Since news broke last month that the political data firm
Cambridge Analytica had accessed the private data of millions of Facebook users
to influence voter opinion in the 2016 election, the social media platform has
been the center of a national debate about consumer protection and privacy.
The news has also sparked a movement among Facebook users to
drop the service, adopting the hashtag #DeleteFacebook. Several high-profile
individuals, including Cher and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, publicly
announced that they have deactivated their accounts.
Travel agents in recent years have become entrenched in
Facebook, using the platform for lead-generation and to build rapport with
clients, among other uses. Travel Weekly's 2017 Travel Industry Survey found
that of agents who use social media for marketing purposes, 93% use Facebook,
far and away leading all other social media platforms in popularity; its closest
competitor was LinkedIn, with 37% of agents reporting they use it for business
Given its huge user base, Facebook is an attractive place to
market. As of December, Facebook reported an average of 1.4 billion daily
active users and 2.1 billion monthly active users. But with all the negative consumer
sentiment swirling around the company of late, the travel industry is closely
watching how Facebook's users are responding.
While most believe that only time will tell if the platform
will become a less-effective tool, concerns do exist.
"I think it's too soon to tell, but I do think that
there's a valid concern," said Andy Ogg of Ogg Marketing Group and Travel
Professional News. "Facebook has really damaged the trust between the
platform and its users. Trust is very hard to get back once it's broken."
The issue began when a psychology professor at the
University of Cambridge, Aleksandr Kogan, using Facebook Login (the ability to
sign in to apps using Facebook credentials) passed data from an app to
Cambridge Analytica in 2015, according to Facebook.
Kogan's app was downloaded by about 270,000 people who, in
doing so, consented to give him access to information such as content they have
liked as well as limited information about friends.
Passing that data to Cambridge Analytica and another party
violated Facebook's rules, and Facebook last month announced it had suspended
the parties involved. Though only 270,000 people downloaded the app, the net of
data Cambridge Analytica received was much larger because it extended into
their networks of friends.
The incident has been highly scrutinized, and Facebook CEO
Mark Zuckerberg last week appeared before committees of the U.S. Senate and
House of Representatives to talk about the privacy questions it has raised.
Facebook has emphatically insisted that the incident was
not, as many have called it, a data breach, because "people knowingly
provided their information [to Kogan's app], no systems were infiltrated, and
no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked."
Phocuswright analyst Mark Blutstein said some users might
leave Facebook as a result, but the only way to measure that will be looking at
average daily and monthly users when the company releases quarterly financial
information in the future.
"I think they will probably lose, but it won't be as
big as some might expect," Blutstein said.
So far, the agent services company CCRA has not heard any
concerns regarding Facebook, according to chief marketing officer Maggie
Fischer. She also said she doubts agents would decide to leave Facebook,
because it's the most powerful marketing platform among social media sites.
Passport Online offers agents its ESP service, which posts
to Facebook on their behalf. Vice president of business development Marilyn
Macallair said the company had not noticed any marked differences in engagement
"I think the jury's still out," she said. "I
think that clearly what's going on with Facebook is a wake-up call, and
something like this was bound to happen, but Facebook as an entity is so
integrated into the travel agent mindset that it's going to stick around. But I
think that people are going to be taking pause about what's happening and what
kind of data is being used."
Catherine Heeg, founder of Customized Management Solutions,
said she has heard some concerns from agents about the platform, but that most
are viewing it as a "glitch."
"I still think that it's the best channel for reaching
the majority of people, no matter what their age or what their demographic is,"
Heeg said. "Advertising on Facebook ... it's phenomenal the amount of
targeting that you can do and how specific you can get in your targeted
audiences. There's really, in my mind, no other tool out there like it."
In Ogg's mind, the recent news about Facebook presents
agents with an opportunity to start looking at other social media platforms.
While it is owned by Facebook, he said Instagram is a powerful marketing
platform. Pinterest, Twitter and a Yelp listing are also viable choices with
opportunity for agents.
"I do think that it's probably a great time to
diversify and begin putting efforts into other social media platforms, with the
current news and the status of Facebook in today's climate," he said. "I
do think that diversifying your efforts would be a great idea."
He said that agents should also focus on building their
brand and the assets they own directly, such as their websites.
Cruise Planners CEO Michelle Fee agreed that diversification
is important with marketing efforts. Cruise Planners uses Facebook to market on
behalf of its agents, but Fee said that's only a slice of its larger marketing
"You have to be everywhere, almost," Fee said. "That
way, you don't have all your eggs in one basket, and if and when something
happens, you can make changes easily and quickly and make sure that you're
still being able to get out there and communicate to potential travel buyers. I
think there are a number of ways you can get out there."