And the winners are …

My company recently had the honor to judge HOTELS’ inaugural Social Hotel Awards, with winners announced in the September edition of the magazine and online. Watching hotels’ use of social media as closely as we do, I had a feeling the submissions would be stellar. I was not disappointed.

This is a wake-up call to hoteliers who have yet to fully embrace social media: You are being beaten — badly — by other hotels in your market. Wondering why that market share is slipping? Lackluster work on social media channels may be a prime culprit.

So what would constitute the proper use of social media? You have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, you link to those pages from your website and you even have your website content shareable. You provide regular updates to your pages and often get responses from your fans. You’re there, right? Not even close. 

The forward-thinking hotels and brands of the world are striving to push past aspirational and unaccountable goals in social media. They are building campaigns designed to achieve specific business objectives, then measuring the response daily and weekly. Take, for example, the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. Its restaurant was trying to build awareness for a new menu item — mini burgers — while narrowing the burger choices from five to two. It launched an integrated social media campaign that resulted in 520 people coming to the restaurant, trying the burgers and voting on their favorites. All in a matter of weeks, the restaurant received direct and targeted feedback from its target customers while promoting the launch of the new menu item.

One of the many things that struck me reading this and other examples is how accountable these campaigns are to their objectives. Whether the objective is to sell rooms during a low compression period, narrow menu offerings or launch a new spring/summer promotion, people are employing real hotel metrics to gauge results. If you still are happy that your posts on Facebook are getting an average of three responses, you are way behind the pack.   

Another great story comes from Starwood, which invested significant capital in the integration of its Starwood Preferred Guest program with Foursquare. The goal was to increase awareness and engagement with the rewards program and offer all 1,100 of its hotels a way to push out location/check-in specific offers. When a guest uses Foursquare to check in at a Starwood location, he or she can earn SPG points, special offers, etc. That is commitment to a program. It is using a social media application to achieve a real, measurable business objective. 

There still is a prominent feeling among hoteliers that investment in social media can’t generate ROI. I think the people at Best Western would beg to differ. They launched a masterful campaign called “Be a Travel Hero.” The campaign, supported in new and innovative ways throughout the company’s social media ecosphere, generated a 20% increase in bookings over the previous spring promotion.

Results like these don’t come easily. They take research, careful planning, strong strategic direction and flawless execution. However, by focusing on targeted campaigns to affect specific business objectives instead of ambiguous platitudes about using social media to “encourage engagement,” you have an opportunity to catch up to the industry leaders in social media.