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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.