Most travel marketers would acknowledge that search (still) plays a massively important role in bringing consumers into the so-called purchase funnel.
The evidence is overwhelming.
Marketing analytics company Bizible decided to look at attribution models across a range of industry sectors to examine their respective levels of "marketing touch" with different disciplines.
In travel, the first touch (the "very first online marketing touch", tracking visitors before they complete a form, etc) is dominated by search with 65%, followed by 26% via direct marketing and referrals bringing up just 8%.
Amazingly, social media-led activity accounted for just 1% of first touches.
Bizible found across all channels that search accounted for around 55% of all leads emanating from the first touch, compared to 26% from direct, 10% from referrals and 5% from social media.
The company says there is plenty to learn from establishing a better way of organising activity and assigning emphasis to various parts of a marketing campaign to attract customers.
Obviously there is plenty of activity taking place between the first and last touches (the moment where a lead is converted to a genuine sale opportunity), but Bizible's data (500,000 leads across all industries, 7,500 in travel) continues to show a poor return from social media.
From first touch leads, search contributes 42% to last touch conversions, followed by direct (18%) and referrals (3%).
Again, social media is almost a negligible mechanism compared to other forms of digital marketing.
Bizible says despite social, display and email contributing "very little" to travel, there remains a good opportunity to use such channels because of their inherent physical (in terms of media) visibility as disciplines.
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Nevertheless, such a low return from social media reinforces the worry that many major brands have in that campaigns run on Twitter and Facebook, for example, can be incredibly hit and miss (heavy on the miss, let's face it) compared to their counterparts in search marketing.
Of course, most inspiration comes not from one element in isolation, but either way the data illustrates that for all the bluff and bluster about social media as a critical mechanism for getting solid travel leads could either been seen as a bit of a farce, or need a lot of solid evidence that it does really works.
Very few brands have disclosed how successful their social media activity can be - perhaps just KLM or Starwood's Travel Exclusives campaign - and Priceline (in)famously poured scorn in 2010 over the social media concept as a selling tool.
It is, lest we forget, difficult to argue against the mighty Priceline given its continued (and presumably successful) use of search marketing at the expense of newer disciplines such as social media.
NB:Download the full report here.
NB2:Social media dislike image via Shutterstock.