Social Media Strategies of Hoteliers

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Can you imagine a few minutes without being connected to the Internet? Probably your answer is ‘No’ and like today’s millennia it is impossible not being connected even if it is for a minute. Think about it like this. Simply look around you wherever you are. Chances are that people are constantly glued to their phones. The advent of smart technologies has meant that access to social media is now available at your finger tips. And this is why people are increasingly able to connect with and comment about anyone – everything is a click away. Whether it is a restaurant or hotel whether part of a chain or a standalone property, chances are that they have a presence on some social media platform. Top hospitality brands have already realised the merits of having a robust presence on social media and some have created user apps that are linked to their Facebook page to foster better guest interaction. Industry experts – both hoteliers and solution providers let us in on why social media is becoming the “in thing”.

Digital Strategy

The digital revolution in the country has meant that it is vital for hoteliers to have a strong presence on social media. Again with brands facing cut-throat competition, there need to be a recall value and the emergence of new technologies and social networking has meant that digital strategies need to be set in advance. “Consumers are the ones that make the decisions and dictate the reputation of an establishment. With the advent of smart phones and mobile devices, consumers have all the tools to criticize a hotel immediately and reach millions of people in seconds. We review our social media strategy every 6 months and try to improvise it. We started our social media strategy in 2012 and we have a separate agency who manages our social media pages like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and others,” said Rohit Vig, Managing Director, StayWell Hospitality Group.

Leveraging Platforms

Social media as such is also expanding and numerous platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn and with time a brand that has its presence on various social media platforms uses the appropriate channel based on the type of messaging that needs to be sent. For example, contests are best announced on Twitter and images are shared on Instagram. Gargi Guha, Director of Public Relations, The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore added, “we focus on one prime pivot – engagement. Our social media messaging is always woven around vivid imagery and crisp and compelling storytelling, to engage our global audience. Our messaging is conversational; style is non-sales and always reflective of the relationship we want to build with our guests. We are in the business of crafting memories, and our social voice will always speak of that.” Again she explains that different platforms are used differently. “For example, Trip Advisor reviews are replied within 24 hours and the style is very conversational and compelling, as if the guest review is being genuinely considered as viable feedback. This drives traffic from this source into conversions as today’s travellers are always referring to Trip Advisor for even-handed information when they choose their place of travel or hotel. Facebook posts are all organically grown and we never use paid methods to boost traffic, as we always like to keep the pulse on natural O-to-O (Online to Offline) conversions. Pinterest and Instagram have a lot of guest driven assets, with the hashtag #RCMemories as it is evocative of the memories our guests have curated during their stay with us.” Every medium helps hotels to connect with different set of people. “For instance Zomato is more popular amongst the localities on the other hand international customer database relies more on Trip Advisor to search for a restaurant. To stay in the news we have to make our presence felt from time to time and the best way of doing this is giving a satisfying experience to the customers because what a happy customer can write and review nothing can match that,” said Joy Singh, co-partner Raasta Delhi & Mumbai.

Loyalty Matters

Social media is a tool that is being used to build loyalty as the ability to connect with customers real time is both effective and efficient. “We post regularly and ensure constant interaction with our customers on our social media pages. Our campaigns usually focus on building communities and this in turn makes our fans loyal and highly interactive. All of our campaigns whether they are product related or about a new restaurant opening have a social media focus. Queries are responded to within hours and this ensures a steady engagement with fans and new customers,” said Sumeet Yadav, CEO, Nando’s India. Tharun Giri, Managing Director – The Windflower resorts & Spa opined, “the company is actively seeking talent especially home trained professionals to handle our engagement programs. We do take help from agencies for designs and related items but the strategy and its implementation is completely home grown. We care about what our guests have to say about us and we constantly analyse our feedback for creating better experiences for our guests and also have a strong internal system for addressing and measuring our perceptions which we feel are directly linked with loyalty.” Existing customer outreach programs like loyalty programs are increasingly being merged with social media strategies as the idea now is to create customers engaged organically. “For that earlier we had another agency but now all our social media has been shifted in house. We give regular deals and loyalty points on portals like zomato, easydiner, dineout and all. Plus a Raasta app which is in association with snap lion also helps us push a lot,” said Singh.

The Right Connection

Any hoteliers have outsourced the social media management to outside vendors who formulate the social media calendars, draft the content emphasizing on the promotions for the months and monitor campaigns. A monthly performance report is usually shared highlighting how the campaigns performed and the page insights as well. Social Media is a constantly evolving industry. One has to be up-to-date with all the latest trends and techniques. “If one is not updated, then it’s really difficult to reach the target audience especially if you are in a service industry. We assist hoteliers in understanding the solutions that are accessible like which one to use, how to use it and how many times a week to be able to get more guests for their rooms, more diners for their restaurants, more customers for their spa, more phone calls and more queries for banquets,” averred Avijit Arya, Chief Mogul, Internet Moguls.

Analytics

As an essential part of the Digital media Strategy, social media provides an amazing channel to connect with the guest and potential target markets and additionally gives a boost to the Search Engine Optimization for the brand, which in itself is a very important part of any marketing strategy. For campaign statistics keyhole and other online measurement tools are used. Most hoteliers track hashtags and also use Facebook and Twitter analytics. “When we do ads, we use Google analytics. For an overall brand tracker or social listening we use meltwater buzz. We usually stick to reach and impressions. We use hashtags efficiently and try to measure the responses to each leg of the campaign by tracking the hashtag. For other ads we check click through rates and in some cases – conversion ratios (online ordering) For email campaigns, we check opening and click through rates,” said Yadav. “The standard solution has various downloadable reports like sentiment analysis, the performance of hotels basis volume, freshness, and quality of user generated content across OTAs, competition benchmarking, staff accountability (closure rate and TAT) for handling customer feedback, guest feedback conversion statistics. While across industry, the average accuracy of Natural Language processing is around 65%, on our platform we endeavor to provide 85% accuracy. We have also expanded our reporting repertoire by consulting even asset management firms on brand studies of hotels in which they are looking to invest in,” added Pranjal Prashar, CEO & Founder of Repup.

Investment Decisions

The whole marketing landscape has changed with the introduction of social media and new avenues are available for marketers that did not exist earlier. Neha Bahl Founder, Qube Communication PR & Social Media Marketing Agency, Delhi said, “with ad spend on Social Media Platforms they get to grab a hold on their target customers via posting various offers, discounts, USP’s of the property and services. Also, these platforms help them to directly understand the requirement/experience of their customers through feedbacks, questions asked on the platforms.” Vig added, “we are definitely keen to shell out money to strengthen our social media and we are working to intensify our social media approach in coming years. Every month we work closely with our social media agency to formulate a plan and work well in advance on the areas to focus.” Guha said, “vivid imagery depicting exciting locales and our beautiful hotels are very important to us and we make sure we invest in curating a world-class image bank. We also partner with a social media agency in Boston, Pandemic Labs as they give us strategic guidance build our brand’s assets. We will continue to keep engagement as the lynchpin of our social media communications.” Sachin Malhotra, General Manager, Grand Mercure Mysuru said, “being an Accor Hotels Brand, we had structured guidelines available right from the start and hence we had a focused approach towards social media leading to an allocation of 35 percent of the total marketing budget towards establishing a strong digital presence. We look forward to keeping up this ratio in the years to follow. In the first year of our inception, we organized monthly monitoring and quarterly reviews of the strategy and plans as we were focused on establishing our market presence. To quantify the returns, we now have data and statistics available to analyze the market trends and hence we look forward to a weekly monitor and monthly review and for an upkeep of content distribution.”

Overcoming Challenges

Social Media Marketing helps to enhance traffic and exposure of hotel’s microsite, Search Engine Acquisition and Adboost campaigns help maintain a good ranking on search results, leading to higher traffic. “Since the beginning we were more inclined towards creating brand awareness and extending support to our Search Engine Optimisation and Adboost campaigns, yet we have been able to register a 46% contribution to the revenue which is almost three times the spend,” says Malhotra. The hotel industry is very competitive and the biggest challenge is to reach the target audience at the right time. “The main challenge is coping with the need for an immediate response to comments, queries and of course complaints. We aim to become more and more active online and in our opinion one has to constantly monitor and change operating processes related to social media to ensure not being left behind in the race,” said Giri. Currently, social media has a strong presence in hospitality. Past hotel guests and potential future hotel guest are influencing and influenced by each other in the virtual environment especially through the usage of online reviews. “Hence, maintaining a consistency in content and promptness in engagement are two major challenges that are to be addressed with immediate effect. The primary focus for all should be to ensure timely and proper responses to all issues, queries and complaints on the pages. A proper monitoring system can help us to catch the comment quickly and prepare a response on the same. Additionally, analytical tools and trend analysis can help us better prepare content for the pages,” added Malhora.

Solutions Galore

Professional solutions come with social media intelligence gathering to be on track. “There is engagement time, for analyzing when are we getting the maximum engagement. We also need to plan campaigns based on events in the city/country. Managing conversations in real time depends on the freedom that the brand gives to our team in order to go ahead and respond on their behalf. In order to cater this, our SMO experts have accounts integrated on mobile devices and they actively indulge in real time conversations on social media channels. We make sure we actively interact with them and provide them with 24*7 services,” explained Arya. Reporting is also strong and includes the whole gamut ranging from engagement to content strength to setting up of the target audience to business generated in terms of leads. “This also includes the specifics such as where it came from, how many times, what time of the year, what makes up your prospective clients, how you lost them, what we did right to get them etc. We provide complete 360 degree digital marketing solutions for the hoteliers,” added Arya. Similarly, iGenero’s social media solutions help the hoteliers focus on the metrics across the customer lifecycle. “We break down the customer journey across four distinct stages; (Attract, Convert, Close, Delight) our target out social media solutions to convert potential consumers from Strangers to Promoters,” said Manveer Malhi – Digital Head and Partner, iGenero. Social media today has become so all pervading that like it or hate it, you cannot ignore it. And naturally, hoteliers are all geared up to make the right connect with their guests.

This story appeared in the April 2017 issue of Hotelier India here: Hotelier India Social Media Strategy

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