It's been a rough year for Facebook. Here's what travel brands should know.
First Uber and now Facebook. The social media network's brand reputation is under attack. Pundits are having a field day. From fake news to Russia's election tampering, to angry publishers and more recently, data confirming that young folk are jumping ship in favor of Instagram, SnapChat and even twitter. There’s a bigger part of the story which is that people may be getting burned out on social media more generally.
Scott Galloway and team at L2 likely initiated part of the media onslaught. Pick up a copy of Scott's book "The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google". Great inflammatory insight fueled by the mounting influence that these companies have on our lives - not to mention their astronomical profits. All four made the top five list of most valuable publicly traded companies of 2017.
Is Facebook a brand-safe environment?
What should travel advertisers make of all this?Our sense is that the PR crisis is damaging to the mothership brand but clearly not a death blow to the ecosystem. The Facebook team is also taking corrective action aimed at improving the overall experience. Instagram’s user base is also growing. User adoption of the FB app seems to have plateaued in the U.S. and Europe. The company will focus on retention in these markets. Growth in APAC and the rest of world is also encouraging.
Nevertheless, brands should still have a better sense of how the platform makes users in certain markets feel. The FB team fields a regular poll with the following question: Please let us know whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Facebook is good for the world."
We fielded our own survey with the same question and collected 1,200 responses from U.S. residents. Here are the top-line findings:
Survey Question: Is Facebook good for the world?
We polled the U.S. internet population with this question: "Is Facebook good for the world?" Well over a third of respondents disagreed. Almost 20% strongly disagreed.
We ran benchmarks against Google and Amazon to see how Facebook fared relative to other big tech brands. We left Apple out (for now). Overall, U.S. residents tend to have a more favorable view of Google and Amazon.
Methodology: We aggregated results based on positive and negative sentiment. Those that answered "Strongly Agree" or "Agree" we identified as positive. Those that answered "Strongly Disagree" or "Disagree" we labeled as negative. Those that answered "Neither Agree or Disagree" we identified as neutral or undecided.
Our data also suggest that Facebook is a more polarizing brand relative to Google or Amazon. This is not surprising considering the role that Facebook has as a social network. Almost twice as many respondents felt aversion toward FB ( responded "Strongly Disagree"). Google and Amazon also had twice as many fans i.e. those that strongly agreed to the good-for-the-world question.
Our data also suggest that those in their middle years i.e. between 35 and 64 tend to be more apathetic toward Facebook. Recent data from eMarketer suggests that FB is losing younger audiences. Here we speculate that while younger users may be dropping off from the platform, they tend to harbor less negative sentiment toward the brand, compared to older demographics. For younger cohorts, social ties have yet to develop and are more in flux. This makes them more fickle when it comes to platform adoption. Dipping in and out of different social media platforms is likely more common as a result.
Those in their middle adulthood e.g. millennials tend to have more developed opinions toward social issues. Things like the Russia controversy could sway their views about the Facebook brand overall. However, we question how much impact negative media coverage actually has on user adoption.
Our sense is that functionality, user experience, and peer presence are the three most causal factors contributing to user adoption. Larger overall networks and peer adoption makes FB stickier among older demographics. Furthermore, those in their middle years tend to have a more negative slant on life than both younger and older demographics, as they battle with the modern-day challenges of professional and personal life. This could sway their general attitude toward the platform i.e. they still use it, albeit begrudgingly.
Older demographics skew more positively toward Facebook - presumably because they are relatively late adopters and appreciate the platform as a way to stay in touch with friends and family.
Our data suggest that men tend to have a more negative slant towards Facebook than women. 40% of males responded negatively. Another interpretation: Men are more expressive about their opinions toward brand.
We are impressed with Facebook's global reach, but worry about the fragility of its flagship brand in the public eye. Our data suggest a general apathy toward the platform. This is clearly a new chapter for Facebook. With great power comes great responsibility. The team will need to make more public commitments to keeping the content clean. All of this attention could push FB to sterilize the overall experience which could "turn off" certain audiences looking for more intimate and lower-profile channels.
Arguably, the FB mother brand has lost its edge factor with younger generations. Younger generations could continue to gravitate to other platforms. Acquiring Instagram was a good move. User retention among U.S. users will take priority. They are working on it. Facebook recently reworked its feed to focus more on content from friends and families. Other initiatives including their work in virtual reality could help win back younger audiences. Their messaging platforms will also help brands connect with customers in a different way.
LUFT is a travel industry and market research company. We are committed to helping travel brands navigate change and will continue to track the evolution of social media and digital advertising. Learn more about our custom research practice.