By Daniel Edward Craig
Social media programs tend to start with a flurry of activity and then either take over our life or fade into obscurity. At one end of the spectrum is the coordinator who’s issuing updates every thirteen seconds and neglecting her other duties. At the other end is the manager who resents social media's insatiable appetite for time and creative energy and is neglecting it in favor of other duties.
The key is to find the right balance: to manage social media rather than allow it to manage you. A basic program can be administered in as little as ten hours per week, with excellent results for your hotel’s reputation, relationships and the bottom line. Here are some tips for investing your time in all the right places.
Less is more. Social media is essentially about sharing content in the form of words, images and videos. This can be accomplished via as few as three platforms: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These platforms allow you access to both a mass market and niche markets. You can participate elsewhere if you have the resources, but better to do a great job on a few platforms than a mediocre job on multiple platforms. Social media’s potential is significant but limited and resources should be allocated accordingly. The best programs are fully integrated with marketing and operational activities.
Listen first. Don’t be that guy who barges into a conversation, says something out of context, and gets tuned out. Monitor first. Learn about what people are saying about your property, your destination and the travel industry. Then message. You can facilitate monitoring by subscribing to a listening tool that scans the web for mentions of your hotel and delivers a daily summary to your desktop. Be disciplined: get in, monitor, message, and get out. Otherwise you’ll lift your head and it’ll suddenly be four hours later.
Make reviews a priority. If you do nothing else, monitor reviews of your hotel, share feedback with staff, and respond to complaints. TripAdvisor is the largest review site, but reviews are popping up everywhere, and Twitter is increasingly being used to air grievances. PhoCusWright reports that almost three times as many reviews were posted on online travel agencies than on traveler review sites last year. Moreover, OTA shoppers who visit review pages are twice as likely to convert. Yes, some reviews are false or exaggerated, but all the more reason to respond.
Leave out the boring parts. We all know someone who can tell a story about her old vacuum cleaner and have us in tears, and another person who can tell us about seeing his mother eaten alive by alligators and have us glancing at the time. Traveler reviews are compelling because they tell stories populated with facts, trivia, tips and humor. Use these elements in your messaging. Be spare with words and generous with imagery, and use hooks that make readers want to click for more. And remember, the subtext to every good story is your hotel’s branding, mission statement and values.
Easy on the smileys and exclamation marks. Your tone should fit your hotel’s branding. Be less formal than when dealing with guests in person, but not overly familiar, and always be professional. Show enthusiasm, but don’t be cutesy or overly promotional. And by that I mean annoying—it will cost you friends and followers. If people other than you think you’re funny, then by all means use humor, but never when dealing with complaints, and avoid sarcasm. Each platform has a different audience and communication style, so adapt your tone and messaging to the medium.
Think of social media as a cocktail party. While mingling, we tend to tune out the chatty Cathys, the braggarts and the Debbie Downers, and we don’t even notice the quiet shy guy in the corner. We’re drawn to passionate people who think before they speak and say things relevant to us. How often should you issue updates? As often as you have something interesting and relevant to share with your primary audience of guests and prospective guests, and not a peep or tweet more. That disqualifies photos from drunken staff parties and birth announcements from housekeeping. Unless someone had octuplets.
Should you start a blog? Probably not. The web is a wasteland of abandoned Facebook pages, blogs and Twitter profiles. Blogs in particular are hard to maintain and time-consuming, often devolving into thinly disguised publicity vehicles or random posts from semi-literates. An abandoned social media platform is like a frayed carpet in your hotel lobby: it speaks of apathy and neglect and is off-putting when stumbled upon. A well-executed blog can give personality to your hotel and drive traffic to your website, but unless you have the skills in-house and are in for the long haul, channel your resources elsewhere.
Turn guests into advocates. Out of ideas and content? No problem. The most compelling social media content comes not from hotels but from guests. Encourage them to use your platforms and their own to share stories, news, reviews, photos, videos and tips. You may be surprised by their enthusiasm. It’s okay if guest content is a bit amateurish—in fact, it’s more authentic. Be sure to acknowledge their efforts.
Need assistance with social media? Email me for a quote. Comments or tips to share? Click "Comments" below.
Cartoon credit: The New Yorker