Social media is a relatively new development in hospitality (as in any industry), but it already has a history. It can be studied. Bestselling books can be written about it. Such is the pace of change in 21st century commerce. The need to be forward-thinking and forward-looking is critical for hoteliers.
So what consists of “forward-looking” social media strategy in 2017 and beyond?
What isn’t forward-looking is an overly slow or dismissive approach. Social media interactions between businesses and customers are constantly on the rise, as evidenced by last year’s Sensis report on social media. Among the most basic findings was the fact that more businesses are turning to social media as a way to interact with customers. In 2016, 48% of small/medium businesses and 79% large businesses in Australia had an active social media presence. That’s an increase of 18% and 23%, respectively.
Why is this happening? Probably because more customers are turning to social media to write reviews, voice complaints, or give praise to hotel properties and staff. Later in the report, we learn that for the third year in a row, Australians are publishing more reviews in hotels/hospitality than any other industry. The second two leading categories are restaurants and shops.
Can you spot the glaring takeaway here? It’s the link between human elements of service and the propensity to write reviews. And since service has always been at the root of success in the hospitality industry, we should serve as a shining example to other industries in terms of social media.
And yet, according to this report, only 60% of small/medium hotels had a social media presence, compared to a dismal 45% the previous year. Many of these hotels are in fact leading the charge with responsive, active, inventive social media strategies. But the inverse numbers stand out even more.
That is, 40% of small/medium hotels still didn’t have a social media presence in 2016. They weren’t responding to reviews. They weren’t addressing complaints. And they weren’t leveraging social media as a way to deliver promotional offers or perks.
Some of these 40% may feel like they don’t have the luxury of devoting resources to social marketing. Indeed, social media presence is skewed toward large businesses who have more to win or lose by devoting entire jobs and even teams to social media. Consider the importance of paid promotions on the two leading social media platforms (FB and Twitter). What kind of big hotel chain would ignore those opportunities?
Many small/medium hotels cannot dedicate one whole job to social media, to say nothing of a team. But here’s a different way to look at it. Do you see your hotel growing in business? Do you hope for more customer loyalty and brand recognition, even if you’re out there on a lonely stretch of an interstate highway or a backroad? Beware that where there is data coverage, there are people searching for the highest rated hotels in the area. Think about the online directories and engines where people are making decisions about booking your hotel. Look at the major channels (Facebook, Google), and look at smaller channels that might be popular in your area.
The Sensis report is professional data from a quality sample of Australian consumers and businesses, but sometimes we just need a simple image. It doesn’t matter where your property is located or how small it may be. If you see yourself surviving and thriving in the short-to-long term, you need to build your social media presence now.
That doesn’t mean grabbing things out of a hat. Social media requires training and dedication (and yes that means cost – but think of the cost of not doing it); and least one job position should include a social media element, and associated training. Why and how should we respond to negative comments? What promotional channels matter to us? These are questions that somebody on your hotel staff needs to be able to answer intelligently. That’s the only way to translate the social media hotel frenzy into better long-term performance for your property. At least until the next model of communication comes along . . .
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