Managing an online reputation can be a challenge for hotel marketers, but it’s certainly worth your while. A strong online marketing strategy includes an active social media presence. In our second interview post this year, we ask Daniel Edward Craig, Founder of social media consulting firm, Reknown a series of questions about how hotels can better manage their social media profiles online.
Why does social media matter for hotels?
I think what’s most powerful about social media is it has made word of mouth public, scalable and measurable. Guests can easily broadcast likes and dislikes to large volumes of travelers. Hotels have always worked hard to satisfy guests, but social media makes them work even harder. And those that haven’t adapted to the new playing field are finding it increasingly difficult to compete.
How can hotels gain more “likes” on their Facebook page?
I don’t think gaining likes should ever be the end goal, but maybe a means to an end: building a community of people who share an affinity with your brand. Hotels focus on likes because they’re easy to measure and give the illusion of popularity. But it’s a vanity metric that has little meaning on its own. What’s more important is who likes you. Did they like the page only to win a contest or would they pay for a room even if they didn’t win? People are getting stingier about liking brands because they don’t want their feed clogged with promotional messaging. So hotels have to work hard to build communities. How? Well, start by being likeable. That means helpful and curious, plugged into your destination, responsive, resourceful, and not too talkative. Funny helps, too. Once you get people to like your page, great content and meaningful engagement will help ensure that they continue to like you and your content over time.
Can hotels manage social media if they do not have one staff member dedicated entirely to it?
As social media matures, more hotel groups are realizing that the most authentic engagement comes from on property, not from corporate office. It amazes me that chains will entrust managers to run their hotels but not to respond to a review on TripAdvisor. The result is bland, meaningless corporate speak rather than meaningful, if not always finessed, dialogue.
So they’re figuring out ways to accommodate it, and it seems everyone takes a different approach. Unless a hotel is large or has a passionate, loyal clientele and lots of stories to share, I don’t think a dedicated social media person is necessary.
The danger with social networks like Facebook and Twitter is they are fun and distracting and can pull staff away from more productive sales and marketing activities and serving guests in person. Social media requires discipline and focus. If someone has other duties, they’ll be less likely to waste time.
People often lump all social media together, but I think the real priority must be reviews. People go to Facebook to socialize; they go to TripAdvisor to shop and to give invaluable feedback about their experiences.
Who should be responsible for administering social networks? It’s a matter of playing to strengths. A manager who is gifted at managing complaints in person won’t necessarily be gifted at responding to a review. It also should be a collaborative effort because multiple departments are involved: sales & marketing, operations, food & beverage, revenue management. I’m surprised how few hotels have the concierge involved in social media. To me it’s an obvious fit—see my definition of likeable above.
How can hotels manage a social media crisis, like a complaint or negative review?
I often hear people say that one bad review can ruin a hotel’s reputation, but given the volume of feedback out there, one review isn’t likely to deter travelers. The real threat is when there are negative patterns or a spate of bad reviews.
A full-blown social media crisis occurs when negative content goes viral, reaching a large number of people in a short period of time. To avert, contain or quickly recover from a social crisis, the first step is to be prepared. This means having procedures in place, knowing who is responsible for what, and ensuring social media gatekeepers can be reached off-hours. Hotels often worry about outside threats, but a crisis can originate internally, too. A staff member may post an offensive comment or a bitter former employee may go on the attack. Hotels can protect themselves by having clear guidelines on employee conduct, by monitoring social commentary closely, and by tightly controlling who has access to social profiles. Passwords should be strong, changed regularly, and revoked when an employee is dismissed.
If crisis strikes, it’s important to act quickly. This typically involves publishing an official response, monitoring feedback, and adjusting strategy as necessary, depending on how things play out, if the situation threatens to cause significant damage to reputation, a PR firm or lawyer should be consulted.
Communications during a crisis should be clear and concise: This is what’s going on, this is how we feel about it, and this is what we’re doing about it. Every situation is different, but in some cases it may be better to “go dark” on social networks rather than fuel the fire. A social media crisis tends to blow over as quickly as it flares up.
What are some best practices for visual storytelling on social media platforms?
Imagery is playing an increasingly important role in travel planning, in part because it allows people to visually transport themselves to the destination. In a medium where people are constantly scanning, skimming and scrolling, striking imagery can grab their attention.
It’s important to bear in mind that when people are actively shopping for a hotel, they aren’t looking for images of ecstatic couples clinking champagne glasses, they want practical pictures of guestrooms, the lobby, the restaurant, etc.
Social media has an insatiable appetite for imagery. Hotels not only need a library of professional imagery to showcase the property, but also a stream of “social imagery” shot by staff that tells day-to-day stories of happenings at hotels.
For visuals to be found on Google, in Facebook’s Graph Search and on Pinterest, Instagram and other visually oriented social networks, it must be searchable. That means tagging the hotel’s brand name, a description, location info and, where applicable, hashtags.
Video is increasingly popular with traveler planners because unlike marketing copy, which can be exaggerated, and photos, which can be doctored, video tells the real story. As technology enables video content to be easily and inexpensively shot, edited and uploaded, and it becomes possible for users to search, fast-forward and skim video, it will only increase in importance as a traveler tool.
I see video traveler reviews playing a key role in this trend. I’ve watched videos on Vine and Instagram Video that convey a hotel’s story in 15 seconds or less.
Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager and the founder of Reknown, a consultancy specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management for the travel industry. A frequent speaker at industry events, he is featured presenter at TripAdvisor Master Class events across North America.