Mountain Travel Symposium: Facebook as an ad platform

Lauren Glendenning

Mobile on the rise

• There are 5 billion mobile phones in the global market, of which 1 billion are smartphones.

• 45 percent of the world will have a smartphone in 2016.

Source: International Data Corporation

Facebook by the numbers

• 1.2 billion users.

• 60 percent of total activity is done from a mobile device.

• 42 percent of users engage in travel on Facebook, making it the no. 1 topic on the platform.

• Of those users, 95 percent are active on Facebook leading up to a booking; 94 percent are active after the booking; 97 percent go online while on their trip; 99 percent share something about the trip on Facebook when they get back.

Source: Sparkler research conducted with Facebook, as reported by Erik Hawkins, Facebook’s United States Group Leader.

BRECKENRIDGE — When Facebook’s United States Group Leader Erik Hawkins came to the Mountain Travel Symposium this past year, Facebook was arguably just a social media platform.

But something has happened since then, both with the company and with digital consumption as a whole, that is turning Facebook into a mega marketing machine.

Hawkins told hundreds of Symposium attendees Sunday that Facebook saw a 90 percent increase in time spent on its mobile application this past year — 90 percent in one year.

“The Internet is shifting to mobile,” he said, adding that the travel industry is the No. 1 thing people engage in while on Facebook.

With 60 percent of Facebook’s total activity coming from mobile devices, there’s an opportunity to target advertising like never before.

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Looking Through Lenses

“We all look at Facebook from two lenses — user and marketer,” he told Evan Reece, co-founder and CEO of Liftopia, during a question and answer session at the first day of the conference’s forum presentations. “Our lens as a marketer, traditionally we see Facebook as a place where we make connections and we have an audience and we have to publish to it. What it’s become is really, really, highly-efficient, highly-targeted media platform. What I don’t think everyone has done yet is reconciled that it can be both things.”

Data shows Facebook is an undeniably effective advertising tool, especially for the travel industry, but’s Vice President of Marketing Dan Sherman wanted to know just how much companies should spend on Facebook as a percentage of total digital spend.

“I think people should spend as much as is effective,” Hawkins said. “Are you spending and are you seeing results? Then you should probably keep spending.”

But at the local level, marketers and tourism industry professionals don’t always agree that digital advertising is always the best way to reach customers. At a discussion about visitor services Saturday, Aspen Chamber Resort Association President and CEO Debbie Braun said Facebook is great and so are sites like Yelp where customers post reviews of their experiences.

“But the 60-year-old walking in (to the visitor’s center) has a visitor’s guide in his back pocket,” she said. “You can’t be a one-trip pony.”

That’s why so many mountain travel destinations like Aspen still invest and believe in bricks and mortar efforts like visitors centers. However, digital technology is a way to augment all of those other efforts, said Douglas Ralston, of the mobile marketing company mobiManage.

“Digital is part of it,” he said. “There’s nothing you can take away from that personal touch.”

Facebook is a key digital marketing tool, but it also has its challenges, Jackson Hole chief marketing officer Adam Sutner said after the forum. Facebook’s ability to segment markets is “top notch,” but some of the strengths Hawkins mentioned are perceived as potential weaknesses by marketers as the platform evolves.

‘Diluted Content’

“What marketers worry about I think is that as Facebook continues to grow, its constituent brands’ content become increasingly diluted and much more difficult for us, the brands, to get our own content viewed,” Sutner said. “Facebook, of course, likes this as their business model includes growing their advertising business. So the old virtuous reasons for marketers to want to lean into Facebook, forming an engaged relationship with a passionate set of like-minded fans in and around your brand experience, is perversely diminishing. Seeing that scenario all the way through, Facebook would just become another media vehicle, subject to (cost-per-thousand) and other (return-on-investment) scrutiny.”

Facebook conducted research with British consultant company Sparkler this past year that revealed some staggering numbers for travel professionals — numbers that prove its place within the digital advertising marketplace.

Dreaming About Vacation

“Ninety-nine percent (of the Facebook users who engage in travel on the site, which is nearly half of all users) share something on Facebook when they get back from a vacation,” Hawkins said. “Thirty-two percent do it before they even get home form the airport. That sparks the next set of dreamers to think about a vacation.”

Dreaming is the first phase in the travel journey, he said. After dreaming, marketers hope and expect potential customers to then plan and book. After they experience the vacation, they then reflect on it — likely on Facebook.

“(Facebook) and Google will be the biggest players, and they’re figuring out how to leverage their reach for marketers,” Vail Valley Partnership President and CEO Chris Romer said after the forum. “It’s the Wild West and they are hyper-innovative — creates a huge opportunity.”

Editorial Projects Manager Lauren Glendenning is covering the Mountain Travel Symposium in Breckenridge for Colorado Mountain News Media. She can be reached at or 970-777-3125.

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