By Philip Faircloth
Strong social media plans can help guest communications and influence travel shoppers’ purchase decisions, but plans are not “one size fits all.”
Social media has become a powerful tool for hoteliers to communicate with guests and reach consumers, and it’s only growing. Increases in social media use by both business and leisure travelers over the past two years indicate the importance of this medium. A study in June 2011 by ROI Research and Performics shows that 80% of respondents have an active Facebook account, 57% discuss travel on social networking sites, and 37% learned about a new product or service from a social networking site. With such large numbers of consumers using social media as a tool when deciding on a hotel, there’s no time for a hotelier to lose in developing a strategy.
Forming Your Plan
Although incorporating social media into your marketing program is imperative in today’s climate, hoteliers should avoid rushing into action without a plan, as there are many factors to consider that ensure you head in the right direction. Before you begin, you’ll need to determine your property’s:
- Reasons for using social media – improved guest communication, ability to put faces behind the property’s name, increased Website traffic, etc.
- Goals – number of social likes and followers, respond to all negative reviews within “x” amount of time, increase Website traffic by “x” percentage
- Expectations – focus on improved engagement, communication, traffic and possibly bookings, rather than exact ROI
- Resources – need a dedicated employee/staff for day to day postings and some IT and design support behind the scenes
- Strategy – should fit your property’s image and be engaging for guests and potential guests
Social media is more than just Facebook. Anything that is user interaction-based is a social media site, including YouTube and Twitter, as well as sites where users can post reviews, like TripAdvisor. Social media users are not just consuming content on social media sites: they are also producing messages about your brand, which will influence the choices of others. In the social media landscape, managing your brand message has become an exercise of constant vigilance. A hotel with an effective social media strategy aspires not only to broadcast marketing messages, it also participates in an active dialogue, listening to consumers and responding to their comments, ultimately creating relationships and fostering brand advocates who produce content for the property. Remember though, the nature of social means you must relinquish some control, in this open discussion forum for consumers. How you respond and communicate with those consumers is what you can control.
Not “One Size Fits All”
Because there are so many social media channels, navigating them can seem daunting, and to further complicate matters, no one social media strategy will work for all properties. Depending on your property type, as well as factors like location, nearby attractions, property size, target market, number of repeat guests and budget, you may need to utilize only one social media outlet, or a combination of several. Before spending time and resources on various social media outlets that may not be right for your hotel, you’ll want to determine precisely which outlets are going to help you achieve your goals. Though the process can seem complex, there is an abundance of specialized help available for hoteliers, including social media consultants and hotel Internet marketing companies. These professionals can help you get your social media strategy right the first time, saving you from a costly trial and error process.
There is one aspect of managing social media that is universal: All properties should monitor and respond to their online reviews. As mentioned above, there are a slew of sites where users can portray your property any way they choose. Ignoring your reviews, responding confrontationally or not responding quickly can translate into devastating losses. According to a Market Metrix study, 51% of hotel guests consider past experience, reputation, recommendations and online reviews more important than hotel location or price, and because review sites receive high volumes of traffic—TripAdvisor has more than 50 million unique monthly visitors and over 40 million reviews—it is essential that property owners are proactive in managing their online reputation. You don’t need to respond to every single review, but you should respond to all negative reviews that cite a specific problem, and to some positive reviews. Keep in mind that your response is as much for potential guests that may see the review as it is for the customer who wrote the review. There’s technology available to make monitoring fast and easy, notifying you in real time when reviews on your property are posted.
Though outside companies can assist with determining which social media outlets are right for your property and help with online reputation, social media is inherently personal, meaning its day to day content is best managed by a property’s own staff, who know best what’s going on in the hotel and who can form personal connections with your guests. Managing your property’s social media presence allows travel shoppers to see you interacting on a personal level with guests, showing that providing a positive guest experience is a top priority. This results in attracting new business, building brand loyalty and driving repeat guests.
Here’s what your property can do today to maximize the effectiveness of your social media presence:
- Form a plan or reassess your current plan. Is your property wasting resources on some social channels and perhaps missing the boat on others?
- Set reasonable goals and expectations that you can build on.
- Implement a strategy that matches your property’s branding across all channels.
- Have a consistent mixture of promotional messaging, social messaging and prompt review responses.
Once you are on the right path, providing compelling content and actively participating with travel shoppers are what will cultivate relationships with guests, ultimately creating brand advocates and online revenue for your hotel.