Is Social Media the Future of Hotel Marketing

25th Feb 2012

NB: This is an article written By : Vincent Ramelli

There isn’t a magazine or blog in the hotel marketing industry today that doesn’t mention social media as the future of hotel marketing. Yet no hotel has reported incredible direct revenues from social media. So that’s the dilemma, should hoteliers be investing in social media because it is the thing to do or should they wait until it’s tried and tested?

Our company manages complete marketing solutions for hotels since 1999. Around mid 2000s we put a dedicated social media team working to manage complete campaigns for our clients. We rapidly realized that we needed extremely precise tracking to see exactly what this new “beast” called social media was all about.

We accumulated years of experience in running campaigns for hotels of all types (from cheap to hip via classic luxury and boutique) and we got to learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

Social media for hotels elevator pitch

How it works. In a few words, social media are sites that are driven by a constantly updated and fresh content and fed by users as opposed to organized publishers. This definition is by no means complete but it serves the purpose of our article.

Following this idea to start a social media strategy realize that it will only work if you have something to say. It means constantly updating the information. If you’re going to open a Youtube account like many advise then you had better have a lot of interesting videos to share regularly or you will rapidly become irrelevant. If you plan to open a blog then figure out what you’re going to write about before you open it and if you want some success with Facebook plan out how to keep followers interested and interacting with you.

Social media means you have something interesting to say, regularly. And let me guarantee you “we have nice rooms” isn’t something to say.

Social media isn’t for everyone

Several of the hotels we managed had great success and a few of them made absolutely no difference. What we’ve learned is that the hotels that get most direct return on investment on social media are hotels that stand out of the crowd as something special. High tech hotels seem to have the fastest growth and interaction level, but boutique and luxury hotels enjoy a great follower-ship as well. What doesn’t work are classic hotels that have no emotional value. What seems to happen is that people want to follow places that show great visuals, interesting out-of-the-ordinary imagery is one of the prime factors for social media.

We’ve not seen much success with cheap hotels unless it is to communicate a “special offer” but that doesn’t build a long lasting relationship.

Word of mouth is your best advertising

Since time immemorial, word of mouth has always been the “cheapest” and most effective marketing tool for hotels. I say “cheapest” because keeping great word-of-mouth means excellent service and super satisfied guests and that isn’t free. Social media is the vehicle to turbo-charge your word of mouth (if you have some going for you). Someone sharing a great stay on their Facebook wall, Twitter account, Google+ stream plus any of the other location based systems will reach on average 150 friends and family. With some gentle nudging from your side you could rapidly be reaching millions with great experiences.

But you’ll have to live with the fact that it’s a double-edged sword and there’s no avoiding that. If your guest leaves unhappy even if it’s not your fault you will get the backlash of a negative review. However the vast majority will be positive. The average review on TripAdvisor is 3.8 out of 5. Thus approximately 76% are positive.

What we’ve noticed the most efficient way to use social media in order to increase sales, is by getting guests to share their stay and a link to the hotel’s page. This has a direct impact on revenue.

How much work does it take?

Don’t think you can just have a page and you’ll spend a few minutes a week managing it. Realize it’s an investment and you’ll need to put time into it. And there are more and more social media platforms to keep up to date and manage. From keeping followers up-to-date with great stories, anecdotes, images to replying to comments and reviews from others you’ll soon notice this is going to take more and more of your time.

You’ll need to have someone dedicated either full time or part time to the task and that someone needs carte blanche to to talk about the hotel. Don’t try to approve everything before they post it, rather let them post freely and watch the stream, if you don’t like something have it removed (if there’s a reason).

Nothing will kill the creativity faster than trying to put a filter on the channel and your social media staff will become boring if you try over-control their efforts. Set the guidelines of what’s OK and what’s not and let them roll with it. Let them step on the boundary but not beyond it.

What should you be writing about?

Only writing about your hotel can be wrong, only writing about your surroundings can be wrong too. So what do you need to do? Well every hotel is different so you need to test various ideas and see what your followers respond to.

But as a general rule you need to keep your page interesting, informal and coherent. Take the viewpoint of a guest. If you’re a city hotel they probably have a guidebook already of what they want to see in the city and they’ll most likely want to know more about what the hotel is really like, get some real info. If you’re a resort maybe they’ve already read all about the resort but would rather know about things to do around the place.

Ask you guests when they’re at the front desk what information they felt was missing when they booked and that should give you a good yardstick.

How to measure ROI?

The touchy question that nobody knows how to answer… yet. The facts are that direct revenue generated from social media isn’t very high currently even for the best campaigns. Which is due to the intent of the user, a person searching is intending to go visit something while someone on social media sites is intending to receive information which stumbles in randomly on their stream.

However the value of social media is in number of interactions, number of views and number of followers, it’s value is in branding rather than direct revenue. And yet this isn’t the case for every hotel, some of our campaigns have increased direct revenue rapidly and made hotels popular with bloggers, media and guests.

So while you measure the direct revenue, keep in mind that you’re also creating future guests on the long term as you create loyalty amongst your followers.

Starting now or wait to later?

When the internet started becoming a sales platform in the 1990s most hotels, didn’t believe it would be a big deal or that it would work. A few companies (currently known as OTAs) saw the future or internet sales, they took the entire market and left hotels years behind. When hotel’s woke up and noticed they suddenly were paying 25% commissions on most of their revenue, it was already too late. Now they were fighting an uphill battle to recover those sales.

While it takes time and hard work to be present on social media do it now while it’s still in it’s infancy.

So is social media the future of hotel marketing?

Yes it is the future, but not as a replacement of existing marketing, as a channel to increase word-of-mouth. The best advertising money can buy is word-of-mouth, if it’s good. Social media is the first tool that has ever existed to exponentially increase the efficiency of word-of-mouth.

This is the future of word-of-mouth. It predicts a good future for good quality hotels and hotels that take care of their guests. It predicts a dim and painful future for those who don’t care for their guests.

But social media isn’t the new search marketing or the new banner. It complements those channels. Just like internet didn’t replace TV or TV didn’t replace print advertising. They’ve increased the marketers toolbox.

While hotels and marketers must get onto the social media boat before they miss it, they’ve got to do this while keeping their existing marketing efforts going just as strong as before. It’s an increased budget for the moment.

Once you’ve seen what works and what doesn’t (and after a little more than only a few month) you can readjust your marketing budget to invest in the parts that work best for you.