NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Social media is no longer just a place to see how your old high school flame turned out. It's big business, particularly for hotels, which can use the myriad social platforms to not only engage with prospective guests, but make a sale.
A panel at the Asian American Hotel Owners Association's annual convention, here at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, tackled those topics, as social media experts chimed in on ways hotels can leverage social media to their ultimate benefit.
Despite its recent troubles vis-à-vis Cambridge Analytica, many still believe a well-crafted social message begins with Facebook.
"You want be where your customers are," said Anil Aggarwal, CEO of digital marketing company Milestone, of Facebook.
Meanwhile, Instagram, which Facebook acquired in 2012, has around 800 million users, Aggarwal pointed out, and added that the "younger generation prefers it" to other channels. "Follow them!" Aggarwal instructed.
Darlene Rondeau, a digital marketing planner, cautioned the audience to start with their own audience: "Who are your people? Men, women, what age? Understand demographics and then decide what social channels to be on." Above all, she continued, "Don't be everything to everyone." Rondeau also agreed with Aggarwal that Facebook is "a great place to start because of its breadth."
Still, Rondeau argued that social media is not meant to be a direct revenue generator. Instead, it should be used as a medium to communicate and engage, share and tell stories, highlight what makes your hotel—or your location—stand out.
"Sell your stories, and don't share ads" Rondeau said. "Selling hotels on social channels is not the right question. Tell them visually—that conjures memories and impressions."
Rondeau noted that 87 percent of millennials turn to social media for inspiration and research. "In a 100-room hotel with 60-percent occupancy, that's 31,000 potential story tellers working for you each year," she estimated. (Facebook users have 155 friends, on average.)
Jason Lee, senior director of online product development at hospitality marketing company Travel Media Group, said that having a social-media plan is first and foremost. He outlined four winning techniques:
1. Claim your page and optimize it
Facebook, he said, gives a place page for every hotel in the U.S. "Get a hold of that."
2. Find out who has the credentials
Make sure you have user names and passwords at your disposal since they often can get passed around between employees over time. "Make sure you control it," he said.
3. Create and grow a community, a following
Lee said it is vital that a hotel cultivate a following and engage thereafter. He added that hotels can point attention to social media at the hotel through table tents and other collateral and messaging in guestrooms and public spaces.
4. Talk to them
"Social media is proactive and reactive. People will comment," he said. Lee added that it's vital to respond to comments. "Reputation and social media go hand-in-hand," he said. "If you have a terrible review, you still have to respond.
"When you do anything, you have to do it consistently. Create ripples with posts and stories."
Once you have created a dynamic social community, there are ways to influence and steer a prospective customer to a buy decision. So says Rondeau, who offered four things that customers care about on social that would influence a buy decision.
Like the old saying goes: A picture is worth a thousand words. That's even more true on social media. Make sure photos are of a high resolution or quality and portray the property in a good light. Highlight your hotels biggest selling point or wow factor. If your hotel has a pool, for instance, play that angle up. Make sure to also not just focus on your hotel. Post photos of the surrounding community, points of interest. That will make your hotel even more marketable.
6. Number of reviews
The amount of reviews matter as much as how good they are. Customers are savvy and if your hotel only has a smattering of reviews, they'll see a red flag. Elicit reviews from your guests—positive or negative. In fact, a hotel with a 3.5- or 4-star rating that has 100 reviews, might fare better than a hotel with a 5-star rating and five reviews.
7. How recent are the reviews
The more recent the review the better, since those will have a better description of the current state of the hotel. A review that is two years old won't have as much credibility as one a week old.
8. Respond to reviews
If reviews are posted, particularly negative ones, make sure they are responded to for everyone to see. Many times, a hotel can create a loyal customer from one who began with a negative experience. This is called a service recovery. Customers who make a complaint on social media that goes unresponded to will, not unsurprisingly, harbor ill will for the property and will not likely return. Worse, they will tell others about their negative experience. By responding to negative feedback, however, a customer will feel comforted in the knowledge that there cares were attended to, and that the hotel showed empathy.
As Aggarwal pointed out, "Make sure you respond graciously even if a customer is wrong. Social media is not a place to prove your point."