Ruth O’Brien, social media analyst at Equator
It was recently reported by Mashable that 81% of travellers find online reviews important, with 49% refusing to book without reading any reviews beforehand.
With the travel industry being so focused on customer service and positive reviews, you would think that making use of social media was a given.
However, recent research from Barclays bank found that more than one in 10 hospitality and leisure operators do not use any social media and more than 60% of those questioned said that they only see limited opportunity in investing in that area.
Head of hospitality and leisure at Barclays, Mike Saul, noted that having the right strategy is vital and “the industry has a long way to go – social media has a lot of potential and ignoring it would be a mistake”.
Saul is right; ignoring social media is a huge mistake when you’re a business that relies on people being satisfied with your service, the same people who spend an average of 16 hours online per month, with time spent on social media constantly increasing.
Having a presence is good, but it’s not enough
Too many brands are still dragging their heels by creating a Facebook or Twitter page but not investing any real time in it, often leaving page management to a marketing junior who only has an hour or two a week to schedule a few posts, maybe retweet a few happy customers.
It’s little wonder that so many companies feel that social does not offer any return on investment when strategy is being completely ignored. A good social plan takes time, planning and a lot of care.
Virginia Suliman, vice president of digital design and development for Hilton Worldwide, described Hilton’s strategy as “focussed on cultivating relationships and using these tools to better serve our guests and become their preferred hotel choice.”
Social media is about the big picture, adding value to the brand rather than simply driving up sales to reach the weekly target.
Don’t just attract customers, keep them
The concept of customer service amounting to giving the guest a warm smile and wishing them a good day is beyond outdated.
People need to be surprised, they need their concerns to be addressed in an instant and they want to feel like their feedback is valued.
If you’re a hotel with dozens of guests, maybe even hundreds, obviously it is impossible to make sure everyone is happy with their stay. This is where social media can really come into its own.
Tracking social media through a CRM system allows you to instantly respond to customers.
A brilliant example of a hotel going above and beyond was shared recently by Dave Kerpen, chief executive of Likeable Local. Kerpen was frustrated at waiting in line to check into his hotel in Las Vegas, tweeting:
“No Vegas hotel could be worth this long wait. Over an hour to check-in at the Aria. #fail”
It seems the Aria was not listening as they did not respond, however the Rio Hotel just down the street did: “Sorry about your bad experience, Dave. Hope the rest of your stay in Vegas goes well.”
In one thoughtful tweet, likely thanks to Rio Hotel investing in a social media CRM system to watch out for keywords, more than $10K in revenue was gained from Kerpen recommending the hotel to friends and staying there himself when he returned to Vegas.
By listening to social media and responding at the right time, without using a pushy sales-like message, Rio Hotel managed to gain brand preference from Kerpen in an instant.
If your social channels constantly just drum out sales pitch, followers will quickly lose interest.
Many are tempted to just post lots of attractive pictures to get ‘likes’. Finding the right balance between promotion and engagement is key to a successful social campaign, as is giving users a reason to return to your page.
Whether you use Facebook, Twitter or even Google+, there are a range of functions to help you customise your page and optimise user experience.
Whether it is a Facebook app for booking a room or a table, a Twitter Vine featuring room previews or even having an exclusive Twitter feed for recommendations in the area, social media allows you to be innovative with your outreach.
Use it or lose it
With online reviews having such a heavy influence on the purchase decisions of travellers and social media increasingly becoming a larger part of the average user’s day, it’s hard to see why any brand would ignore their social media presence.
Strong ads in print and on-screen may drive direct sales but it is the interactions that are actually made in person that leave a real impression in the long term.
Social media allows brands to connect on a personal level with consumers before, during and after their stay, developing a relationship which is more likely to drive further bookings in the future. So what are you waiting for?