Are hoteliers still missing the trick with social media?

Many hoteliers are still looking for the connection between social media and revenue generation. The reality is that social media is not a purchase platform — consumers do not yet go to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and any other platform to actually make a transaction. However, the consumer is now using social media more and more as a decision-making platform. So why do many of us still seem to be missing the actual key to success in hotels?

Many of us do not understand or accept that it is not all about you or the brand. This is fundamental and is something every business needs to grasp before engaging in any social media activity.

Social media is about only one thing: “the customer.” It is about the customer experience, the customer value and the customer service. 

There is a very relevant quote that we tend to live by on social media: “If I say I’m great, it’s advertising. If someone else says I’m great, it’s the truth.” For us, this quote defines how we as hoteliers need to approach social media. We concentrate too much on the hollow marketing messages and replication of our offline content. It is all well and good to get hundreds of likes on an enhanced image of your balcony views with irrelevant captions such as, “Like this if you wish you were here.” This, however, does nothing for the consumer and little for you as a brand apart from identifying that your fans or followers like a picture — one they are likely to have already seen on your website or marketing material elsewhere.

The real power comes from the experience or story and is enhanced even more when it comes from the customer. As traditional marketers we are often scared of imagery and content that isn’t clean and edited. However, the raw content from a customer’s camera or mobile device showing their experience is so much more powerful. It portrays a true and honest vision of your product and gives much more belief to potential customers of what to expect. It goes back to the old saying, “the best form of marketing is word of mouth.” This type of content does not stop at the customer, though — even when it comes to sharing your hotel’s product, personality and daily activities, consumers want to see it for what it really is. A potential customer would much prefer to see the view of the balcony from this morning rather than one your marketing team has cleaned up. They want a true look into what they can experience with you. Four Seasons does a particularly good job of this through imagery on Instagram.

The second fundamental is the service value of social media. Even today many businesses have yet to grasp the potential of service through social media. Burns Patterson, another HOTELS blogger, recently published a great piece reflecting on how businesses and brands are now taking advantage of real-time engagement and live trending events on social media to build campaigns. This is becoming a very effective form of social marketing, and if hotels could take this approach more to customer service we could create a new dimension to customer satisfaction.

Too many brands still steer away from engaging in customer conversation regarding the service experience. It is a massive opportunity to actually get your customer advocating the brand before even entering your door.

Many hotels do not realize how many people are screaming out for help on platforms such as Twitter in real time. It can be before they arrive or while they are standing right there in your hotel lobby. Today’s users often share their experiences in virtual real time with their followers, friends and fans. Still, we do little to jump in and assist. Often just by replying or starting a conversation with a customer talking about their experience you can instantly wow them. Such engagement often leads to high-value brand advocacy, even when the initial conversation is, perhaps, a customer complaint. We believe this approach and the demand of your audience is quickly making customer service the new marketing.

The point is that most of us now have some form of PR or marketing strategy in place when it comes to social media, and these are important, but the true power to day-to-day management is in the consumer, the conversations they produce and the content they share on a day-to-day basis.

We need to start to look at social media for what it was traditionally created for: communication. The creativity and potential of many platforms are endless. 

What is your reaction to our fundamental premises at the heart of the real uses of social media? In particular, what are some of your examples, both successful and otherwise?