GLOBAL REPORT—With the new year comes new strategies, and the evolving arena of social media is no different.
The ultimate goals of those strategies, however, remains the same, said Daniel Edward Craig, founder of online reputation management firm Reknown and moderator of the webinar “Top social media strategies for 2014,” hosted by ReviewPro.
The first of those objectives is to increase brand awareness. The second is to enhance guest satisfaction. Last but not least is to drive revenue.
To help hoteliers reach them, Craig and his panel shared 10 social media strategies to adopt in 2014.
1. Identify and target social media personas
Hotel marketers have often segmented guests in familiar buckets, such as group, transient and business. But those are often too broad to reach with a targeted, captivating message via social media, said Robert Cole, CEO of RockCheetah.
It’s not enough to discern the who, what, when, where and how, he said. Most important is the why—why are travelers visiting a certain destination under certain parameters?
“Who are these people? What do they want? And why should they stay with you?” Cole asked.
To find those answers, it helps to create personas that represent a subset of travelers. Details matter. Give each persona a name with detailed characteristics and traits. Cole offered honeymooners “Max and Trevor” as one example: The homosexual couple is just married, in their upper 20s, have high income levels, are foodies and hail from the Boston area.
Being specific allows marketers to offer tailored communications that are more likely to drive engagement with a specific cohort, he said.
The above might represent a departure from the high-volume aspirations of most hotel marketers, but as Craig added, “You can’t be all things to all people on social media.”
2. Integrate paid, owned and earned content
There are three types of content online, said Suzie Wotton, VP of marketing for Red Carnation Hotels.
The first is paid content, such as display ads, cost-per-click campaigns and online-travel-agency listings. While marketers have a high degree of control of such content, it typically has a low influence on traveler booking decisions.
The second is owned content, such as a brand website, Facebook page or Twitter feed. Again, hoteliers have a high degree of control over such content, but it packs little punch.
The third—and most influential—is earned content such as user-generated reviews, views, media coverage and blogs.
“In traditional marketing, we are inevitably driven by owned and paid content strategies,” Wotton said. Marketers need to flip the switch in 2014 and start developing strategies around earned content.
But how to achieve it? To garner exceptional earned content, she said, hoteliers must provide exceptional guest experiences.
They can also help grease the skids by throwing out bite-size pieces of content that encourage engagement and can be shared easily across multiple channels, she added.
3. Make reviews the priority
It took the marketing team at Library Hotel Collection six years to push all four of its hotels into the corresponding slots in TripAdvisor’s New York hotel rankings. And while they were only able to hold that position for a month, the exercise proved worth it, said VP of Sales, Marketing and Revenue Adele Gutman.
“Our phones starting ringing off the hook,” she said.
The boutique chain has garnered much attention in recent years for its TripAdvisor dominance. Its hotels typically rank among the top seven in New York, depending on the week or month.
To get there, “start by imagining the kind of reviews that you want to have and become that hotel that inspires those reviews,” Gutman advised. “Share your vision with your team and expect the best from them and don’t settle for less. When you see something you think can be better, give those people the coaching they need. … Your reward will be thousands and thousands and thousands of people being driven to your profile on TripAdvisor.”
Reviews are not the end unto themselves, she added. Hoteliers should glean actionable insight from them.
If guests constantly complain about noise level, for instance, operators should do something about it. Likewise, if guests are always complimenting some aspect of the experience, operators should leverage that success.
4. Get social with Google
Google’s algorithm is placing increasing emphasis on user-generated content, such as reviews, Craig said. To make a hotel feature more prominent in the search engine’s organic search results, for instance, marketers needs to capture at least five reviews through Google+.
That the platform’s reviews are often outdated and far less insightful than what is found on TripAdvisor is not the point, he said. Reviews are a major priority for Google, so it’s likely the company will find ways to drive more user-generated content.
“We need to pay attention to Google reviews,” he said.
That means paying attention to the platforms on which those reviews are made: Google+ and Google Places.
recently merged those channels and is seeing good results.
“As a business, we took the proactive steps of merging our Google Places profile with Google+ in order to optimize our Google presence for local, social and mobile search,” Wotton said.
Marketers can’t simply create a Google+ account and be done with it, however, she said. Similar to Facebook or Twitter, the platform needs a constant stream of fresh content.
5. Optimize Facebook for Graph Search
Recent changes to Facebook has made the social network more important as a marketing tool. Graph Search, for instance, is like a search engine within a user’s friend network, Craig explained.
For instance, a user can use Graph Search to look for friends who have “liked” hotels in Moscow. “You want your hotel to show up in relevant searches,” he said.
How? The more guests who visit a hotel’s Facebook page, leave comments, take photos and mention your page elsewhere, the more likely it will show up in Graph Search.
6. Engage your guests visually and interactively
“The ol’ saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words,” but no one is quite sure how many words an Instagram photo or Pinterest posting is worth, Cole said.
Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is pushing that potential answer to its highest value with its “Pin. Pack. Go” campaign on Pinterest
. Prospective guests can put together a Pinterest board, share it with a Four Seasons
property, and have a property representative respond to individual posts with recommendations about food, accommodations and activities in a given destination.
The program seamlessly combines a visually driven platform with high levels of customer engagement, Cole said.
As a “visual” aside, Craig also suggested pictures and videos have consistent hash tags, key words and descriptions to drive more awareness across multiple platforms and online conversations.
7. Make your website a social hub
Red Carnation dabbles in myriad social media platforms. To leverage the power and capabilities of each on the company’s most powerful asset, www.redcarnationhotels.com, the company uses a third-party solution that collects it all and seamlessly reproduces it on their website.
The resulting “Get Social
” page allows guests to quickly see all Red Carnation’s social media content in one place. It also plays into Google’s algorithm to drive higher organic search results.
“We can get distracted by social networks … but our website remains the primary means of promoting our business online. It needs to become a living, breathing entity with integrated earned content,” Craig added.
8. Manage guest expectations
Gutman is quick to admit some of the rooms in the Library Hotel Collection
are quite small. She markets them as such, calling them “petite.”
“We do our best to ensure that the people when they see our description and our website … it’s as authentic and honest as possible,” she explained.
Online marketing should be as transparent as possible, Gutman said. Better to be honest and upfront than to fool guests at point of purchase and have them tweet their discontent when they arrive on property.
“I’ve disarmed them with my painfully honest description. … I’d rather they be happy somewhere else than be unhappy at our hotel,” she said.
9. Use social media for service
Social media has become an important customer service channel, Craig said.
“We talk a lot about the importance of reading and responding to guest reviews on TripAdvisor especially. But now what is equally important is to make sure we are listening and responding in real time, 24 hours a day to content posted about our hotels throughout all the social channels,” Wotton said.
If a hotel’s phone rang at 3 a.m. with a guest complaint, it likely would not go unanswered. A direct tweet should be treated the same way, she said.
Some hoteliers might not have the necessary resources to monitor all channels all the time, but there are helpful third-party tools that exist, she added.
10. Measure performance
“Most importantly, measure performance,” Cole said. “You don’t know if you’re doing well or not unless you have your goals quantified.”