Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Facebook Search Kicks Tourism Boards of the World in the Teeth

Shanghai
I'd really like to visit Shanghai one day. And in my former days as a Facebook customer, it's not unreasonable to think that one of the places I'd do a little research is on that social media platform. Type in "Shanghai" and up pops one of Facebook's new "community pages," populated with more than 2,100 fans, a Wikipedia entry, a map and a few recent posts about the 2010 World's Expo. Not sure if I'd dig further for find the official 2010 Expo page, which, with its 17,000 fans, is relegated to a lower search result than Facebook's scraped page. Even more difficult to find in Facebook search is what appears to be an official Shanghai page linked to the local government web site. It has more than 13,000 fans.
Facebook search is constantly adapting depending on how you are navigating and what you've already clicked, so researching a post like this - or seeing a city tourism board's Facebook presence the way a tourist would see it - is a bit difficult. At one point while I was researching this post, a page for Shanghai as a "public official" popped up.
It appears that most of these Shanghai pages were created by users, likely with official purpose. But Facebook has clearly prioritized its own aggregated page above the other, more popular, more official, pages. When marketer Seth Godin attempted something like this with a program called "Brands in Public," the backlash was significant. It's been a bit more subdued since Facebook rolled out community pages a week ago. I suspect that's because most marketing bloggers don't want to tangle with Facebook, and because the incredible reach of this new initiative is only slowly coming to light.

San Francisco
San Francisco's Convention & Visitors Bureau spends millions of earmarked tax dollars each year promoting Baghdad by the Bay as a preeminent tourist destination. They do their job very well. Only in SF, the official city tourism campaign, has built up a fan base of more than 160,000 for its Facebook page. Too bad that people searching for it are much more likely to land on the first entry that comes up, Facebook's own page with its generic content and 9,000 fans. (At least a page for the Giants baseball team figures highly in some searches.)

Sydney
Sydney is another city I'd love to visit as a tourist. Again, a crappy community page with about 6,000 fans is my first landing from Facebook search. Sydney's aggressive, official "SeeSydney" tourism page, with 13,000 fans, is not a priority in search. Another city tourism page - way more popular than the community page with 26,000 fans, and yet sadly abandoned since 2008 - is buried further down in the results.

Paris
I've never been to Europe, but when I do, Paris is on the top of the list. But if I look to Facebook search for information, I get a very low quality community page with updates that consist mostly of people joining the other 11,000 people who "like" Paris. Another page, with a photo boldly labeled "official," has 235,000 fans, but in the world of Facebook search, it's second class.

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