Carnival & Delta monetize their Facebook fans

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Recently Carnival Cruise Lines and my employer Razorfish announced the launch of a new Facebook application that makes it possible for people to collaborate with their social network to plan vacation cruises. Cruise enthusiasts can explore different types of vacation options and involve their Facebook friends in the planning and booking of a cruise. Interestingly, the announcement occurs days after Delta Air Lines said it would start selling flights on Facebook.

The Carnival and Delta announcements show how companies are linking social media to commercial transactions — and also how brands can mine customer data gathered on cloud computing platforms like Facebook. It’s one thing for companies to build brand awareness and consumer goodwill by making use of the conversational power of social. But Carnival is looking for a way to tap into its 251,000 Facebook fans (and counting) for transactional value, not just brand appeal, as is Delta with its 39,000 fans.

Moreover, there is a subtle but crucial difference in the approaches taken by Delta and Carnival. Delta aims to keep its customers on its Facebook app for the duration of the booking process. But Carnival directs consumers from its Facebook page to Carnival.com to complete a booking. Both approaches have their advantages. While Delta’s approach is more self-contained, Carnival can expose consumers to branded content on Carnival’s own turf. Consequently Carnival seeks to take more ownership of its social experience.

Forrester Research data suggest that both Carnival and Delta are making the right moves by building upon their Facebook pages. According to a July 28 report written by Henry Harteveldt, 26 million leisure travelers in the U.S. began using social media over the past two years. Seventy two percent of U.S. online travelers (nearly 100 million people) participate in social media at least once a month. In the report, “How Travel eBusiness Can Engage Conversationalists, the New Social Media Group,” Henry urges travel companies to add a booking engine to their social network pages.

Razorfish helped conceptualize, create, and design the Carnival Facebook app (a first of its kind in the cruise line industry).

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