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Social media should be on its way to being an integral part of a hotel’s marketing mix. Who better than to outline what the key components of this should be than Edward Perry, World Hotels’ global senior director of social media, OTA partnerships and innovation projects?

Perry is something of a social media evangelist and over the coming months he will be penning some exclusive insights for EyeforTravel into this ever-shifting communication channel.

The age of social media awareness in the hospitality industry has arrived. After years of convincing ourselves that social engagement is a critical force to reckon with, we have all carved our own paths of discovery. The pendulum sways from hoteliers just starting their own communities based on how they wish to be known in the market place, to fully charged social communities with 10K + followers. Wherever you are in the process, you should be commended for embracing social change and acting on trends to improve your businesses.

At the time of writing this article, we were about to embark on the yearly task of finalizing our sales and marketing plans and budgets for 2013. Although time frames have become increasingly short due to changing trends, we all ‘look forward’ to this planning phase.

So where exactly does social media fit into our marketing plans in 2013? That depends on how much you understand the potential. Needless to say, social media needs to be an integral part of all aspects of a hotels’ existence. Even if social media does not play a vital role now, you have the potential to put that right (and document it in an action plan) in the coming year.

But where do we hoteliers start? Well social media needs to be an integral part of everything we do; it has to be as top of mind as stellar customer service and as ubiquitous as the wireless services our guests consume. Social media is not simply a site like Facebook; it’s an ever evolving reality that will only intensify over time.

My view is that whether you are in a corporate office or on a property there are some components that should be part of your 2013 sales and marketing plan. You need to get certain things in place and here is what I believe you should prioritise.

1.      A Social Media Management Plan At the core of social media management is review management. Make sure that in 2013 you have budgeted for a scalable social media management tool that enables you to measure consumer sentiment across all possible channels as well as react and respond in a timely manner. We are all busier than ever, so make sure that the tool you choose can be easily adopted and trained to newcomers to your organization. With consumer sentiment and social review sharing at the forefront of consumer buying tendencies, you cannot afford not to pay attention to this in 2013.

2.      A Social Media Team Lets’ face it...social media is a serious business. It cannot be left to shared resources that may or may not have time to manage it properly. In 2013, you need to designate a social media team (with at least one person at the head) that is responsible for the reputation of your brand and the evangelization of your brand values to your following communities. Ensure that the leader of your team has the support, guidance and budget to properly represent you as a hospitable brand to trust and follow.

But remember this: Support comes from senior management and works its way through a commitment from everyone in the company. Period. Without senior management support, a social media evangelist will feel lost and frustrated. Never allow your people to play alone in the sandbox. Guidance comes from an understanding of the impact that social can have on your business and finding the best ways to manage these opportunities to their full potential. Finally, budgets need to take into consideration all of the costs involved in being effective ‘evangelists’ of your brand. Despite popular belief, social media is not free, although some of the tools may be close-to-free. Your people will need things like a campaign budget (for creative, prizes and giveaways) and a basic tool budget (such as for social media time savers like Hootsuite that manage your engagement and Shortstack that aggregate your social campaign entries). Since social changes on a daily basis, it’s also recommended to budget at least one social media conference a year. EyeforTravel’s Social Media and Mobile Conference in Asia in November this year is once such event.  Trends change that can (positively) affect your business and the best way to find out about them is through live interaction with peers.

3.      A Social Media Agency Many properties and brands find their position in social without the need of an agency but they can add value. Some businesses lack the resources necessary to make an effective impact. Some lack certain components such as content creation and a need for campaign management that comes with greater involvement in this sphere. Agencies can guide you on the best use of your technology budget as social management becomes more vital to your business. Whatever the reason, having an experienced agency to guide you towards better consumer engagement and higher brand awareness are all valid reasons to consider them. Some of your existing suppliers (such as web design agencies, SEO shops etc) may offer these services. Make sure that the company you ultimately choose has proven and measurable success in the competencies you are most looking to harness.

4.      A Social Media Training Program Once you have all the components of a social media plan in place, now what? It’s time to explain the impact of your business decision to everyone in your business. From chief executive to doorperson, everyone in your business is responsible for the business’s success. In order to demonstrate success, every team member needs to know the role he or she plays.  Does the person who responds to TripAdvisor reviews understand the impact of the written word on customer perception? Does your front desk agent understand the impact of their demeanour on a consumer willingness to book your property in the future? How can your bell person change the whole perception of a guest’s stay. Training programs with measurement reward programs are the best way to ensure that the investment you make in social media will pay-off.

5.      Social Media Immersion Clearly the social media department does not exist in a silo. It requires people that care and have the tools to be effective. Speaking of effectiveness, 2013 is the time to integrate the principles your followers hold dear and demonstrate your social prowess. If you have built a solid Twitter community, how can you engage more brand champions before, during and even after a major event such as GBTA, IMEX, ITB?  Establish a social media trade show strategy now and reap the rewards of increased brand allegiance in the future.

 Of course, your sales team can also benefit from applications of social media engagement. Involving your top customers (travel agencies, as a good example) in social media campaigns not only demonstrates that you care but you also that you value them as an important part of your business success. Set up easy to understand and manage promotions now and budget a small amount for meaningful prizes.

These are exciting times and 2013 will be a decisive year for those that recognize social behavior, understand the tools available to us to harness it and understand that change happens daily. For those that embrace change and welcome it with open arms, this coming year is for you. We have come a long way to reach this point. Now is the time to demonstrate that social media is not just about profit through bookings. It’s about fundamentally altering consumer perceptions of your business to make it more profitable. By all means, plan now for 2013, today.

Edward Perry is Global Senior Director of Social Media, OTA Partnerships and Innovation Projects Worldhotels @worldhotels @edwardperry

For further information on the topic of how to achieve effective social media engagement, tune into EyeforTravel’s free webinar on Tuesday 10th July on the theme of ‘Learn How to Drive Meaningful Engagement via Social Media & Stand Out From the Crowd’. Speakers include Lara Solomon, Head of Communications, Responsibletravel.com and Frederick Buhr, VP e-Commerce, RailEurope and Zoë Baker, Digital Account Manager, The Rabbit Agency.Register for the webinar here

 

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