This is THE big fish that should be on every hotelier’s mind. We all know that Facebook is important and that your status is first and foremost measured by your numbers of fans, but what does this number really mean? Is having 10,000 fans versus just 2,000 directly correlated to the fiscal amount of business you do?
Fans range from people who have liked your page once to those who check in from time to time or visit multiple times a week. Frequencies aside, how do you gauge which of your fans are spreading the good word? Are they consistently recommending your hotel to their friends? Are they going out of their way to help grow your business? I don’t mean to discount a large fan base, not in the least. Brand awareness is the first move towards sales, but there are still many steps in-between.
Instead of fans, what you really need are influencers — people who will actually bring guests to your hotel. Well, you’re in luck! Where Facebook really shines is that it is possibly the best online route for nurturing your fans and turning them into influencers. Think of the website as an incubator; every fan has the potential to sing your praises, but you have to take full advantage of Facebook’s capabilities to woo them over.
I’m a big believer that word-of-mouth hotel recommendations from friend to friend are still one of the most effective ways to get new customers. I’m old-school like that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t embrace the voracious power of social media. Turning fans into influencers is like converting word-of-mouse back into word-of-mouth.
Be in it for the long haul
Fans won’t turn overnight. You will have to go out your way on a one-to-one basis for them to return the favor. These types of connections take time; your fans won’t all make themselves readily available at the drop of a hat. Think of the fun photos or interesting factoids you post as building blocks, each one a part of a bigger picture. The more you build, the more your influencers will emerge.
“But I monitor my page’s insights,” you may be thinking to yourself. True, this is beneficial and something I’d definitely advocate. But it won’t tell you which of your fans are repeatedly liking or commenting, or even more importantly, which of your fans are taking your message home. So, you have two options. Make a list of all the people who respond to each post and tally it up, or, trust the process and treat your page’s fans like you would your guests.
There’s a third option that I have to touch on briefly: software developments. The technological powers that be are swiftly catching up, and finding your online influencers is only going to get easier. Check out the work of companies like Klout.com. Give it a year or two, and their class of web-based applications will be a staple for professional Facebook pages. Even with an electronic panacea like this, however, it’ll still be hard to gauge word-of-mouth. That’s why I insist: trust the process.
Compliment fans who post supportive comments. Answer questions fully and promptly. Address concerns with an honest explanation. And do so on a one-to-one basis. The buzz term for this is “online concierge,” which I had no part in designating but still love to throw around. As an online concierge, it’s your job to be thoroughly knowledgeable about your property and the surrounding region, and be able to guide your fans with their inquiries.
When you help someone online, not only will they remember it, but others will also see you helping that person. If you can impress a fan with the substance of your answers, then they will impress you by casually talking about your hotel to their friends. A resourceful and courteous online reputation is a passive form of promotion in its own right.
On the flip side, are you willing to accept constructive criticism? Have you set up your Facebook page so there’s a forum for fans to make suggestions? People love to be heard and be involved at the planning stage. Plus, you never know, there might be a gem or two out there to make it all worthwhile.
Be a hub of activity
Programmers at Facebook and third-party operators have done a wonderful job ensuring that the site is compatible with a host of extensions and custom-coded apps. Fans have adapted to expect these catchy additions, and fan pages have in turn adapted to their expectations. All this means there’s a growing propensity to use the website as a one-stop shop.
Analyze your competitive set. What tabs or fun little accessories have they added to customize their page? What can you emulate? Start by adding tabs that integrate all your other social media. Code for a reservation system or a newsletter signup tab. Any opportunity you have to engage more users with a fully loaded page is one you should take.
Then the plan is to exceed their expectations. They should be proud to be your fans. Organize your photo albums and consistently add great content. Coupons, offers or Facebook-specific programs work well, too. Every upgrade you make will appeal to a slightly different subset of people within your gross fan base. Some people want candid photos of scenic beaches; others are looking for deals. Make your page exclusive by being inclusive.
Be a community leader
This ties into the idea of being an online concierge as well as becoming a hub. Your posts don’t always have to be about you. In fact, they shouldn’t. Talk about that adorable small business a few blocks away from your property. Emphasize your commitment to sustainability. Share all local events. Publicly thank a generous supporter. Start to think of your fans as a part of your team, then lead them accordingly.
And remember, your page isn’t just for you. It’s a place for fans to connect with one another, not just with your hotel. There are some amazing stories out there of friends finding each other on Facebook through mutual interests, then they turn out to be neighbors in real life. And they’ll remember who played matchmaker. You have the opportunity to brighten the lives of others, even if only for a couple seconds each day. Be sure to keep this mindset whenever you log on.