Hotels Need To Get Past “Small Talk” on Social Media Channels

Posted on December 21, 2011

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I remember when social media began to take shape in my life as thought leaders, web strategists, and futurists like Pete Blackshaw, Jeremiah Owyang, and Brian Solis emerged to pave the way for individuals like me to become content creators.

Then came the boom of social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn that heightened one’s ability to create and exchange User-generated Content and substantially changed the way organizations, communities, and individuals communicated and shared information.

I was hopeful that hotels would discover the value of social media channels but for all that has been written about how hotels can create “buzz”, target an audience, stimulate website traffic and customer interactions, most hotels haven’t advanced much past “small talk”.

If you’re a hotel that’s serious about getting past small talk you’ll have to develop a strategy, trust it, and stick with it for as long as it takes to bear fruit.  You’ll need to apply realistic timeframes to each element of the strategy and identify metrics (those that are definable and verifiable) that will allow you to measure whether you’re achieving expectations (this goes well beyond friends and followers).

Let’s start with the obvious.

What Are Your Objectives? -  You can’t get past small talk until you define your objectives.  If you don’t have objectives then you will be apt to continue to produce more inane drivel.  No matter what your list of objectives looks like at the end of the day you’ll need to build a foundation that looks something like this:

  • Listen
  • Learn
  • Listen
  • Share
  • Listen
  • Support
  • Listen
  • Inspire

Your first and foremost objective is…you guessed it!  Please pass go and collect $200.  Your next objectives are learn, share, support, and inspire (not necessarily in that order) which will help you to eventually forge an active relationship with your audience and convert as many of them from a passive to an active participant.  This creates a network of advocates capable of spreading your message and sharing your brand in and outside of their networks.

The best use of social media channels is to help your hotel:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Launch new campaigns or services
  • Increase reach
  • Research and insight
  • Create word-of-mouth activity
  • Protect your brand
  • Drive traffic to your hotel’s website
  • Improve SEO
  • Competitive analysis
  • Provide customer service

I can hear you now.  “Tom, you didn’t include anything about sales.”  Here’s the thought.  You won’t convert a recognizable amount of sales through your social media channels.  You will convert a majority of sales through your hotel’s website.  Communicate with your current and prospective customers through your social channels…sell through your hotel’s traditional sales & marketing channels (see To Sell Or Not To Sell for more on this topic).

Who Is Your Audience? - You can achieve your objectives when you know whom you are communicating with.  Defining your audience is one of the most talked about, and least understood, challenges. You can establish yourself as the expert when you connect your expertise with the needs of your audience.

Here are 10 questions that will help you to define your audience:

  1. What’s their name?
  2. Where do they live?
  3. How can I inspire them personally or professionally?
  4. What’s the tone of their conversation?
  5. What do they do for a living?
  6. What activities do they enjoy?
  7. Where do they hang out on and offline and what are they talking about?
  8. What defines them?
  9. What keeps them up at night?
  10. What problems can I help them solve?

Oh BTW.  Do any of these tweets or posts reflect a hotel who has defined their audience or is it more of the same old same old?

“What’s your favorite winter drink?”

“What’s on your wish list this Christmas?”

“HG-YUMMY. HGTV for gingerbread people.”

Did I hear someone say OMG?

Who Are Your Influencers & Advocates?- Contributors and creators are your next influencers and advocates.  They say “I want to be a part of this”, “I want to own this”, and “I want to share this”. Be on the lookout for these tippers, reach out to them, be transparent, and instill their trust in you.  Provide them with a path to THEIR goal which often is not the same as YOUR goal.

Influencers – for the most part, require an incentive.  Some are exceptional at sharing a message but offer little in the way of engagement with their peers. Others generate little groundswell or buzz, but the peers they do touch take their advice.

Advocates – they talk about your hotel or brand (pay strict attention to them).  McKinsey & Co. reports that 90% of advocates write something positive about their purchasing experience; 40% of consumers recommend brands according to Comscore; and a study by Forrester Research Inc. says that while only 14% of consumers trust online ads, 94% trust word of mouth, making it among the most influential, cost effective and high return forms of marketing.

Regardless, it’s important to note that you should have a “guideline” in place prior to reaching out to your influencers and advocates.  Here is an example of Ford’s Rules of Engagement with Online Influencers.

Tracking Return On Interaction – Return on Interaction is the new Return On Investment.  The difference is simple IF you can get the GM to agree about the value of the return.  With ROInvestment you put money in to get more money in return.  With ROInteraction you put in interaction to get back more interaction which returns tenfold in trust, loyalty, and the development of advocates and influencers for your hotel.  What’s most important for now is showing that your social media campaign is an integral and effective part of your overall marketing strategy.

Three tools that can help you gauge your social interactions are Google Analytics, Grader, and Hootsuite.

To Sell Or Not To Sell – Let me be perfectly clear about this subject.  One of the components of your sales and marketing strategy, whether it be on or offline, is designed to generate revenue.  Too often hotels feel the need to push “deals” on social channels when most have no clue as to what percentage of their audience is ready, willing, and able to purchase what your selling?

Yes companies like 1-800-Flowers have a fully functioning Facebook store and Dell has sold $6.5 million in products through its Twitter feed, but social commerce, as of this correspondence, is still nascent.  By 2015, the dollar volume of goods sold through social media should rise from $5 B to $30 B but this estimate is only for hard goods.  It’s coming but if you build it, IT won’t necessarily guarantee that they will come and convert.

Collaborate With Your Audience – Whether we realize it or not, we are a culture that is emerging from a Broadcast Era and now entering into a Collaboration Era.  This simply means that there is and will continue to be a marked change in the way we communicate.

How do you effectively mobilize your audience and enable them to collaborate with your hotel?  You open the door and invite them in because the opportunity to participate is changing us from content consumers to creators, participants, collaborators, and communities (please refer to my opening statement).

What are the benefits of collaborating with your audience?  Identify touch points, create new ideas, products and services, decrease costs, increase sales, customer retention, new vendors, and on, and on, and on.

Take a look at what Roger Smith hotels is doing with Roger Smith Life…the life of a New York art hotel to see what I mean.

What do you think?  Are you ready to communicate, connect, and collaborate with your audience and engage in a meaningful conversation instead of just small talk?

Tom Costello is the CEO and Managing Director of iGroupAdvisors, a performance improvement consulting firm that specializes in the hospitality and travel verticals.  Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+, or contact him by email.  His new book, “Prepare for Liftoff – How to Launch a Career in Sales” is now available.


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