Instagram is an easy marketing tool for hoteliers, but changes to the platform’s algorithm could soon make it a pay-to-play space.
GLOBAL REPORT—Hoteliers have found that reposting user-generated content is an easy way to market and connect with guests on Instagram, but recent changes to the platform’s algorithm could make connecting with guests more difficult.
“There is some concern with Instagram’s recent algorithm change,” said Greg Bodenlos, hospitality marketing consultant and brand marketing manager at The Charles. “(The concern is) that it’s not going to be as easy as it currently is to have your brand content show up in somebody’s Instagram feed.
“Just as we’ve seen with Facebook and with Twitter and other social spaces, Instagram is a business, and they are of course going to continue to monetize their platform.”
He said that Instagram has become a primary engagement channel for hotels because it’s not a pay-to-play space.
“I think there’s been a lot of fatigue on Facebook and Twitter, primarily because they are both such pay-to-play spaces,” he said. “And there’s so much competition for getting fans and followers’ attention. … On Instagram, hotels have—at least my peers in marketing have—really taken to Instagram as being the primary channel to be able to interact with real followers and guests who are frequenting your property.”
Going forward, Bodenlos said he thinks marketing free of charge on Instagram is going to change, making it more difficult for smaller hotels to engage guests through the platform.
“My inclination is that we’re in a good spot right now as far as hotels that would like to be cost prohibitive with their budget and be able to do more with less,” he said. “But I have a feeling that as the algorithm changes and rewards content that’s highly engaged rather than content that’s showing up in chronological order, that’s going to be harder for the little guys.”
He said hoteliers will have to start thinking about how much money they want to throw at promoted posts and really evaluate how Instagram marketing plays into the company’s overall social media strategy.
“I think that it is very important to stress when it comes to what’s coming next (on Instagram) because it could change very quickly,” he said. “It could change tomorrow.”
User-generated content is the norm
Hoteliers have taken to featuring content created by guests at properties because it’s a successful marketing strategy for the brand, and guests enjoy seeing their photos posted on brand accounts.
Allison Sitch, VP of global public relations at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, said the company has taken a “centralized approach” to Instagram by featuring content from all of the company’s properties around the world on three Instagram channels.
She said that Ritz-Carlton’s Instagram is fueled by user-generated content and that “99% of shots are actually ‘regrammed.’”
“The (goal) there is to have users use one of three hashtags that we have,” she said. “People write to us about how happy they were to know that one of their photos were used on the Ritz-Carlton account.”
Bodenlos said hoteliers can easily find user-generated content by searching for images that are geotagged by guests.
“Instagram is currently really easy for brands to be able to look at user-generated content that guests geotag,” he said. “One really low-hanging fruit that I think hotels have really gone, ‘Ah ha, this is such a great resource,’ is to comment, like and ask for permission from guests for us to use their content that they’re publishing on their own Instagrams for our own marketing.
“That’s been a really great way to organically grow our follower count with real followers, with real actual guests who are posting and sharing experience on their own accounts.”
Rachel Feit, director of digital marketing at Dream Hotels, said the company’s digital marketing team handles all posting and community engagement on Instagram, and combines original content and user-generated.
“We receive a ton of photography from our guests through individual property geotags as well as designated hashtags,” she said via email. “Instagram allows us to give people an immersive, visual, real-time taste of our brands, (as well as) allow us to build relationships with prospective guests around the world, which helps create brand loyalty.”
She said the brand has “been able to convert online fans to hotel guests” through Instagram, and tracks return on investment through reporting platforms and social listening tools.
“Through social advertising on Instagram, we are more easily able to monetize our content,” she said. “In addition to ROI, engagement is a key metric for us as it allows us to measure how people are interacting with our content.”
Boosting F&B through Instagram
Regramming photos of cocktails and dishes from hotel bars and restaurants has become a great way for hoteliers to figure out what guests want and like, sources said.
Bodenlos said using user-generated photos of drinks and meals is “a phenomenal way for marketers to work smart, not hard.” He said marketers and fast-paced F&B operations often have different priorities and different schedules, which makes it difficult to set up a shoot of a dish or cocktail for Instagram purposes.
“Sometimes it’s difficult or challenging for marketers to come in and say, ‘We need this content, and you need to plate a dish for marketing purposes.’ That doesn’t always happen,” he said. “Guests who post photos of drinks and meals at restaurants let hotels know what drinks are good and what dishes are popular.
“I’ve found that every single time we’ve reposted someone’s photo, it gives us a better opportunity to: A, see higher engagement numbers; and B, it shows the customer we’re not only listening, but that we’re actually promoting content they’re producing.”
Sitch said Ritz-Carlton created a separate Instagram account for F&B because it’s extremely popular among guests.
“We just launched a feed for our chefs because the F&B (scene) is pretty vibrant among all of our guests,” she said. “We realized the Ritz-Carlton feed wasn’t the place for that.”
An alternative strategy
The Loews Regency brand, which has one property in New York and one in San Francisco, entered the Instagram space about a year ago, according to Piper Stevens, Loews Hotels’ VP of loyalty and marketing. The brand creates most content for Instagram in-house, which is managed by a social media manager who oversees all social media activity for the brand.
Stevens said the social media manager develops most Instagram content herself, and content sticks to the brand’s “In the Details” theme, which is different from the Loews Hotels Instagram account.
“This direction (In the Details theme) allows us to further differentiate from the Loews Hotels channel, which is predominantly guest-generated content positioned under the brand (hashtag) Travel for Real,” Stevens said.
She said that Loews Regency has seen great success with “defining and owning a specific theme.”
The Loews Regency channel is viewed more as a way to connect with guests than a marketing tool, but the brand still recognizes the need to pay attention to engagement rates, Stevens said.
“Our key metric is engagement rate, as it quickly indicates whether or not our content is resonating consistently with our audience,” she said. “Given that the Loews Regency’s Instagram presence is a year old, it is crucial that we keep an eye on any fluctuation to our engagement rate as the audience grows.”