United States, then we have a real problem," she said.
Should that happen, she said, "We'll be playing this
quick catch-up to get people onto a different platform."
Social media is an important marketing arena for travel advisors.
In Travel Weekly's 2018 Travel Industry Survey, social media was second only to
email in popularity as a marketing tool, and 70% of respondents reported using
social media to attract new clients. That was up from 39% in 2011, the first
year social media use was included in the survey.
Among advisors who use social media for their business,
Facebook is far and away the most used platform. In the 2018 Travel Industry
Survey, 95% of social media participants used Facebook. Instagram was a distant
Since 2016, when Travel Weekly first polled agents on the
use of specific social media marketing platforms, Facebook has remained
relatively consistent in popularity. Conversely, Instagram use by advisors is
on the rise: In 2018, 46% of social media users surveyed were on the platform,
an 11-point jump from 2017.
Agents aren't alone in their Facebook use. On the company's
fourth-quarter earnings call in January, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said more than 90
million small businesses use its products, "and of those we surveyed, half
tell us that they've been able to grow their businesses and hire more people
since joining Facebook."
Daily active users of Facebook continue to increase. Last
week, Facebook said that number was up 8%, to an average of 1.56 billion; in
its fourth-quarter earnings call, it attributed an increase in that same metric
to growth in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. However, some studies are
indicating that users are leaving the platform, while others believe the growth
in adoption of social media platforms is slowing.
When asked on the January earnings call if negative
headlines at the end of 2018 had impacted Facebook's user base, CFO David
Wehner responded, "We saw that we are growing in all regions, albeit we're
bouncing around in the developed markets like the U.S. and Canada."
The Infinite Dial 2019 study, part of Edison Research's
series of reports covering consumer use of media and technology, determined
that in 2019, 61% of Americans age 12 and over -- an estimated 172 million
people -- are using Facebook.
The platform's usage peaked in 2017, at 67%, but the study
found there are about 15 million fewer Facebook users today than at its peak.
From 2017 to 2019, Edison Research said, the number of
Americans ages 12 to 34 using Facebook declined from 79% to 62%. Its use among
older people remained relatively stable, with an uptick from 49% to 53% among
users age 55 or older. The Infinite Dial report was released in March.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in January and
February found that while the number of adults using Facebook (69% in 2019) had
remained relatively steady in recent years, there is evidence that the growth
social media platforms have seen in the U.S. in the past decade is slowing. A
separate Pew survey conducted in 2018 found that Facebook is no longer the
dominant social media platform for teens.
Social media alternatives
Andy Ogg, marketing manager of Ogg Marketing Group and
Brands, said he believes there has been a decline in Facebook's user base
"I believe that's heavily [led] by distrust, and there
is fear now associated with social media," he said.
Ogg said he does not believe there will ever be another
social media platform to achieve the size and scale of Facebook at its height,
but he also said advisors have a lot of opportunity with smaller, more local
social networks, like Nextdoor and Yelp. He also said Instagram presents a
number of opportunities.
"If you can market the content with hashtags and
tagging and dive into that realm, I think there's a fantastic opportunity there
for travel professionals to do well," Ogg said.
Reed said Instagram, too, holds a lot of opportunity. Its
visual nature lends itself well to travel, and while its user base is smaller
than Facebook's, that base appears to be growing. Instagram is owned by
Facebook, but Reed said that because the negative attention has been directed
squarely at Facebook, public perception of Instagram is better. Its user base
also tends to be more engaged.
Ogg encouraged agents to diversify their social presence.
"I think for a lot of agents, they're scared, because
they know how to work Facebook now," he said. "They know how to post
and to do things and make content. If they're not seeing the results they want
to, it may be time to learn something new. Education can be a little scary at
times, but it doesn't mean that it's bad. It just means that it's time to learn
more and grow themselves."