The days of maintaining a company Facebook page have given way to innovative new platforms and tools aimed at telling a brand’s story and engaging with guests. And with the latest tools, such as Boomerang and Facebook Live, hoteliers have a wealth of tools at their fingertips.

Customers of all ages are turning to social media to engage with brands, leaving reviews on Facebook and Twitter or checking out shots of new guestroom designs on Instagram. “It’s a living, breathing organism and it takes an army to [manage] it,” says Jessica Rodrigues, PR manager at Drake Hotel Properties, which oversees the iconic Drake Hotel in downtown Toronto and the Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County, Ont.

Some brands are already making a big impact on the social-media scene. According to a 2016 Engagement Labs ranking, The Waldorf Astoria, Fairmont Hotels, Ritz-Carlton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts and Novotel led the pack in Facebook user engagement. On Instagram, Hilton took the top spot, while Ritz-Carlton excelled at engaging users on Twitter.

INSTA-SUCCESS
Creating the carefully curated collage featured on luxury hotels’ Instagram pages is an art form that Alex Marconi, Social Media manager at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, considers his speciality. “When Instagram first launched, the point was to instantly post authentic, unedited images of what you were doing in that exact moment. The trend has shifted a bit for luxury consumers and many spend hours editing their photographs to curate the ‘perfect’ life,” Marconi explains. “This trend works in our favour because luxury consumers are more eager to purchase luxury goods or travel to high-end destinations so they can share the experience with their friends and followers.” Whether it’s capturing a birdseye view of a colourful, house-made charcuterie board at Café Boulud, or a behind-the-scenes shot of a bride getting ready for her wedding reception, maintaining the brand on Instagram is Marconi’s main interest. “My job is to sell the hotel by curating beautiful content that I know our followers will love, whether it’s someone sipping champagne by the pool, breakfast in bed, or a mouth-watering dish at dbar. We want our followers to envision themselves as the person in that photo,” he says. Others are using Instagram to help unveil new projects and big announcements, adds Rodrigues. “I love how people are using it to tease new openings — it’s absolutely brilliant. You give a little bit of the colour palette, a little bit of the interior and a sneak peek of the menu. It’s creating a buzz, which is incredible.”

Last year, Instagram launched its Stories feature, which allows brands to take followers behind-the-scenes. “Through Stories we can show them what’s happening right here at the hotel, each day — another reason why Instagram’s engagement is so high,” adds Marconi.

THE SOCIAL STRATEGY
But where does good social-media marketing begin? Brent Purves, CEO of Stir, a social-media marketing and advertising agency in Vancouver, says good social-media marketing campaigns start with mapping out business goals, analyzing the industry and competitors and pinpointing the target market. Careful strategic planning will help guide which resources are spent and where, and more importantly, how to measure success. “A critical part of social-media marketing is monitoring and analytics,” he explains. “Doing that regularly will indicate whether or not the hotelier’s social-media marketing activity is reaching the target market.”

Engagement is one indicator to keep an eye on. “We are always looking at the engagement rate on our pictures,” says Rodrigues. “A healthy amount is seven to 10 per cent of the number of followers you have.”

It’s also important to create guidelines to aid your social-media-entrusted employee in executing the strategy. “Having a set of very clear guidelines for handling reviews will be critical, as well as a style guide that lays out what tone and language and what types of content will best support brand messaging. A style guide will ensure a consistent voice across all social-media channels and also help show off what makes the hotel unique,” notes Purves.

This strategy seems to be working for the team at The Drake Hotel. “We’re a playful brand. If you walk into our hotels, you will see it on our walls. It’s a little bit cheeky, a little bit on the edge. Our images are always really high quality, even if they’re user-generated,” says Rodrigues.

Another way to maximize reach is to schedule posts around the highest-traffic times — morning, lunchtime and after work. But, it also pays to be spontaneous, Rodrigues adds. “It’s not about posting a picture every minute, it’s searching out the best times when people are on their phones and not leaving a dead account for weeks on end. Go on it every day.”

“Hoteliers are lucky because social has long been a place of lots of activity around travel and tourism. After all, social is all about ‘sharing experiences’ so tourism is the perfect fit,” adds Purves. Case in point: when Marconi was tasked to help grow wedding bookings at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, he knew a partnership was in order. Marconi worked with luxury bridal magazine WedLuxe to promote the Four Seasons wedding experience to its 593,000 followers. After a combination of ads, social-media takeovers, giveaways and even a booth at the annual WedLuxe tradeshow, the hotel snagged 920 new Instagram followers and experienced an 11-per-cent uptick in Pinterest followers — its most successful social-media campaign to date.

But how can smaller, independent properties leverage popular social-media platforms to connect with their guests without the big budgets and dedicated resources? “The small hotelier with a small budget can still be successful,” says Purves. “It’s about understanding the target market and figuring out which combination of tactics works best to tell the story of their business and motivate fans and followers to become brand evangelists and share the story.”

Hoteliers are now turning to the pros to help drive traffic to their social-media platforms and generate new followers. “We see them as collaborators,” says Rodrigues, whose team at The Drake has welcomed local lifestyle bloggers to spend a night at the hotel while documenting their stay. Partnering with local influencers is a great way to drum up buzz for fun giveaways such as a free night’s stay, or a dinner in the hotel restaurant. And, stats prove word-of-mouth marketing is an excellent tool. Research from Twitter shows nearly 40 per cent of users have made a purchase as a direct result of an influencer’s Tweet.

WHEN TO TAKE IT OFFLINE
It’s no secret customers turn to online-review sites to research a property before booking a room. According to a 2016 TrustYou survey, 95 per cent of respondents read reviews before booking. Leisure travellers reported reading an average of seven reviews prior to booking and business travellers reported reading an average of five reviews prior to making the leap.

With all these eyes on customer reviews, hoteliers must manage reviews, feedback and complaints made on any social-media channel, good or bad. “Managing bad reviews is a bit of an art, but there are proven successful techniques for responding to them that can actually turn the experience into a positive one,” says Purves.

Taking the conversation offline is the number-1 strategy. “Do it right away. Get back to them and give them an email address that’s offline,” recommends Rodrigues. At The Four Season Hotel Toronto, an immediate reply is key to maintaining the hotel’s top ranking on review sites. “Many of our guests are baby boomers and this generation is greatly influenced by their peers and review sites rather than lifestyle imagery found on social media. Therefore, it is important for us to respond to reviewers,” adds Marconi.

THE SOCIAL-MEDIA TOOLBOX
Social-media managers are focused on staying on top of the latest tools to optimize the experience within already-existing channels. “It’s [about] keeping abreast of tools and developments in ones we are already using and making sure we aren’t missing anything fun,” says Rodrigues. For example, The Drake’s social-media team uses Flipagram (a slideshow app), Boomerang (a GIF-like video service), Hyperlapse, (a time-lapse video app) and Snapfeed to edit Snapchat.

“[Last year] seemed to be the year of Snapchat. And though we haven’t had any travel or tourism clients leverage Snapchat for brand-building in social, we expect it will continue to grow in popularity — along with Facebook Live and Instagram Stories — so it’ll be one to watch in 2017,” advises Purves.

Video is predicted to play a bigger role in generating engagement. “For me, 2017 is the year of video content,” says Marconi. “Video allows for a much greater sensory experience — we can truly show off the emotional escape that you have when staying at our hotel, whether it’s your wedding day or diving into our relaxation pool.”

Volume 29, Number 2
Written by Jackie Sloat-Spencer

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