Social media is earned media

On the surface, it may seem as though social media has made friendship cheap. Think about it: you’re just a click away from forming an online “friendship” with hundreds of people you know in various shapes and forms from real life.

But real friendships take time to blossom; they’re earned. Many hoteliers see these social networks as an opt-in channel to directly augment sales, but you have to think about growing the relationship first.

Social media is an electronic extension of the day-to-day conversations that occur in real life. People chitchat and build rapport with one another, all the while recommending various services and products. To view social media through a similar lens is to use your digital pages as outlets for content your fans will find useful. The challenge is that in order to sell them your rooms, your food and your amenities, you’ll have to earn their attention at each and every turn — or, as many prominent gurus would call it, you’ll have to first get their permission in order to market to them.

So, the billion-dollar question is: how do you get their permission? The simple and short answer is to give them utility, give them value, give them meaning and be entertaining. Here are three general pointers to help get you on the right track:

1. Your core is your engine.

In any given social media situation, there are many who will only be mildly interested and others who like what you’re serving but aren’t willing to toot their horns over it. The key to propagating an effective social media presence is to find and elicit the support of those special few who are not only enthusiastic about your product offerings but are also quite vocal about it. These individuals who interact with your content are the ones who will drive the silent others — the majority — to respond in kind. Your mission should be to find this core group and continue to deliver content that spurs them into action. Call it crowd theory, social proofing or whatever buzz phrase is currently popular — the point is, people will be more inclined to talk to a brand that others are already talking to.

2. Content is forever king.

The only way to find your core is to first give them some delicious bait. Let’s face it: if you’re only putting up promotional offers and the reactions you’re getting are mediocre at best, it’s time to reevaluate your efforts.

Again, it’s all about utility; give before you sell. Design content that, even for a fleeting second, will enrich the livelihoods of those who see it. This will gain their trust. If you can persistently demonstrate value to an audience, then that crowd will be more receptive to your straight-up marketing messages down the road. Furthermore, you must take into account that all people are different, so what is useful for one person may be negligible to another. If content is king, content variety is his closest advisor.

3. Aim to share.

Often the most important stats hoteliers follow are the likes and the followers, but these are not nearly as significant as the amount each fan is talking about your brand. Think about it this way: would you rather have 10,000 followers and only 500 that will talk about your product, or 5,000 followers and 1,000 who are genuinely enthusiastic? On paper, the first is a bigger number — double, in fact. But most of those followers are passive and not helping you breach new social circles. Aim to convert fans into sharing fans by, again, posting content that appeals to their personal tastes and interacting with them to develop rapport.

In abstract terms, these three steps make sense, but the execution is a whole other game. And that’s where we hoteliers find ourselves today. Everyone knows to some degree how social media marketing words, but the practical application requires real work in real time. This cannot be viewed as an ancillary operation; social media has earned its place as a task requiring your full and undivided attention.