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As somebody who’s helped to grow a company from 13 people to nearly a thousand, I know very well the excitement that comes with having a mindset focused entirely on growth. Every newly acquired customer, every new office and every milestone means the gap between you and your nearest competitor is that much bigger and that much harder to overtake.

As the travel industry begins to rally, technology companies are taking steps to help their customers get back to business. Strategies run the gamut from complimentary webinars and virtual learning events to special promotions and discounts, all designed to enable hotels and other hospitality venues to reopen confidently and economically amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Room Service and the New Normal - Food always has been, and always will be, a major part of the travel experience. But in a post-pandemic world, change is inevitable. Crowded restaurants and menus which have been handled many times may well (even temporarily) be avoided by wary travelers.

Over the past few years, there has been much media hype around the concept of a voice-controlled hotel room. It’s not hard to see why: voice assistant devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home achieved remarkable penetration in the consumer market in just a few years. Statista reports that about 157 million smart speakers were installed in U.S. households as of December 2019, an astonishing 1.22 devices per household. I haven’t found hard numbers on penetration in hotels, but based on the companies in the market and what I know of their size and success, it’s still very low, probably still under 1% of US hotel rooms. Is that about to change? Should it?

As we examine and develop new strategies for the changes that we can expect to see in the hospitality industry post-crisis, we are also starting to envision the world beyond the pandemic and to the new normal of radically shifted travel consumer expectations and preferences. The probability of guest technology expectations worldwide significantly changing becomes high as guests prefer a more touchless and fully mobile-enabled hospitality experience post-COVID-19. The future of hospitality has always been mobile–but COVID-19 will accelerate this trend from a nice-to-have to a must-have for hoteliers.

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More Than Just a Like: Engagement Focused on Real Stories

by Erika Wuelfrath
The introduction of Instagram Stories and their real-time, ephemeral content has significantly altered the course of our social media experience, especially for the hospitality industry. Since its launch, Instagram Stories have become an integral tool for content discovery, a sense of welcome and comfort, platform engagement and deeper storytelling. With more than 500 million daily active users, Instagram Stories continue to draw in more brands, hungry consumers, and content creators.
However, throughout 2019, there was a significant outcry among influencers, creators and brands, with public frustrations about a noticeable drop in organic engagement. Reaching out to potential guests with simple posts has become a stagnant effort. With Instagram at the highest user base it’s ever seen, how could this be?
There are many factors at play:
  • More users. More content. A larger user base means more content than ever at the tips of our fingers at any moment.
  • Hashtag discovery. Hashtag usage plays a lesser role in content discovery, and with a rise in social direct messages, sharing and content discovery through hashtags has declined.
  • Passive content consumption. From mindless scrolling to more direct messaging capabilities, thoughtful account growth and meaningful engagements are coming from direct sharing and content interactions, has increased with group chat functions. 
  • Algorithm shifts. With no official way to understand the Instagram algorithm, users can only rely on their posting insights to better (potentially) reach their followers with a grid post. Stories and direct messages are a work-around to help increase visibility and true engagement. 
  • Stories, stories, stories. With Instagram Stories the most-used feature on Instagram, we’re seeing a larger shift with users viewing the latest stories before they scroll through the conventional feed.
Beyond the sheer volume of content and platform updates on Instagram, 2020 will likely be a year fueled by politically-charged social conversations with a larger push for monetization and paid advertising. As we enter an election year, there’s no doubt all social media advertising space will become more competitive. With this, content prioritization will focus on ad accounts utilizing new ad types and social content with paid media support, which isn’t the best news for those customer service-focused organizations with lean media budgets or accounts reliant on organic content for reach and engagements.
This gradual rise of pay-to-play on social media is no surprise to the hostel industry’s marketing managers or advertising agencies, but with organic reach and engagement at an all-time low for Instagram, this noticeable shift is causing many social media professionals and marketers to reevaluate current strategies. The reliance on “simple” engagement including likes, comments and shares won’t be going away, given that agencies, clients, and social media creators have attributed value to this method for years. And, not without good reason, as even minimal interaction means someone saw and connected with the content. 
That said, quality engagements are a much better collective measure of impact and potential influence than quantity alone. Numerous comments are nice but are they thoughtful? Relevant? Are they from genuinely engaged fans commenting on the post, or are the comments random, in another language or bot-generated? Meaningful engagements matter more and hospitality brands must ensure that’s what the content generates.
Look for opportunities beyond curated feeds, through a new and refreshed social lens. If your organization leans on the ordinary and “safe” approach to social media, you will just be that to your consumers. To be extraordinary you need to be different. That doesn’t mean throwing best practices out the window, but alternative posts, playing with style, tactics, colors and voice, are positive ways to branch out, without causing a disconnect among potential guests.
Instagram Stories allow brands to take up more space, be seen and heard, and establish meaningful connections with their audiences. The only downside: it takes more time, effort and frequency to do so, compared to a simple grid post.
After deeming 2019 as the “year of authenticity,” 2020 is sure to be the year where Instagram users will be more real than ever. Through a storm of politically charged social conversation and a sea of brands and creators pushing to be something for everyone, it's time to start thinking about the future of Instagram marketing and how to properly join the movement of social storytelling to entice guests and improve the travel experience. Success in 2020 will go well beyond likes and clicks. Success in 2020 means sharing real stories that resonate with real people.
About The Author
Erika Wuelfrath
Social Media Strategist
Sparkloft Media

Erika is a goal-oriented, driven social media professional with a passion for digital storytelling, account services, content strategy and curating the perfect Spotify playlist. After nearly six years in social media and digital marketing, she's eager to create meaningful work that leaves a lasting impact on brand social media accounts.

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