When it comes to social networks for both guests and hoteliers alike, Facebook remains king and the most popular way to engage with each other.
GLOBAL REPORT—Facebook, the most popular social media platform, connects millions of people across the globe, and it didn’t take long for businesses to take notice and try to take advantage of what it offered. Hotel companies in particular found the platform to be a useful way to connect with guests and improve their service.
Facebook has significantly developed over the years, said Bryan Segal, CEO of Engagement Labs, especially by lending itself as an ideal channel for business needs. The platform added features such as check-ins, reviews and call-to-action buttons that link directly to booking engines, which has helped to simplify the travel shopping experience.
“Hoteliers can integrate various apps onto their Facebook page, allowing their page to be a central hub with all of the hotel’s information, thus streamlining their online marketing efforts,” he said via email. “Also, hoteliers have come to embrace Facebook’s paid advertising over the years, which helps hotels to extend their reach and engage with new audiences.”
These features, combined with Facebook’s large user base and longer shelf life for content that remains in news feeds longer than in other platforms, improves hotel companies’ chances of exposure to users.
All about engagement
Facebook is a tried-and-true social channel for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, said Whitney Reynolds, director of social media for Kimpton. Facebook is about building relationships, she said, and that’s the most important thing. The platform has been a great tool for longstanding engagement with guests.
Engagement should be about quality, not quantity, Reynolds said. Sharing and liking posts and leaving comments builds relationships, she said, but some people care more about follower growth.
“The more engaged (guests) are, the more passionate brand advocates you have speaking on your behalf,” she said. “Engagement is central to everything we do.”
Each of the 12 social media channels Ritz-Carlton uses serves a different function, VP of Global Public Relations Allison Sitch said. Facebook is a critical social center of guest interaction.
“A lot of our interactions with people on Facebook are (before they go) to the hotel or they are at the physical hotel or they’re just leaving the hotel,” she said. “We know that forms the content they leave, the photos and stories.”
Facebook allows the brand to extend its persona and serve its values better than other channels, Sitch said. It lets the brand speak with guests online the same way they would on property, and it also gives the Ritz-Carlton staff new information about the guests, which means providing better service.
One example Sitch mentioned involved a family with a little girl who lost a tooth and was afraid the tooth fairy wouldn’t find her at the hotel. The property’s staff learned of this through Facebook and had a staff member dress as the tooth fairy to meet the girl during her stay.
“With these little moments, that by the freedom of people sharing information of what’s going on in their life, we’re sometimes able to move and act on that to create magic,” she said.
Based on Facebook’s popularity with guests, Sitch said Ritz-Carlton took two approaches. Every social media channel the brand uses has a centralized brand account, she said, but the brand expanded it to allow individual properties to have their own Facebook pages as well.
“They reach out to the handle rather than look for multiple other handles for multiple other hotels,” she said. “We deviated a little from that on Facebook to have all the hotels on there. Hotel business splits into different buckets: inbound people driving or flying to you to stay in a room and then the local community audience for F&B and weekend getaways and weddings. Local is big for us on the (individual) Facebook hotel pages.”
The main account is global and celebrates the components of global travel in one place, Sitch said. The local pages are for engaging with the local communities to see what’s going on and have a nonpromotional and nontransactional approach, she said.
Reynolds said being genuine on social media is one of Kimpton’s biggest priorities. Since hoteliers can’t show they care about guests without listening to them, she said, Kimpton built its strategy around listening to what guests have to say.
Kimpton has committed to engaging one-to-one with every comment on Facebook, Reynolds said, from user posts on its wall to user comments left on content the brand has posted. The page allows Kimpton staff to take note of details users share, which allows hoteliers to personalize the interaction.
“The details they’re surprised we remembered, like their dog’s name or that they visited the property in Milwaukee a month ago,” she said.
The engagement is conversational, not transactional, Reynolds said. Those managing the pages ask open-ended questions and share excitement over future visits, she said, and it’s important to invite people into conversations and not just post sentences and statements. In the past, the brand has asked Facebook users questions like must-pack items for healthy travel and the best advice they’ve received from their dads on Father’s Day.
“Overall, we know that our guests value something different,” she said. “If they’re interested in Kimpton, they want something different, not cookie cutter or straight out of the box. It’s all about unique experiences. The online interaction should really be an extension of that on-property unique experience.”
Managing the account
Hoteliers should ensure they have a dedicated person or team managing their social media pages for comments and questions from guests and potential guests, Segal said. As Facebook has become a key place for people to engage in a two-way communication, he said, brands should make it a priority to respond to customers in a timely manner, and this is especially true for the hotel and travel industry.
“Hotels that interact with guests can help build brand affinity and loyalty among guests,” he said.
Ritz-Carlton uses a Boston-based agency to work on social media, Sitch said. The company came on board when it was small and hungry to do something, she said, but it impressed the brand with its focus on the luxury environment and doing things well. The agency relays notices to the brand, translating them into possibilities for Ritz-Carlton and advising when and how to best react, she said.
“With any agency, you look for people to supplement the expertise you don’t have as an individual or as an organization,” Sitch said. “It needs to be done in tandem with finding people who also represent similar brand values.”
Kimpton has its own employees manage the individual hotel and restaurant pages, Reynolds said. The job falls on whoever shows the interest to handle the pages on behalf of the hotels, she said, meaning it could be a marketing manager, sales coordinator or front-desk associate. Kimpton can provide the tools and training for the employees, she said, but they know better what’s going on at the local level.
“We feel the homegrown approach works well for us and reflects our culture,” she said.
Keeping up with changes
Facebook’s altered news feed algorithm has encouraged businesses to partake in more paid advertising, Segal said, as its news feed is now best-suited for content and business pages with high engagement, putting smaller businesses at a disadvantage. As a result, businesses are starting to invest more money into their Facebook pages to make sure they stay on top of users’ news feeds and in front of audiences they haven’t reached before.
There’s a difference between organic and paid content, he noted, and Facebook treats the two differently.
“The channel’s algorithm is better suited for paid content and/or higher-engaged content, thus, keeping track of how their organic content is performing in comparison to their paid media will allow hoteliers to derive effective marketing strategies and direct their efforts into the appropriate content,” Segal said.
The previous algorithm allowed business and brand pages to appear more often on users’ news feeds if they were followers, Reynolds said, and brands worked hard to cultivate that following. The change in the algorithm limits what users see from brands unless the brands pay Facebook, she said, which creates a challenge for brands that focused more on followers than engagement through likes, shares and comments.
“Engagement is the ultimate driver in success,” she said.
While Facebook constantly makes changes to how it operates as well as how people can use the platform, Reynolds said, listening to and engaging with guests is something that Kimpton will always do in social media in general. The company is keeping an eye on Facebook Messenger as a means of personal communication with guests, she said, as well as how Facebook is adapting its platform to mobile.
“Usage is on the rise, and we’ll continue to refine our content strategy,” she said. “We’ve taken steps toward this goal, and we’ve been thoughtful how we use Facebook to appeal to people no matter the device they’re on.”