Glenn Fogel’s well reported comments on social media from the No Vacancy conference highlighted the vastly divergent views in OTAs and suppliers on how much if any to invest in social media.
Piecing together expert advice from the last six months of travel conferences it is clear that social media is either overhyped, underhyped or somewhere in between.
In his opening keynote at No Vacancy, Fogel (Priceline's EVP of corporate development) urged the hoteliers in the audience to not invest in social media.
His rationale was that even though consumers are spending a lot of time on social media, "no one views the ads and no one likes to be interrupted".
These comments have been well reported since. They also caused a storm of internet commentary (Tnooz live blogging of the event), while Guillaume Thevenot of Hotel Blogs challenged Fogel to an open debate on the matter.
In a later session, Toga Hospitality CEO Rachel Argaman provided a live challenge to Fogel. She was extremely bullish about social media and her company’s investment in the channel. As I reported in a tweet, she said: "Social media is here to stay. Future is websites inside Facebook".
These comments and back-channel Twitter buzz reminded me of two of my favourite moments from last November's PhoCusWright conference - an exchange of quips between Kayak CEO Steve Hafner and former Expedia CEO Rich Barton on social media.
Their exchange was brief, but like No Vacancy provided clear and starkly contrasting views on social media.
Hafner described social media as Overhyped. Barton called it Underhyped. Like No Vacancy, these hugely disparate views on an internet force drove hours of conference and Twitter chatter.
A day after Non Vacancy closed, Australian online accommodation giant Wotif launched a social marketing campaign , perfectly timed to be a case study test of these disparate views and hopefully allow either the Fogel and Hafner camps or the Barton and Argaman camps to silence the doubting tweeters (twoubters?).
As Graham Robertson reported last week, Wotif spent time and money investing in a social media campaign promoting an 11 minute long flash sale where rooms would be sold for $11 for 11 minutes.
This was not an easy campaign for Wotif to put together. They took time and money to secure effectively free rooms from 36 properties in Australia, there were promo pages to build, room types to load, site structure to stabilize to support the traffic load and then campaign buzz to build.
As we have seen with other successful social media campaigns (like the Best Job in the World), going viral takes time and money.
The high level result: 30,000-40,000 new fans, thousands of room nights sold in minutes, thousands of mentions on Twitter and other channels and work places all across Australia disrupted as employees feared to stray far from their computers lest the sale begin.
All hallmarks of a good marketing campaign. But....the negative buzz was unprecedented. On Twitter and Facebook there were streams of abuse for Wotif.
- Moms were outraged that the sale was 345 ish (school run time).
- Followers were incensed at slow site speeds and constant payment failure errors.
- Rushed consumers pressed the wrong button and were flummoxed when confronted with CC statements that said $199 instead of $11.
- People were just generally annoyed.
Follows and likes were quickly undone and the social media stream contained an extreme contrast of views between the campaign winners and losers. The winners were screaming "woo hoo", the losers screaming "scam".
It left me to pose via Twitter: "How much are 40,000 followers worth? Wotif gained 40k likes on FB but generated a twitter storm of hate."
The Wotif $11 campaign does not settle the social media investment argument. Team Underhyped can argue that without a dollar of marketing spend Wotif drove volume and loyalty. Team Overhyped can call it a PR disaster with many more unhappy than happy customers.
I am clearly a believer in social media. My general advice is that social media cannot be ignored, that suppliers, agents and all players in the travel space need to have an eye on and a plan for their presence on social media.
Social media allows us to listen into and react to the comments being made by our consumers about us.
This cannot be ignored or left open and without response. But I do agree with Fogel that the vast majority of social media experts are charlatans, meaning that they are selling an expertise and certainty of delivery that does not exist.
That it is very easy to over invest in social media by diverting too much money and resources away from the basics of selling travel online (good supply, good product and good SEO/SEM/CRM).
As I said my post on Five tips for social media success for suppliers, the key balanced first steps in social media investing are:
As the heading of this post put it social media is neither overhyped nor underhyped, it is somewhere in the middle.