Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 Predictions: Part 3 - The promise of social media and the rise of the ecosystem

Third and final part in my three part “Predictions for 2012” post. Part 1 here, part 2 here.

Part 3 - The promise of social media

Good News: We know where to go to find people in social

The good news is that where to find people on social is known. There might be a 1,001 social media sites but as Om Malik confirms in this recent piece on some comScore data Facebook is dominant followed by well known names like Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ and Tumblr. [as an interesting side note, it looks like MySpace still has a decent amount of traffic (more than Googe+ though no activity or time on site to speak of) and the hot to trot pinterest is gaining followers fast.]

Marketing platforms are emerging for each of the leading sites. Meaning the marketing departments at travel companies (suppliers and intermediaries) have suites of tools to work with in attracting social audiences. There maybe a lot of debate around whether or not social is a fad or meaningful (underhyped, overhyped or somewhere in the middle) but the tools to take advantage are known. The easy prediction (and good news for the large social media companies) is that advertising dollars will flood into social media in 2012.

The more detailed good news, I predict that money can actually be made with smart advertising on social media. It was thought in 2011 that social media was just for brand building and customer engagement. In 2012 we will see the first hints of sales and direct marketing activity on social media. Get ready and prepared to see and buy ads on Facebook, Linkedin etc that look like ads on Google.

[side note – here is a link to my 5 tips for launching a social media strategy]

Bad news: four eco-systems, four business models

While the growth of social means more opportunities for brand building, customer engagement and (I predict) sales, it has also been part of fracturing of the web media and content worlds into a series of different ecosystems with different content and revenue models. Google, Facebook, Youtube, Apple and maybe even Amazon. In each ecosystem the means of gaining prominence and then generating revenue is very different – so different that it takes more than just an adjustment or tweak to do it properly. Instead it takes a full-scale effort.

In Google you get prominence from inbound links, quality of content, site structure, bidding capability and dollars spent. The reward is traffic that may or may not results in sales depending on how good you are at monetisation. The ecosystem is completely open. Content is created or published on web pages, open for the world to see and search.

On Facebook prominence comes from customer engagement. Getting customers to like you, use your app and then continue to read you and hopefully comment. To stay engaged for a very long time. The potential rewards are a long spectrum of possibilities from the warm and fuzzy (customers engaging with the brand) to direct response (clicks onto booking engines). But the big money inside the ecosystem is restricted to Facebook and some gaming companies. Everyone else is at the warm and fuzzy side of the spectrum. The ecosystem is closed. Consumers may screw up and put public content intended to be private but inside social media there are terabytes of content excluded from the Google and the general public.

For Apple prominence comes from developing an app. A good app is very very different to a good website (or a good Facebook page). Not only does an app need to work on a smaller screen, in a perfect world it should work offline and online. The best are purpose built and targeted to people in different states of mind. But the rewards can be more immediate. Customers are happy to pay money upfront for apps and content from Apple. Less so in travel than in pure entertainment and games worlds but there is money being spent on Apple for language guides, local transport planners, destination guides and more. The ecosystem is closed.

Finally inside Youtube prominence comes from video content. The production quality does not have to be expert but the content needs to be entertaining. Great videos can generate numbers that make TV executives want to cry. Viral hits can out-rate the best of Hollywood. But - there is no formula or rule book (yet if ever) for a YouTube hit. The rewards are…..not sure. There is some advertising and there maybe some brand improvements but the dollars are small and outside of a megahit the brand benefits low. For a travel company there is no answer yet to either “how to make money on YouTube?” or even “how to build a brand on YouTube?”. In short there is an ecosystem in YouTube with monstrous amounts of traffic but no one knows how to use it other than to post and hope for a viral hit.

The bad news here is that for now you need to pick. Need to pick which ecosystem you are in and hit it hard. You can flirt with others (ie hit Google hard and flirt with Facebook). But you need to pick the main one and double down efforts. I predict that a lot of money is going to be spent and wasted by companies trying to play in all four to the same level.

[for more on this see these articles. Interview with Phil Simon on the “Age of the Platform”, post by Jason Calacanis on “Founders defining reality” and Nigam Arora’s post on the recent Google earnings announcement for the stock consequences]

Thanks to jooyoung.kim from Flickr for the image

Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 Predictions: Part 2 - The Promise of the mobile web

Second part in my three part “Predictions for 2012” post. Part 1 the promise of recovery is here

Part 2- The Promise of the mobile web

The Good news – mobile is DONE in major markets

The mobile internet is effectively ubiquitous in the major online markets of the world. The stats on iPhone, android, blackberry and Windows mobile phones tell a story of enough smart phones in pockets to drive the promised 10% of online travel business that was mentioned at conferences throughout 2010 and ‘11.

We also know that mobile no longer means on the move. Studies show that people are sitting in-front of their televisions, eschewing their laptops for tablets and smartphones as a means of consuming multiple forms of content simultaneously. This is great news for travel content companies (all types such as TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and Travelfish). With smart phone customers are looking for the mobile to fill in the scores of daily “gap moments”. Those brief periods of time when nothing is happening and pockets of boredom set in such as commuting, television advertisement breaks, waiting for a food order etc. The default for people in that moment is to pick up the phone and start surfing. Smart travel content companies will take advantage.

Expect to see content companies devoting more energy to mobile through even more apps (if that is possible). Also expect to see content broken up into more and more chunks or small pieces and quick reads. This is so that content can be in short enough forms to meet the small amounts of time that are available during the “gap moments”.

[for more on this keep a regular watch on Norm Rose’s site TravelTechnology – here is a great recent post on mobile including an well crafted infographic]

The Bad news – mobile will help intermediaries over suppliers

The back half of the 2000s/naughties in online travel was dominated by hotels and airlines clawing back online share from online travel agents. Particularly airlines and chain hotels.

Intermediaries have an advantage in mobile as it is much harder to look at more than one screen. Customers are looking on mobile for one app or site to provide the answer. This favours the intermediaries. Expect to see the intermediaries run hard with this by launching more and more sophisticated apps and upgrading them regularly. Expect to see suppliers spend lots of money trying to figure out what to do to regain share. They will look at better booking apps for searching and booking. They will also spend money on apps and services for on-property activity, They will try new (maybe recycled) business models including ideas like RoomKey. And – they will try to launch content and destination business. Unfortunately for them a lot of that money will be wasted. As the mobile web is now and will be through all of 2012 there is a natural advantage for intermediaries. Barring a mobile web technology or platform shift, suppliers are going to need to innovate unlike they ever have before to maintain their web based share in the mobile web.

thanks to m for matthjis via Flickr for the photo

Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012 Predictions: the BOOT has good news and bad news. Part 1 - the recovery

2011. 2011. 2011. I have to type it three times, to remind myself how big year it was. So big, it has taken me almost a month to get over the end of it and publish my predictions for 2012. I turned 40, which makes me about 100 in Internet years. I started a new job and launched a new business. Meanwhile the online travel world ignored my aging and changing - it just kept powering on. Smashing through a world economy that can’t decide if it is in boom or bust. But what of 2012? Here is what a 40 year BOOT thinks will happen in 2012. There are three exciting things about 2012: the promise of economic recovery, the promise of the mobile web and the promise of social media growth. Like all wizened old grouches, I have good news and bad news about these three promises. And.. like those aging bloggers who are writing less than they used to I have split these predictions into 3 parts.

Part 1 - The promise of recovery

The Good news - another wave of online demand is coming online

Next year will mark the year that everyone born in 1994 turns 18. This is more insightful that it sounds. It is significant because 1994 marks the year the world wide web was born, meaning 2012 is the year the first true 100% internet generation comes of age.

By coming of age they become economic entities that get jobs and make their own decisions on where to spend money and when to go on holidays. This generation and those three to five years older than them will fuel another burst of growth in online travel spending.

Combined with the growth of middle classes in China and India, 2012 will see a greater shift in offline to online than we saw in 2011. I predict products will continue emerge/grow online to catch this wave (ie P2P travel such as Airbnb).

The Bad new - It is 2008/2009 all over again

2012 will not deliver the economic growth and renewal that has been hoped and predicted. As a result we will see a general drop in travel demand even as online share increases.

This drop will not be as bad as – but will be a reminder of – the declines in 2008/9. I expect this to drive a drop in travel supply prices (hotel, air, cruise).

Unfortunately I predict that we will see some further announcements by suppliers in the areas of bankruptcy, closing of brands and disbanding of joint ventures.

It will however give deals a big push – both for dedicated deals sites and for the general online travel agent market. Watch the deal market and businesses grow (even if we lose some players along the way).

[FYI - here are my 2011 predictions]

Thanks to merwing on Flickr for the photo