In many cases, all you need to know about a hotel’s approach to social media can be learned through a careful look at its employees’ email signatures. Take Rachel Yeager as an example.

Below the Drake Hotel Properties’ marketing communications manager’s signature are the symbols of nearly half a dozen popular channels, ranging from Twitter to Instagram. The Drake’s website URL doesn’t even appear until the very end. This positioning speaks volumes about the emphasis on these channels.

“It’s a great way to interact with guests, whether they’re dining, staying at the hotel or coming to an event,” Yeager says. “They share their experiences with us and we can comment on their photos. They can provide feedback and we see what’s popular and trending. It really allows a level of personalization from a marketing perspective.”

It’s also a way to find and interact with prospective guests. According to a study produced by Forum Research last year, 20 million Canadian users accessed social networks last year, with 18.5 million using Facebook and 6.8 million using Twitter. With that kind of volume, it’s more important than ever for hotels to consider which channels to use, how they should use them and the best ways to measure the results.

The Selfie Factor
In an increasingly digital world, travellers are conducting online research before they book, and social media services are one of the many tools that help inform their final decisions. “The hotel experience, until somebody actually lands at a hotel, is a virtual one,” explains Sarah Kirby-Yung, executive director of Marketing and Communications at Vancouver-based Coast Hotels. “It’s also important from a customer reach perspective, because you need to build new customers and appeal to different demographics.”

Unfortunately, traditional advertising may not always be the best way to engage new customers. Customers want to consume information that’s less about a brand and more focused on their own interests. This is what’s become known as content marketing, and social media is a natural place for it. In fact, Coast Hotels used social media as part of a recent content marketing campaign called The Great Coast Road Trip, which invited social-media influencers to embark on a road trip and blog about their experience visiting 21 hotels in 35 days. Coast teamed with influencers such as travel writer Shaun Robertson (15,000 followers on Twitter) and Montreal travel writer Mayssam Samaha (5,200 Twitter followers) to document the month-long endeavor, supplemented by daily blog posts and tweets with the hashtag #GreatCoastRoadTrip. It also coincided with a social-media contest whereby readers were challenged to spot the Coast-branded Smartcar, snap a picture and post it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The Coast team nabbed a 2014 Platinum HSMAI Adrian Award for the campaign.

The same thinking drove a recent YouTube campaign by Best Western Hotels & Resorts called “Travel Hacks” that offered advice on everything from storing cash safely during a trip to preventing dirty shoes from messing up luggage. “It’s aligning our brand with what our customers want to see,” says Tammy Lucas, managing director of Advertising at the Pheonix-based company. “I believe the social channels, especially with videos, really help shape the personality of a brand.”

The Price of Being Social
Lucas says the team at Best Western still believes in billboard advertising and other traditional ways of reaching customers, and funds social media as part of its overall marketing budget. And while the use of some social-media tools doesn’t cost anything (other than employees’ time), Yeager says the Drake has devoted funds to paid campaigns on Facebook in order to target posts to specific types of travellers with laser-sharp precision. “Even a $30 boosted post will see your message travel a lot further than if it’s not boosted,” she says of the strategy that pushes a post higher on a news feed and tracks the number of views. “We generally boost posts for events, but we’ve also used boosted Facebook posts for hotel promotions, such as March Break at Drake Devonshire, where we targeted the posts to families in the Toronto-Montreal corridor.”

The other consideration, of course, is how many social media services a hotel should be managing at once. Yeager takes a one-at-a-time approach with specific services but proactively looks for opportunities to create new content or experiences using emerging social-media platforms. Recently, the company set up an account on Snapchat, an image- and video-sharing service in which the images disappear after a short time. “Snapchat is an opportunity for a little more casual interaction,” she explains. “If we’re having a guest chef dinner, we can offer some behind-the-scenes photos. Or we can offer a really quick and fun contest on Snapchat. It’s a little bit more playful. Each medium has its own sort of purpose.”

Of course, not all employees will immediately understand how to use social tools, which is why Kirby-Yung says the tools are managed at the corporate level at Coast Hotels. Best Western, on the other hand, is pursuing a social-media certification program with social-media management company Hootsuite to arm staff and property owners
with best practices.

Beyond ‘Likes’
As with any other marketing channel, though, operators wouldn’t be devoting effort or time into social media without seeing some kind of payback. While none of the hoteliers interviewed would share hard numbers, the metrics can be as varied as the number of potential channels.

“If there’s a particular campaign going on we’ll be tracking links, the engagement and how that translates into bookings,” Kirby-Yung says.

Lucas suggests the benefits might be tied to the quality of relationships hotels can build through social media. “Views are important, but it’s more about how they interact with us,” Lucas says. “We have found a lot of customers are talking to us through these channels, where before a lot of people would have picked up the phone.”

Yeager agrees, attributing its popularity to the speed at which hotels can respond to a guest complaint shared on Facebook or Twitter. “If someone posts something negative on TripAdvisor, for example, their experience is already in the past, and there may not be a lot you can do about it,” she says. “It’s great to nip it in the bud right there in real time instead.”

Written By:  Shane Schick 

Volume 48, Number 1


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