“If I’m a college student and I want to backpack through
Europe, why should I go through the process of trying to figure
it out by myself when I can get more affordable prices, find
better lodging and get an all-around better experience through
someone with connections?” says Qualman.
EF offers support to travelers just about anywhere in the
world, from finding the best prices on plane tickets to lodging
and restaurants. Designated ambassadors on college campuses
do the bulk of the marketing for EFCB. Students can apply for
this position on the EFBC Web site,
efcollgebreak.com, and once
an ambassador, they help pitch the program and in exchange
they can earn free travel.
For an audience of college-aged consumers, the company
knew it needed to leverage some online social media because of
the demographic and because — just like viral — it’s essentially free marketing. So, foreseeing the shift in DR marketing
to digital, the group had to identify
which social media made sense for
them through Facebook,” says Qualman.
EF learned from this mistake and changed its online strategy
to be one that builds communication and trust, slowly. Qualman says, “Then later, you give them a poster or a bonus on
a trip and that’s when you get them into the database. It’s a
Another learning experience came when EF built its own
social community site. At the time, every company believed
it had to have a portal that gave consumers daily information,
from weather to sports. But EF learned quickly that students
didn’t want to leave their Facebook or MySpace accounts.
“It was our field of nightmares … we built it and they didn’t
come,” says Qualman. “But one thing I’d recommend to other
companies is if you fail, fail well. You have to get out there and
try something in the DR world, but make it light and adjust
EF immediately teamed up with
the former head of product marketing at Apple, Dave Morin (who
helped launch the iPod), who is
now working at Facebook. The first
step was to create an EF presence
on game application pages such as
trivia and Scrabulous.
EF at the time.
So the company decided to
align itself with a social networking
site founded by college students:
In the end, EF’s mistakes have
helped them learn that, for their business, the most important part of DR
is just getting the company’s information out there. “We learned from
these two pieces,” Qualman says.
“But if we didn’t have the guts to
get out there originally, and quickly,
we wouldn’t have ever gotten the
After its initial launch, EFCB
had some DR setbacks. The
online group wanted to create a
more interactive device for college
students, so EF launched a map
where students could mark off the
countries they have visited.
“Everyone loved it. We had 50,000 downloads a day to this
application, so we started treating it as a DR mechanism,” says
Qualman. “In order to download this, you have to give us your
personal information.” But not long after, someone designed
a similar map and everyone started passing this one around
to buddies on Facebook because it did not require giving up
personal information. Almost simultaneously, Trip Advisor also
came out with its own version (partnered with Google Maps)
and got about 70,000 hits a day.
“It was a good lesson for us to learn. The short-term gain
was to get information from people. But now we know if we
can get those people engaged, instead of just using traditional
means to collect information, we can eventually market to
Building on Facebook
EFCB continues to have a large
presence on Facebook. Campus
ambassadors are using their Facebook pages to talk about and build
excitement around tours they’re
going to take or have previously participated in. EF also buys pay-per-click programs on Facebook. From
an organic standpoint, EF has its
own fan page — which is essentially
a company homepage.
“We wrote another application for when a student is actually traveling on one of our programs. It’s a way for students to
brag about themselves and there is a competitive piece to it,”
Once EF has helped a student plan a trip, it retains the
individuals’ travel information, from what city they are in to
where they are touring. Therefore, EF gives the traveler the
tools to update their trip status. For example, while a person is
probably not going to have much access to E-mail or a phone,
the program automatically updates the person’s whereabouts on
a Facebook account based on the trip’s planned itinerary.
Down the line, EF wants to take the application a step further and make the trip updater available to people who aren’t
on Facebook — basically making it easier for parents to track
EF owes 15 to 20 percent of its College Break Web site
traffic to Facebook. Also, since the partnership began, the
number of people that enter the site and then stay to view
more pages after they land is up 15 to 20 percent.