By Billy Kolber
In just a year, social media has gone from being a “nice to have” marketing component for luxury hotels to a “must have” component. And all indicators point to its importance only trending higher. Regardless of the communities, channels or tools, the past year has seen an enormous growth in the use and importance of social media. Hospitality eBusiness Strategies’ just-released 5th Annual Benchmark Survey makes this very clear. Social media has jumped to #2 in their return on investment ranking, closing in on Website Optimization. And 2011 expenditures on social media are surging 56% – an increase second only to the increase in spending on strategic links to property websites from online directories and portals.
In many ways, the travel industry, and hotels in particular, are still behind the curve in the use of online marketing and tools. Many properties are still stuck in a “Web 1.0” world, where online communication are really just a digitized version of the one-way marketing conversation that defined hotel marketing in the 20th century. Fortunately, travel is particularly well suited to the “Web 2.0” world, where content and conversations are built around consumer interests and concerns. Consumers are passionate about travel and all of the experiences it encompasses. They want to talk about and show off their experiences. They want to share their opinions, recommendations and knowledge. And they want to hear from their fellow travelers, whose words, images and videos help shape their travel plans and booking confidence. It’s that passion and eagerness to engage that makes them particularly receptive to social media. Hoteliers and travel service providers need only provide them the forums, the tools, the encouragement and the recognition for doing so.
Be a Part of Luxury Link’s Successful Social Media Strategy
Luxury Link’s social media strategy has been featured as a Facebook Marketing Case Study. Luxury Link Partner Hotels gain added exposure and social media traction through inclusion in our Facebook and Twitter community conversations. No one else offers our unique combination of innovative programs to effectively deliver leads, customers and revenue to hotels, and our dedicated account managers make it easy to partner in our success.
The Two-Way Conversation Heard ‘Round the World
Social Media is defined by its conversational and public nature. This is what makes social media both challenging to master and extremely rewarding when it gains traction. Understanding social media as a public conversation with your guests – current, former, and future – is the first step in crafting and executing a successful social media strategy.
Like other conversations with your guests, social media conversations can take many forms. Some of the “traditional” conversations that are now happening in social media include:
- Concierge Services
- Customer Service & Recovery
- Sales and Marketing
- Onsite Marketing and Up-selling
- Feedback and Focus Groups
Social media also creates and empowers new types of conversations that weren’t possible before, such as:
- Building and facilitating guest communities
- Highlighting and emphasizing distinctive and compelling features of your property
- Identifying and cultivating “brand ambassadors”
With these conversations happening in real time online, each form may require its own strategy, tools, tone of voice and staffing. Successful social media efforts mirror successful hotel operations in this regard. They both require engaged, responsive staff members working as a team, and the use of specialized tools to increase their efficiency. But the potential return on investment is great, multiplied by the public visibility of these conversations.
Show and Tell, Not Sell, Sell, Sell
While room sales are the ultimate goal of all social media efforts, the route is less direct than other digital and traditional marketing efforts. There’s certainly a place for posting hotel deals and offering special rates for Facebook fans and Twitter followers. But successful social media efforts are characterized more by consumer engagement than direct sales activation. Social media experts often suggest that no more than 20% of your communications be sales messages, but that still leaves many hoteliers wondering about the composition of the other 80%.
By viewing social media as an extension of the guest experience, putting engagement into practice becomes much easier. Adam Wallace, Director of Digital Marketing for the Roger Smith Hotel, known as “the twitter hotel” makes a great case for using Twitter for communicating 1-on-1 and for using social media to bridge the online/in-person divide, providing online hospitality to guests when they’re not at the hotel. Starwood talks about using it to extend their relationships with guests beyond “the 10 days a year they stay with us to all year long.” In this context, your online conversations become an extension of the same kinds of best-practice engagements you might have with a guest on site. Travel is inherently social, and your customers want to know about what’s going on in and around your hotel. They’re engaged by discussions of food and wine, cultural and tourist attractions, special events, even the weather.
Social media is effective in creating a personal connection with your guests before they arrive or even book your hotel, one that will enhance their excitement about and ultimate satisfaction with your property. Use social media to enhance and add value to their stay. Use it to thank them for their business, apologize for service lapses and encourage them to return.
Making it Happen
There’s no shortage of consultants and tools to help build and manage your social media presence. Tools like Hootsuite andTweetDeck are among the most popular content management tools. Revinate debuted this year as a social media management tool specific to hotels, by focusing on user generated reviews in addition to the more universal Facebook and Twitter content. Revinate also offers an online knowledge base with extensive downloadable guides for developing and managing a social media strategy. Contests are generally acknowledged as the most effective way to quickly build a list of followers, and Wildfire makes it easy to build and run contests that grow your fan base.
If you’re going to try managing your social media internally, Hotel Marketing Strategies offers an easy framework for thinking about how your whole team can and should participate in your social media strategy. At a minimum, having a strategy and a staff member to monitor and respond to customer service issues online is essential. A public conversation about your property is already happening there, and being a pro-active part of that conversation is a baseline engagement that is expected of every luxury hotel today.
For many luxury properties, a concierge twitter feed, like @HyattConcierge, may be the most logical next step. It both showcases the insider knowledge your concierge team has, and provides another access channel for your guests to access the personalized service that drive customer satisfaction. Those conversations will also provide a source of inspiration for the conversations you can start on a Facebook page. With contests and conversations running on your Facebook page, adding a reservations tabprovides a booking link right where all that activity is happening. Building a community on YouTube as Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has done with videos that highlight the distinctive features of your property is another way to engage and entice your customers. Integrating that content on your hotel website, and enabling Facebook Likes and Twitter Follows from every page on your site creates a self-reinforcing loop of engagement. Using Facebook Sponsored Stories then enables you to further build your community by leveraging the social connections of your fans each time they “like” your business or content.
Location-based services such as Foresquare and Facebook Places are the newest addition to the social media arena. They allow GPS-enabled offers to appear on consumer phones and mobile devices when they are in your physical vicinity. They can be used most effectively to deploy onsite marketing offers, such as encouraging patronage of F&B venues.
No matter what social media arena you engage in, remember to adhere to the precepts that would apply to any guest conversation: Be professional, honest, responsive, personable, genuine and nice. Without the body language, vocal inflections and facial clues of in-person communication, it’s critical to be sure your words reflect your personality and social graces.
Luxury Link Can Help
As a leader in online hotel marketing, we’re committed to helping the luxury lodging industry grow and thrive. This white paper is just one in a series we’ve commissioned as a free service to the industry — no strings attached. We believe the more you learn about today’s fast-paced marketing environment, the more our Hotel Partner Program makes sense. We hope you will take advantage of the entire Luxury Link Insights white paper series to help build your business, and we welcome the opportunity to explain in depth how our program can be the most cost-effective part of your online marketing strategy.
Click here to start a conversation with us.