Top 10 Questions About Your Social Media Strategy

Order a reprint of this story
Close (X)

ORDER A REPRINT

To reprint an article or any part of an article from Hospitality Upgrade please email geneva@hospitalityupgrade.com. Fee is $250 per reprint. One-time reprint. Fee may be waived under certain circumstances.

SEND EMAIL

March 31, 2011
Social Media | Technology
Cindy Estis Green - cme25@cornell.edu

View Magazine Version of This Article

Hundreds of hotels have joined the social media bandwagon, but how many have a strategy? Not a lot. For the last two years, it went something like this: Let’s make a Facebook fan page; Quick, the boss asked why we don’t have a Twitter feed; Get the summer intern to put those videos up on YouTube.

Most companies would benefit from a cohesive plan that guides the social media efforts and integrates them to the overall marketing effort for the property.


1 Before investing in social media, am I confident that I have done everything possible to make sure my basic Website is well managed and in tip top condition?

Take a fresh look at your Website to evaluate your face to the public. No matter what channel is used for booking, studies show most customers spend considerable time researching online. In the interest of getting as many visitors to your site with the intention to increase conversion rates, the Website content should be compelling and well matched to the user’s needs.

Avinash Kaushik, analytics evangelist for Google, provides simple guidelines for assessing a successful site. He proposes asking your site visitors two questions: (1) why were you here? (2) were you able to complete the task you came to do? (followed by a third if the answer is no–why not?). If you have a high bounce rate on pages designed for the primary visit purpose, Kaushik recommends you find out why before you do anything else and set out to fix it. He also wisely suggests tapping the same data for your competitors to see how you are doing in comparison and make your site better.


2 Do I think about social media as a channel for information, direct sales or guest service?

If marketers should go where their consumers go, you will find yourself smack in the heart of a social environment. But what do you do when you get there? That is the challenge. The first reflex in the 2011 economy is for hotel marketers to offer a deal. But, most experts will say that serial promotions are not the best use of the media format. Shouting about your virtues or your deals to those who cared enough to visit your social forum will not be harnessing the power of this platform. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are many of the ways you can convey information. It would be reasonable to start with interaction as the primary strategy supported by tactics that may include a flow of relevant information spiced up with an occasional deal. Some may use social media platforms to hint about deals to come but fence them off as commerce-free zones, using e-mail or specials buttons to publish deals.


3 Does my social media presence really fit in the culture of my hotel? How do I reflect the culture of my hotel in this media?

Some brands have a naturally informal relationship with their customers. A good example of this is Southwest Airlines which convey its brand from its tongue-in-cheek emergency on-board briefing through to print ads and simply carry it seamlessly into social media. Some hotels are more formal and a chatty conversation online would be at odds with the brand, not to mention their “mother tongue” may seem stilted or awkward in a blog or Facebook page.  How do you reconcile these issues? Does everyone have to sound like a college student when they are responding to Twitter inquiries or blogging about their destination? Not at all. Informal can be conversational, without using colloquial slang. A brand that is more mature in its identity can talk about popular local events or the history of the property. The operative word is relevance and if the content delivered on social media platforms is appropriate for a hotel’s audience, then it is doing its job.


4 How much of my resources are spent listening vs. talking on the social media platforms in which we participate?

If social media is the basis for a long-term relationship, then it demands commitment, an understanding of what the other person needs and a guideline to spend more time listening and less time talking.  Take a look at the time your team spends on social media and be sure the listening time is done with an objective of better understanding and acting on your customers’ needs. The use of consumer review sites is a valuable source of content and there are many consolidators that can help make it more actionable for a hotel. Responding (or refraining from response) are judgments that a management team has to make when they are building their database of consumer intelligence. 

If you are doing this, then you are ready for more engagement. The Social Media Priority Pyramid provides a methodology to plan your social media strategy.


5 How can I determine if I have earned the right to engage my guests and prospects in a social media environment?

Traditionally, marketers shouted from the rooftops and hoped enough consumers listened and then a few followed up with a purchase. In the Web 2.0 world, a marketer has to earn the right to engage. There is no room anymore to push out sell messages. Those days are over. Your guests and prospects will give you the right to engage with them or not. This is done in many ways: by participating effectively in blog discussions, by responding quickly and appropriately on Facebook or Twitter when there is a customer service need or problem and by providing useful and timely information (could be about an upcoming stay, a destination or events in the area). If they trust you and feel you understand them, they will be receptive and responsive on your social sites as well as to your e-mails and Website offers.


6 Am I approaching social media as a one-to-one medium with my guests, or am I targeting a larger audience with it?

Some may tell you that social media is the ultimate one-to-one method to connect with your guests. However, while it can be a terrific way to solve individual problems or answer a guest’s questions, its power can be even more effective in showcasing that relationship to others who are observing. Records of individual dialogue in social media are visible to hundreds (or thousands) more who read or watch you; this is the part that creates the brand experience and develops a connection to a larger group of customers who are interested enough to participate.

 

7 How well have I integrated my social media initiatives with the rest of my online marketing actions?

Many hotels have run social media in parallel to their well-established marketing efforts. But that doesn’t give a reason for keeping them separated. Once a set of objectives is determined for the social efforts, then the question to ask is what target groups can be touched through social channels?  For some, it’s all about local food and beverage customers who can connect with each other on Facebook and then meet up at the bar for the seasonal special events or themed happy hours. For others, it’s a chance to share photos and video with their extended family and friends and then allow them to proudly point the way for those who haven’t visited a destination before. If this is the way the social channels are being used, then how does the rest of the marketing effort fit in-or does it?

The traditional media conveys what is on offer, the social sites is where it is discussed. There can be contests on Twitter or Facebook for regular visitors, or there can be no additional effort and the hotel can create the forum and let the customers do the rest.


8 Have I managed to differentiate myself using social media or am I following similar approaches as my comp set?

If everyone you compete with has the same social platforms deployed, how can you make yourself stand out? This is a tough challenge now that so many hotels have entered the fray. Differentiation requires a clear objective. For instance, make Facebook or your blog the place to get information about the destination. Allow this to be a way for your team to help visitors plan their visits. Make it simple, engaging and relevant. Consider becoming recipe central for the cuisine featured in your restaurant. Ask guest chefs to blog and respond to consumer questions. Or target a specific market, such as the bridal market. Make yourself the expert on some part of the process. Create checklists and constantly update sources for flowers, cake and bachelor(ette) party ideas. The strategy is one of engagement; the tactics will vary depending on the theme you find most appropriate for your property.


9 Is it reasonable to calculate an ROI from my actions? Does this thinking apply to social media?

Probably the single most common question by hoteliers regarding social media is how to determine its results. Some initiatives result in immediate room nights or restaurant covers—that makes it easy but it doesn’t happen often. Not every social site visitor is ready to purchase at the time of their visit, but that is not a reason to ignore them.

Social media as a way of life rather than a promotional channel requires metrics for engagement. Quantify the steps taken along the path before the engaged party is ready to pay you for services. Count how many visitors come, comment on a post, or participate in a contest. Some percentage of the active social visitors plus passive observers will ultimately click the buy-now button. If you can track the number that do and apply this percentage to the total number of social visitors, then you can attribute an economic value to social-based initiatives.


10 How much of my resources are spent on pursuing transactional sales through social media vs. other marketing functions, such as customer service or reinforcing the brand?

Giving credit only when you hear the cash register ring makes social media a difficult concept to embrace. If your efforts are designed to boost immediate sales, take a closer look. That would be like entering into marriage without the courtship. Engaged customers spend more money and come back more often. If you want to facilitate long-term relationships with your best customers, then you have to put time and effort into building them. And how do you do it? You engage them by having dialogue, listen to their needs and learn what interests them; for every step along this path, you are paving the way to revenue, but each brick may not set off the ka-ching of the register.
 

Summary
Social media can provide the ideal venue for the marketer who engages during shopping, planning and validation stages; when the time comes to book, the beneficiary is the trusted one with the best relationship. It is an integral part of any marketing strategy today, but each marketer has to choose an appropriate way to interact with its guests and prospects. Most do best when they listen more and talk only a little.

At HSMAI’s recent Digital Strategy Conference, JetBlue’s social media czar Morgan Johnston told an audience how he sees social media platforms: “Think of it like a building–the brand puts up the scaffolding, and let the customers build the rest.”

Cindy Estis Green is a marketing consultant who has worked in hospitality for over 30 years. She specializes in online marketing, distribution and data mining. She can be reached at cme25@cornell.edu.

©2011 Hospitality Upgrade
This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent.
For permission requests, call 678.802.5302 or email info@hospitalityupgrade.com.



want to read more articles like this?

want to read more articles like this?

Sign up to receive our twice-a-month Watercooler and Siegel Sez Newsletters and never miss another article or news story.