Platforms like Twitter and Facebook were once nothing more than virtual message boards used by people intent on telling the world what they were about to eat for dinner. And then posting a photo of an empty plate when finished.
We’ve all done it, haven’t we?
Now, social media forms an intrinsic part of any ambitious marketing strategy. And this is for good reason; with even the most nascent of networks garnering huge user bases (did you know Snapchat now has 100 million daily active users?), the ability to reach colossal audiences no longer requires a hefty TV advertising budget.
If you're a hotel operator, there’s a very good chance you already have a Twitter account, at least. It’s just the ‘done thing’, isn’t it? You may even have gone as far as creating Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram accounts, too. But how - if at all - are you using them?
Like any marketing tactic, social media needs a strategy - it needs a goal at which to aim.
It’s also quite risky. Post the wrong thing, be it an ill-judged pop at a competitor or sentence that inadvertently discriminates, and you can instantly land your business in hot water. Social media is built on a foundation of sharing, and if you say something that’s deemed out of line, people are likely to pass it around for all to see. The domino effect can be frighteningly powerful on social media.
However - it remains a brilliant way to market your hotel. Pick the right strategy, utilise common sense and, far from ruining everything, you’ll give your hotel a voice that draws in more guests. And that’s what this is all about, after all
Here’s how to use social media for your hotel:
Don’t post for the sake of it
As noted above, you need a goal. Do you want to use social media as a primary way to connect with guests from a customer service perspective? Or use it as a vehicle to promote you regular special offers?
Social media goals don’t have to be long term. If you’re undertaking a 6 month refurbishment of the property, you might want to use Instagram to chart its progress, and then move onto the next focus.
Determine the goals of your social media campaign, and don’t just assume it’s to ‘get more followers’. Which leads us onto our next point…
Determine your audience
Before you start posting, you need to define the type of people you’re trying to attract as followers. Your audience (or buyer personas, to use marketing parlance) will inform your tone of voice and the type of content you’ll need to focus on sharing.
If you know the profile of your guests like the back of your hand, this step should be easy, but if not, consult your hotel booking system and staff in order to find out the type of people you are welcoming through your doors.
Next, create four or five fictional characters and write a few paragraphs about who they are; their lifestyle, hobbies and personality. Like the late, great Terry Wogan, you’ll be speaking to these people as though they’re the only person in the (digital) room. Work out who they early on.
Pick a platform (or two)
There are loads of social networks, but you don’t need to go for all of them. For hotels, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are great starting points and more than enough to keep you busy.
Spend time on your profile
Once registered, upload your logo, relevant header image (a shot of the grounds, a premium bedroom or the team) and add a bio. Keep it short, snappy and on-brand.
Develop your online persona
How do you want to come across on social media? Playful? Serious? Comical? Unafraid to offer the odd political opinion?
You’re the only person who can answer this. The way in which you conduct your communications on social media will often be the first glimpse potential guests get of your hotel’s personality.
You won’t get it right straight away, and it’ll take time to develop the right online persona, but don’t be afraid to experiment. In our experience, keeping it lighthearted, relevant and focussed entirely on the target audience works.
Be careful who you give the keys to
Remember - you can do an awful lot of damage with social media. If you need assistance with the posting schedule, only draft in people you absolutely trust. External agencies and social media managers can be trusted, but make sure you go on recommendations from others.
As for internal staff, choose people who display a solid emotional connection with the hotel and who regularly demonstrate a flair for customer service.
You’ll probably start to see some engagement with your social media channels relatively quickly as a hotel (particularly if you encourage guests to ‘like’ you on Facebook following their stay), and people will use it as a means to contact you.
It’s therefore essential that you keep an eye on mentions and make sure you have notifications turned enabled on your smartphone.
When people mention you on Twitter or message you on Facebook, respond - always. It may be an availability enquiry, praise for the quality of a recent stay or a complaint. Where appropriate, take the conversation offline by contacting direct, but not before noting on social media that you will be in touch. In doing so, you’ll be showing the world that you care.
We could go on, but…
Social media offers so many opportunities for hotels to develop their online personas, build followings and, most importantly of all, tempt more guests to book direct.
In this post, we’ve focussed on the absolute basics of a great social media strategy. In future, we’ll dig deeper, but if you’d like to share your social media success stories, please do so by commenting below.