In the past few years, social media has begun playing a more integral role in the marketing and communications strategy of hotels and hotel brands. Just this month, Best Western Hotels & Resorts CEO David Kong talked about how the company is leveraging Facebook as well as user-generated content and influencers to engage with potential customers and promote the brand. The fact is, social media permeates American society—Pew Research Center’s Social Media Update, released last November, found that “Facebook continues to be America’s most popular social networking platform by a substantial margin: Nearly eight in 10 online Americans (79 percent) now use Facebook, more than double the share that uses Twitter (24 percent), Pinterest (31 percent), Instagram (32 percent) or LinkedIn (29 percent).
By the Numbers
According to Penn State University’s May 2016 study “U.S. Hotels and Social Media: Objectives, Reporting, Measurement and Results,” hotels are strengthening their presence across these platforms largely to increase room reservations (61 percent) and guest satisfaction scores (59 percent). Yet another reason for the hospitality industry’s growing presence in the social media sphere is the need to interact with future, current and potential guests in real time.
“It’s about social customer service and the fact that so many people are taking to social media to ask questions, air grievances and share positive stories,” said Andrew Caravella, VP, strategy and brand engagement at Chicago-based social media software company Sprout Social. “There’s a customer-service component that’s really taken hold on social media and so many inquiries that can take place across social media channels, making it a big reason for hotels to have become more active on social media.”
Social Media Roles
In fact, the fourth quarter 2016 Sprout Social Index shows that travel and hospitality brands are actually the third most responsive industry on social media, with 46 percent of messages requiring a response from the brand. So it stands to reason that hotels are now creating new, in-house positions for executives whose sole responsibility is to oversee the brand’s or property’s social media channels.
“The New York Hilton Midtown recognized that guests and the local community were really coming to social media to ask questions about their upcoming stay and engage while they’re in house and as these channels become more and more prevalent, the hotel felt the need to have someone dedicated to them constantly and to engage with guests year-round in order to reach them while they’re planning their next trip,” said Katie Conrad, who was appointed the property’s first chief social media officer in May 2015.
Her role encompasses a range of responsibilities from overseeing the hotel’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn accounts to online guest reviews to working with the brand’s corporate team in order to ensure the property is visible to international travelers on Hilton’s Snapchat and Weibo accounts. Conrad also serves as a social media expert to in-house groups, advising them on aggregation platforms and assisting with strategies for boosting hashtag engagement. “I’m a resource for meeting planners,” she said.
In the Dominican Republic, AlSol Hotels & Resorts named Ignaura Tejeda Solíman to the newly created social media director role last fall. Tejeda is not directly responsible for responding to online customer reviews, but she works with management and operations to monitor and support follow-up to guest feedback posted to online public forums like TripAdvisor. Otherwise, she is charged with establishing a strong social media presence primarily on Facebook and secondarily on Instagram, where she focuses on communicating the experiences that can be had across AlSol properties. “We’ve been shifting how we present the images and content that we post from ‘look at this nice restaurant’ to ‘this is what you’re going to experience here and these are the memories that you can create at our resort,’” she said. Tejeda also is working to create a presence for the resort group on LinkedIn, where she wants to establish a thought leadership identity for the company that will resonate with potential business partners as well as meetings groups.
Alternate Points of View
But the consensus across the industry isn’t necessarily that direct engagement with the traveling public is the best use of social media. EyeforTravel’s 2017 report “Understanding the Travel Consumer’s Path to Purchase” advises travel marketers “to view social media as a useful marketing tool up until the point of purchase, but with a focus on programmatic advertising targeting offers that will attract clicks in the latter sections of the funnels …because there is a strong possibility that a brand can pick up considerable tracking data in these latter stages to fully personalize an ad…”
But Expedia Media Solutions’ 2016 “Path to Purchase” study released in November found that only 11 percent of online travel bookers reported including social media in their travel planning research. Matthew Reichek, VP, product and analytics told HOTEL MANAGEMENT that the figure is worth noting because those who spend equally in social media and mobile are likely undervaluing their mobile strategy.