When it comes to social media, hotels have a built-in edge: their offerings are highly visual, and they’re all about the one-to-one touch. What other types of companies can post enticing pictures of guests drinking Champagne poolside, while mining real-time data to find out when a potential customer will be visiting the area?
“On social media, hotels have the opportunity to talk about everything they do well, directly to the consumer,” says Natasha Koifman, founder and president of NKPR, a public relations and digital agency with offices in Toronto and New York. “On top of that, both the consumer and the brand get to share highly visual content. So it almost feels like social media was created for hotels.”
But “going social” isn’t about setting up accounts on the appropriate platforms and blasting content to consumers. Companies need thought-out strategy that will drive engagement and deliver results. Here’s how savvy hotel brands are using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to do just that.
TWITTER: Brand engagement in 140 characters or less
Twitter is a great vehicle for sharing news, responding to questions and promoting offers. But some hotel companies are using it in more creative ways.
Two years ago, McLean, Va.-based Hilton Worldwide started @HiltonSuggests, which helps travellers looking for insider tips. More than 100 Hilton employees globally are available to respond to people asking for recommendations on where to eat, where to stay and what to see in cities around the world. For example, if someone tweets that they’re visiting Prague and are looking for good restaurants, a local Hilton employee will chime in.
“No one knows these markets better than our local team members, so [our] model allows them to search, find and assist travellers on the go in their hometowns,” says Vanessa Sain-Dieguez, director of Social Media Planning & Integration based in Orlando, Fla. at Hilton Worldwide, which also has a corporate Twitter handle (@HiltonWorldwide) and numerous property-specific ones, too.
Even if the traveller isn’t a Hilton customer, the interaction is beneficial, says Sain-Dieguez. “Not only does this type of engagement build brand equity and awareness, it also converts. We often have travellers come back and inquire about staying at a Hilton property.”
New York-based Loews Hotels & Resorts is also using Twitter in innovative ways. Last November, the company began allowing travellers to book rooms directly via Twitter. Travellers can simply tweet their need for a reservation to @Loews_Hotels with the hashtag #BookLoews. A Loews travel planner will then start a Twitter conversation and tweet a link to a secure live chat for payment information. “Loews is going directly to the consumer, which is pretty incredible,” says Koifman. “If you make it easy for the consumer, it works spectacularly well.”
FACEBOOK: Building customer relationships with storytelling
With 10 years under its belt and 1.28-billion users worldwide, Facebook still reigns supreme. But it can be tough to stand out, since it’s the primary and most established social channel for many companies.
“Lots of hotel brands are engaging on Facebook, so you have to put thought and creativity into standing out and providing content your audience values,” says Sarah Kirby Yung, executive director, Marketing and Communications at Coast Hotels in Vancouver. “That’s the challenge constantly — trying to be creative and innovative.”
To keep it fresh, Coast Hotels has regular weekly features such as #RefreshinglyLocal, which highlights various Coast properties and local tips from guests and #FoodieFridays, which poses questions to followers, such as asking what they’d like for breakfast in bed.
This past spring, Coast Hotels launched the Great Coast Road Trip, a social-media campaign with bloggers travelling on different legs of a month-long tour across Canada and down the U.S. coast. Coast Hotels used Facebook to announce new posts from its bloggers and to promote the “Spot the Coast Car” weekly giveaway, which invited people to snap a photo of the branded Coast car and tag it with #GreatCoast RoadTrip.
There was strong engagement and an increased number of followers on Facebook, which was a strong metric for the campaign, says Kirby Yung. She notes that Coast Hotel’s Facebook followers have quadrupled to more than 9,000 in the last year, as the company has become more active with campaigns.
For The Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, N.B., Facebook is an opportunity to tell the brand’s story, says Tim Ostrem, GM. “We like to minimize the amount of direct marketing we do on Facebook and use it to create engagement with loyal friends and followers,” he says.
The resort’s Facebook page features details about events at the property and in the region, links to media coverage, photos, giveaways and contests. For example, for Valentine’s Day, The Algonquin Resort created the Share Your Love Story contest, inviting people to submit photos and stories about how they met, had a first date and/or got married at the resort.
With Facebook, it’s becoming increasingly important for brands to invest in paid media to ensure their posts reach audiences. “Your content will be seen organically by few of your Facebook page fans, so you have to not only spend resources on creating that content but also on amplifying the content with paid media,” says Patrick Thoburn, co-founder of Matchstick Inc., a social-media marketing firm in Toronto. This can be achieved for a low CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions) — usually less than $5. So, for a page with 50,000 Likes, a few hundred dollars will ensure nearly every fan is reached, notes Thoburn.
INSTAGRAM: A picture-perfect fit for hotels
Instagram is often overshadowed by more established networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but the photo- and video-sharing site is a great fit for hotel brands since it’s all about imagery.
“Instagram helps to create the visual, because often people don’t know what the hotel looks like,” says NKPR’s Koifman. “It saves them from having to go on the website and click through all the images and information. But if the images are in your Instagram feed, it’s more inspiring…. You feel more emotionally connected to the brand.”
Another compelling reason to get snap-happy is the sheer numbers: there are now more than 200-million Instagram users worldwide. And Instagram is the fastest-growing social-media site in the world, increasing its active user base by 23 per cent in the second half of 2013, according to London, U.K.-based GlobalWebIndex.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts started its Instagram account (@HiltonHotels) late last year, and it now has more than 8,600 followers. “With so many inspiring destinations worldwide, compelling imagery plays a key role in our content strategy,” says Sain-Dieguez.
The company posts gorgeous photos from the brand’s properties worldwide as well as behind-the-scenes shots from sponsored events. For example, in May, Hilton sponsored the Godzilla premiere in L.A., since the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort was depicted in the movie. Hilton posted real-time photos of stars on the red carpet.
When it comes to metrics for Instagram, brands can track the number of followers, growth in followers and the number of likes and comments to assess engagement. “Unless you offer something that’s appealing to people, they’re not going to follow you,” says Koifman. “The key is to maximize things that are unique to your hotel. It’s also important not to overuse Instagram, because nobody wants to get 17 pictures in their feed from one place.” What people do want is to be part of a community at their fingertips, and hotels can make that happen via multiple social-media channels.