For the past few years, HU has worked with Leora Lanz and her Boston University hospitality students. As part of an overall project, future hospitality professionals research and develop problem-solving insights for industry hot topics. Here is the third in this year’s series.

As human beings, we are a species that inherently craves information. Our world is information-driven, and social media has only compounded the impact on individuals. Throughout the past decade, how people get their information has drastically shifted: from reading the white pages, searching on Google, to social media via smartphones. In 2009, Michael Arrington, a serial entrepreneur and founder of TechCrunch, a prominent technology blog, wrote an article titled, “It’s Time to Start Thinking About Twitter as a Search Engine.” The article speaks to how and why Arrington uses Twitter as a search engine, and every example provided relates to the hospitality industry – two prominent examples being about the Lufthansa and W Hotels brands. With ever-evolving technologies, it is absolutely time for the hospitality industry to start thinking of social media as a search engine.
The Technology-Driven Transformation
 Arrington predicted in his article, “People are searching for news. Twitter knows it, too. They are going to build their business model on it.” According to a study done this year by Pew Research Center, a non-partisan American think tank, 67 percent of the population currently use Twitter as a main news source. Why is this important? Because customers of hospitality businesses around the country are now turning to Twitter to engage with the world around them. In 2009, the year Arrington’s article was published, Twitter had just begun the social media-search engine revolution. In a report by Econsultancy, it was found that 75 percent of people in the age group of 18-26 utilize information such as reviews, photos, product descriptions and recommendations from social sites before making a purchase decision. Now, people are using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even Snapchat as search engines – especially when in search of rich media.
Facebook was the next to hop on the social media-search engine train. This social network allowed restaurants, hotels brands, and other hospitality outlets to create pages where users could find information about the business as well as reviews, photos, directions, menus, branded websites and even more. This, similar to Twitter, allowed people to join a conversation by promoting interaction between customers and businesses themselves. As social media has developed, so have peoples’ wants and needs – what they want is to be heard. Providing forums such as these helps to promote offerings and enhance brand advocacy within a customer base.
Instagram and Snapchat, whether intended or not, became the next prominent social platforms to transform into search platforms. However, these are different as they primarily focus on rich media (photos and videos). People want to share their lives and experiences with others, and with that comes many photos and videos of interesting foods, vacations, flights, etc. According to David Meerman Scott, an online marketing strategist, the use of photo and video adds a level of attachment and emotion that is unparalleled psychologically. Through Instagram and Snapchat stories, people are able to share what they are experiencing in real-time. With the very new creation of Snapchat context cards, people are able to use Snapchat as a review site, a forum to share photos, to connect with other “friends” who have visited or are planning to visit different restaurants, hotels and attractions. Whether these will be successful and accepted by Snapchat users is still undetermined, but nevertheless, this is a clear attempt by the platform to remain relevant in the social media-search engine race.
YouTube, the platform initially created for video sharing and mass-communication, has arguably become the largest social media-search engine of them all. As reported by Mushroom Networks, an internet and web-generation company, YouTube is now the second-largest search engine in the world boasting over 3 billion searches a month, proving that rich content is the future answer to all searches and inquiries. YouTube gives content creators a chance to elaborate on the stories they tell via other social media sites; the website reported in January 2017 that the average daily video uploaded was 4 minutes and 20 seconds in length, implying a much longer attention span for viewers. This platform is the ultimate chance for hospitality companies to engage viewers, provide insight, and leverage their offerings all in one.
What this Means for the Hospitality Industry
The above timeline and reiteration of developments serves one purpose: to enforce that social media is alive and well as a search engine, and might be becoming the most powerful one out there. Small brands and businesses must be optimizing their social media usage towards customer engagement (also known as Social Customer Relationship Management) and search. What does this mean specifically? Here are some steps to success below.
Step 1: Invest Your Time in Hashtags
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will determine your success in social media-search engine marketing. In order to be searchable, hashtags must remain consistent in wording and appearance in copy. Creating unique, branded hashtags, but also using popular labels and terms, allows posts to appear based on users’ recent/past searches. Websta is a great resource for this – it is a website that provides information on the most popular hashtags on social sites at any time.
Step 2: Engage with Your Audience 
Each customer wants to feel important, and in order for that to occur, brands and businesses must interact with them via social media. If users come across posts where there is brand-to-customer interaction, they are going to be interested in said brand because they want to be heard too. Engagement is also a way to ensure higher ranks when it comes to SEO (organic placement on search/social sites).
Step 3: Understand the Journey of Your Customer
It is important to always consider your customer bases’ travel inspirations, research tactics and social media understandings. Take the time to take off your business hat, put on your customer hat, and the sales will come your way. By showing you care as a business, consumers will in turn be more receptive to your brand.
What the Future Holds
With technology changing the way the world thinks almost daily, it is hard to predict what the next big trend will be. But without a doubt, social media platforms and rich content are taking over the world of search engines, and the hospitality industry has the chance to be at the helm of it. The key to remaining competitive against other hospitality brands lies in being present on social, research and review sites, as well as engaging with customers and posting meaningful content. These practices will not only bring about brand advocacy, but solidify the search engine-social media trend and push it towards what is to come.