Social Media 2016: What Hotels Need to Know Now

By Mary Gendron Senior Vice President / Managing Director, Eric Mower & Associates | January 31, 2016

Social media continues to be akin to a wild rollercoaster ride with new developments around every curve. Yesterday's top influencer may find itself on a steep decline with upstarts becoming mainstream in a moment. For the uninitiated – or those with a day job that differs – it can be overwhelming. But to those of us in the business of connecting B to C, it's exhilarating and ever stimulating. Here's an overview of some of what's happening now on the social media landscape – developments that hoteliers may want to consider as part of marketing strategy. Opportunities abound to connect with – and surprise and delight – guests and to attract new ones. On the surface, it's all about creating relevant content that resonates with travelers. But a deeper look into analytics can uncover new strategies and approaches to connect, engage and turn prospects into customers. Before we look at some trends, let me offer the disclaimer that the few week's lag time between the writing of this article and its publication may have produced even more to think about for 2016. Let's take a look:

It's All Integrated

Remember when the world of hotel marketing regarded social media as distinct from other marketing tools? You may have identified a need in the early days of social media to seek out a specialist – perhaps an agency that had been in business less than a year, sporting a clever name, and no staff member over the age of 25. Early social media was treated as a special endeavor distinct from other marketing -- something that required a separate strategy and tactics against it. Many in hospitality went into it warily, straining to understand the phenomenon and wondering, first and foremost, how they might monetize the effort.

Gradually, the real power of social media surfaced. People began understanding how social media channels allow brands to 1) connect directly with guests and potential clientele, and 2) reach social media-based influencers. The latter category is comprised of certain bloggers and, more recently, people who have large social "graphs" or following in a particular category. Influencers have the power and potential to become brand advocates, speaking peer-to-peer with fans and followers who trust their opinions and, in many instances, are more than happy to do as they say. It is word-of-mouth marketing amplified online.

As early social media policy gave way to broader use, hoteliers began to experiment with direct engagement with guests, using this medium to foster positive interaction, answer customer service questions, and launch social-media-only promotions and sweepstakes to spark consumer excitement and create new opportunities for engagement on these channels.

This very public type of forum may still seem like risky business to those entrenched in the control-safe environments of traditional advertising and direct mail. Those of us in marketing who earned our chops in public relations were weaned on the notion of crafting and articulating brand messaging and then releasing it to editorial professionals who would receive it, evaluate it, pick it over, massage it and make it their own to provide for their readers and viewers what is now more commonly referred to as "curated content".

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.