As last month’s #SocialRestaurant podcast underlined, social media is tearing up the traditional notions of marketing and sales throughout the restaurant industry. And things are certainly no different for hotels, as we discovered in our trip to the recent Boutique Hotel Summit.
During a breakout session at the Summit, held last month at the Montcalm hotel in London, delegates were at one point asked for a show of hands if they knew exactly what they use social media for. A seemingly embarrassed audience of hoteliers remained unanimously flat, despite the majority of their represented businesses having active social media accounts.
Can you answer that question yourself? You’ll likely want to use social-media sites for a purpose, and that will predominantly be to market your restaurant, increase brand loyalty and encourage people to pay you a visit. But can you be sure you are actually achieving any of this?
Nearly every session at the Summit touched on social media in some way and BigHospitality was on-hand to collaborate the thoughts from the day’s various speakers, to develop five things you need to know if you want to run a successful #SocialHotel and turn ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ into customers.
1) Social media is crucial
If your hotel doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, it’s still fair to assume that it’s probably still being talked about through those social media platforms – you will just be unaware of any conversations that are happening and unable to see what some of your potential customers are saying about you.
“It’s easy to look at social media as some kind of new thing but at the end of the day all it’s doing is enabling, through technology, what people do normally,” said Google’s head of travel Nigel Huddleston. “They engage with others on a daily basis; they recommend and send pictures - people have been doing that for a long time.
“And If there’s one industry that should be especially good at customer engagement, it’s hospitality.”
Philip Newman-Hall, general manager and director at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, added that social media is also a great tool for getting to know your guests before they arrive.
“If somebody is already saying on Twitter or Facebook that they are coming to us, then we can use that,” he said. “Anybody who uses social media to tell us they’re coming will automatically receive a gift in their room from ‘Twitter’ or ‘Facebook’ - that acknowledges the communication.
“Your followers on Twitter and your Facebook fans are then free advertising for you, they’re doing your marketing for you and you’re not paying for it – it’s fantastic.”
2) Pictures and videos are the future
Photos are the number one form of content across all social media networks - around seven times more effective than the average Tweet. And, by the end of 2015, 86 per cent of all content viewed online will be video.
Highlighted in last month's #SocialRestaurant podcast as 'the next big step' in social media for restaurants, mobile video app Vine allows users to record a six-second movie - either with continuous or broken up video clips - and post it on Twitter.
As an example, the Cavendish London recently launched a #ValentineVine competition to win a romantic break for two at the hotel. Twitter users were asked to download the Vine app and record a romantic video before sending it to the hotel's Twitter account - the one judged to be the most romantic won the prize.
And the craze for snapping images of a hotel room or dinner shows no signs of abating. As David Taylor, director of 2010media, said: "Pictures are now key to social media, and increasingly video. It’s not about just going in and aggressively trying to sell on social media, it’s inspiring people and getting the conversation going - pictures are great for that."
Aline Keuroghlian, head of PR and marketing for Mr & Mrs Smith, added: "Original photography is key, if you just replicate what’s on TV or whats on your website it’s not very interesting."
Pinterest is a great way of doing this. It allows users to capture, edit and share images on other social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, usually via its smartphone app. It should also be noted that Pinterest recently became the first image-based social networking site to launch an in-built analytics tool for businesses that want to see exactly how their audience is engaging with their content.
3) Facebook Vs Twitter
Social media isn't a one size fits all. Strategies that work on one platform aren’t necessarily as effective on others - this is particularly true with Facebook and Twitter. As a basic rule of thumb, Facebook is about what you’re doing that week; Twitter is that minute. But how do you decide which one to use and exactly what you use it for?
Chris Bland, co-client services director at digital marketing agency Greenlight, said: “The right network for you to choose has got to be related to your brand. With so many social networks out there you must be careful not to spread yourself too thin.
“If you try and adopt a strategy across every platform, you’re really going to struggle. You need to know what you want to get out of it and then decide which platform is better for your needs.
Renata Parolari Fernandes, founder and director of Five Star Magazine & Media, added: “Twitter is incredibly useful for media and pr. It’s very much about one-to-one, quick response, customer service and sometimes immediate offers.
“Facebook is then catered more towards the guests; it is much more about engagement, inviting a conversation to start.
Fernandes also warned that you can damage your brand by promoting too much. "Many of the Facebook fans tend to find it very annoying when something appears that they're not looking for," she said. "So be very careful, sometimes you can have a big number of fans and a big reach, but you have to make sure it’s the right reach."
4) Google+ is growing
Google+ should not be looked as as the search-engine giant's ill-fated answer to Facebook. For business users at least, Google+ is best thought of as a social networking interface that links people and places and - critically - incorporates review functionality and Google's exemplary mapping.
It's also the hub that connects all other Google products such as YouTube, Google+ Local and the aforementioned Google Maps - and as such, hoteliers ignore Google + at their peril.
"It’s a relatively new platform but it’s growing pretty quickly – we’ve got about 400 million users now globally," said Google's Google’s Huddleston. "It’s free, you just put your content up there as you did with Facebook and Twitter.
"Once you’ve got a Google plus account and a sufficient number of followers, you’ll be well integrated in Google search terms."
Fernandes from Five Star Magazine added: "Google+ is a major player, people don’t understand the power of it; how important it is in terms of search - it’s massively important for SEO."
5) Integrate social media with bloggers
Another breakout session at the Boutique Hotel Summit was entitled 'How to work with bloggers', giving advice and tips for hoteliers to target the best bloggers for their sector and agree a ROI.
Debbie Hindle, managing director of Four bgb, opened the discussion by explainign the power that bloggers can have, in comparison with social media. "I don’t know many people that have 100,000 followers on Twitter but the people I do know that have that reach are bloggers," she said.
"Bloggers share their experience in the moment so they are crucial to work with. The problem is in identifying them and knowing how to work with them. People value social media but they are worried about working with bloggers."
The session's moderator, Kevin May - editor and co-founder of Tnooz - claimed that hoteliers that are able to integrate their social media with bloggers are going to be the most successful. "If you’re a hotel and you’re about to launch a new spa experience and you have a blogger coming, you can have a conversation with them in social media before they arrive.
"The ones that are good are getting better and they’re learning how to manipulate and use social media to their advantage and to the advantage of those that they’re working for in a much better way than they were before."
Nathalie Salas, a blogger herself, said: "The hoteliers that have engaged with me had already been following me through the social networks and via my blog. Of course it's important for hoteliers that haven’t used bloggers to create a benchmark for the type of blogger they want to host - social media is a great way to find out about a blogger before you ask them to come and visit."