Skift Take

Right now travelers are turning to social networks like Facebook to see their friends' trip photos and get their recommendations more than they're demanding hotel and flight booking ability through its mobile app. But will Facebook become a bigger middleman in the future than it already is? We have our money on yes.

As Facebook makes it easier for its 1.6 billion users to make purchases and its advertisers, such as travel brands, to get their ads in front of those users the social media monolith doesn’t want to be the middleman in the equation.

Facebook doesn’t intend to be an intermediary, said Sarah Personette, speaking at Skift Global Forum on Wednesday in New York City, although it certainly appears it’s heading in that direction or already there in some circumstances. “We continue to invest in the Pages platform and we continue to invest in ad units that allow you to deliver that frictionless experience,” said Personette. “Those are things that allow you to do book now. That allow you to do buy now. That allow you to do reserve now. So that we don’t have to take them off the platform and we can ultimately drive real business results.”

Personette said Facebook’s intent is to help businesses grow their bottom lines. The company just launched its Dynamic Ads for Travel product this week that helps travel brands retarget consumers and show them more compelling destination photos and updated its ad preferences for travelers in August.  “We want to help businesses connect with consumers at the right stage of the funnel and be able to drive them to a conversion. The intention is to make sure that the connection between people and businesses is as frictionless as possible and adds as much value as possible.”

But by definition, that sounds a lot like an intermediary. Though Personette said it’s important for brands like Marriott to have a mobile app that accepts bookings, brands should consider where consumers are spending time on mobile. Facebook separated its one-billion member Messenger app from the Facebook app in 2014 because it saw consumer demand for a faster messenger experience, for example, said Personette.

In other words, Facebook can help enable interactions between brands and consumers and increase bookings. But if Marriott Hotels’ mobile app, for example, serves consumers better than booking through Facebook at some point in the future, brands should stick with what works best, according to Personette.

Given that the average U.S. consumer with a smartphone spends 20 percent of the time they spend on mobile on Facebook or Instagram, Facebook is certainly in a position to facilitate interactions between consumers and businesses. “I think what’s really important is that you give the consumer what they want. However, what’s really important to consider is where people are spending their time. So if you’re going where the consumer is, they’re spending their time on Facebook and Instagram.”

Virtual Reality Not Yet a Reality?

While there’s no question travelers spend many hours on Facebook, virtual reality hasn’t gotten that same traction with consumers, said Personette. “Brands should be cautious about following what I like to call the shiny object syndrome. We know there are lots of questions around VR and Facebook is absolutely committed to a 10-year vision around it being the new way that people communicate with each other and communicate with businesses.”

Make sure your brand’s web site or app can handle virtual reality, however, if you’re serious about the technology. “If you don’t have the the brilliant basics right, like having a site that’s mobile optimized, if you don’t have a [Facebook page] with messaging turned on, etc, then don’t spend your time on building VR content,” said Personette.

Personette added virtual reality is still mostly experimental and that Facebook’s Oculus gear in particular is an “incredible hardware platform,” but it doesn’t yet have the reach. “Virtual reality’s connection with consumers is not there yet relative to a platform that has 1.6 billion people on it like Facebook,” said Personette. “If you’re thinking about scaling and sustainable growth I would absolutely go where the people are.”

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Tags: facebook, marketing, sgf2016, skift global forum

Photo credit: Facebook doesn't want to be a middleman between brands and consumers. Pictured is Sarah Personette, right, vice president of global business marketing of Facebook and Brian Morrissey, president and editor-in-chief of Digiday, speaking at Skift Global Forum this week. Skift

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