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It's well-known that Facebook and its sister brand Instagram have become hugely appealing destinations for marketers to spend money. But a global survey by travel tech firm Sojern suggests that a lot of trial-and-error is still going on as marketers attempt to master new tools.

Facebook and Instagram are the top channels travel marketers intend to increase spending on in 2019. However, marketers may shift how they spend their money on the social network and photo-sharing app, according to a new report released Thursday.

This year a majority of travel marketers plan to boost digital advertising buys on the social platforms. Fifty-five percent of 611 marketers surveyed worldwide said they intended to boost spending on Facebook and Instagram above all other avenues, according to a survey conducted for travel marketing tech firm Sojern by survey firm Dynata.

Marketers worldwide favored the social platforms over other options like price-comparison websites, online travel agencies, Google paid search ads, and programmatic display ads. This trend held even when breaking out respondents by region of the world and size of their budget. Facebook and Instagram pulled far ahead of paid search in popularity for both branding and direct response, compared with prior year spending.

However, marketers are tweaking how they spend on the tech platform giants. Many of them plan to use several new advertising options Facebook has launched in the past year, such as new audience targeting options within destinations, hotels, and flights.

“It used to be several years ago that Facebook and Instagram were just branding plays,” said Jackie Lamping, vice president of marketing at Sojern. “Whereas now you can use them to target new audiences and deliver personalized messages and drive direct bookings and do retargeting and also do brand-building.”

More than half of marketers surveyed intend to use Facebook Travel Ads — a product that debuted in 2016 but has been expanding in scope. That was somewhat higher than interest in generic Facebook ads.

This year, half of the marketers surveyed plan on using Instagram Stories, a photo- and video- montage, and 49 percent plan on using Facebook Stories, a substantially identical product. Again, marketers said they would broadly favor these new products over the original Facebook ads.

Overall, marketers plan to shift more budgets to the Instagram app as younger audiences migrate there from Facebook.

All isn’t perfect, however. One survey respondent commented that “Facebook’s dynamic ads are performing the best” of the marketer’s channels but “some challenges include proving return on investment, difficulty in matching display and social results due to lack of cross-platform tracking, the challenges linked to fluctuating CPMs [cost-per-impressions], and costs overall.”

Chasing audiences can be tricky, too. Some travel marketers who invested in ads for rival social service Snapchat have been caught off-guard by its sudden drop in popularity.

“Part of the challenge of following consumers into new vehicles is you have to go through the process operationally where you have to create an ad that works in that format,” said Lamping. “If a product requires a vertically-oriented ad, instead of a horizontally-oriented one, that quite often means a marketer has to shoot exclusively new content.” Costs can escalate when you can’t repurpose content, representing a risk with experimentation.

Sojern is a mid-sized advertiser of its services. What does Lamping tell her marketing team when strategizing with the fast-paced changes in marketing?

“Always be learning,” said Lamping. “Always meet other marketers and agency folks at similar companies who are going through the same challenges. Go to events or have one-on-ones. Find out which vendors are working for them and which aren’t. Have your peers figured out a good technique for hiring better talent in your niche?”

Staying connected with peers and agency folks can be quite helpful, Lamping said, though she conceded that it’s something marketers can let day-to-day struggles distract them from doing.

In other words, don’t let social media replace real-life community, even when taking advantage of the potential and popularity of Facebook and Instagram.

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Tags: brand marketing, destination marketing, Digital Marketing, facebook, hotel marketing, instagram, marketing, marketing strategy, marketing technology, online marketing, sojern, travel marketing

Photo credit: Casa de Campo Resort & Villas in the Dominican Republic is part of Leading Hotels of the World and is a customer of the marketing services of Sojern, a tech company that has released a new survey of travel marketers worldwide. Casa de Campo Resort & Villas

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