|How Amy Spark and Sam Weston Manage Social Communication For Apex Hotels.|
By Josiah Mackenzie
Monday, 23rd May 2011
Apex Hotels is an innovative group of seven city hotels based in the UK who began using Twitter in March 2009.
"Knowing our brand position as a group of contemporary, luxurious city-center hotels helped us with our social media strategy and content," said Sam Weston, who along with Amy Spark, shared some of their thoughts on how to manage social media at the brand level for a group of hotels.
How Apex Hotels Uses Twitter (with Sam Weston)
Apex Hotels began using Twitter in March 2009. While this was a little later in the game than some of their larger competitors, they wanted ensure they had the time and resources available to manage it effectively. "An unmonitored and stagnant Twitter account can do more harm than good for a brand."
Since joining the network, Apex has increasingly used Twitter as a method of engaging with guests and like-minded individuals. They also see a big opportunity in engaging with other businesses.
"Twitter offers us an invaluable feedback channel for both positive and negative comments, although I'm pleased to say we receive mostly positive feedback! People seem much more inclined to offer feedback in 140 characters than via longer channels. Often, it provides valuable insight into what we're doing well within Apex, or where we might be able to improve."
The Apex brand doesn't have a rigid tone of voice for Tweeting, despite their account being administered by three separate individuals. They do, however, have a clear understanding of what is acceptable to broadcast, and try to avoid controversial subjects or appearing too opinionated. Messages are intentionally light, friendly and informative to abide by what they see as one of the most overlooked principles of social media: conversation. "We like to appear approachable to questions and enquiries about our hotels, the cities in which we operate and the products we offer."
Different Accounts, Different Purposes
Apex has one main Twitter account that covers all their hotels: @apexhotels.
"We chose to run one main profile rather than an individual account for each hotel to give us the best possible chance to reach as many as we can through Twitter. We also wanted to ensure consistency in our brand message: we didn't want a whole host of people from different areas of our business having access to Twitter and potentially causing a PR disaster here and there!"
Apex built a separate Twitter account for their HR team - @apexcareers – which is used to offer advice and guidance to potential applicants. This account also offers recruitment and CV tips. "Engaging with the wider recruiting world ensures that Apex maintains an excellent standard of service by employing the right people at the very top of their game."
Amy Spark also maintains a profile - @apexaffiliates - to offer guidance to participants of the Apex Hotels affiliate network (through Affiliate Window and Buy.at). They find this to be a very helpful way to communicate latest promotions and offers that these affiliates can promote and earn additional sales commissions. It also offers a two way channel for them to hear feedback on what offers they'd like to see from the hotels in the future.
Additionally, Apex is experimenting with a Twitter profile for their sales team - @apexsales. The purpose is to provide their sales team with an opportunity to engage directly with corporate clients and key industry members within the sales and marketing world. This account enables them to tweet slightly more corporate messages, since the target audience is familiar with hospitality terminology, meetings and events promotions, and so on.
"We chose not to tweet this to our main profile too much as we didn't want to have an overly corporate-sounding profile, and prefer a more informal, friendly approach."
Monitoring and Responding on Twitter
Apex Hotels monitors social media channels using various tools such as ReviewPro to ensure their team is aware of what is being said about their brand: acknowledging both the positives and negatives, and responding where required. "It's easy to ignore the negatives, but in our experience a problem ignored often becomes more difficult to deal with in the long run and has an almost snowball effect as it gathers momentum through re-tweets and social media chatter."
At the same time, the team celebrates positive feedback from guests through re-tweets and comments. "It's a great qualifier for people considering staying at their hotels if independent comments on Twitter (and of course through various online reviews) reflect our brand positively."
Apex Hotels monitors mentions of their hotel names and specific @mentions too. They created saved searches to monitor chatter about the cities in which they operate: London, Edinburgh and Dundee. This might be as simple as any mention of 'do you know + Edinburgh' to more targeted hotel and restaurant queries. "An example of what we'll find could be as simple as 'whats the weather like in Edinburgh?' - or it could be detailed questions about attraction prices and opening times."
Regardless of whether the person asking the question is staying at Apex, they will respond if they have the time. The reason is that even if they're staying with the competition this time, they'll hopefully follow @ApexHotels and perhaps remember the Apex brand for next time.
Types of Content For Twitter
Apex finds that gathering content for Twitter is often an organic affair - coming from social media discussions about the cities they operate within, hotels and hospitality in general. They also find ideas from within the company - from any department.
"Occasionally events will happen at the hotel that we're unaware of, so we do ask staff to contribute when they see something that is social media worthy." In the near future, Apex is looking at establishing 'champions' at each property who will report on local activity and take quick snapshots to post online. This will further establish the connection between the on and offline.
Competitions on Twitter - asking followers to re-tweet messages or contribute to discussions - has been very effective in engaging with followers. "Maybe it's primarily because there's an opportunity to win a break at one of our hotels, but often it spins into discussion between other Twitter users."
"Of course, we're a business too, so we do tweet our offers, although we try to keep to a rough ratio of 1:10 (1 offer per 10 tweets). From using Twitter personally, it seems that many companies tweet almost all offers and I find, again personally, that I stop reading their tweets in the stream, or scan past them. I think originality is important and the catch of a good tweet, or a different Tweet is often the difference between being acknowledged or ignored."
The Apex team tries to tweet every day, and they monitor their accounts frequently to ensure messages aren't left unanswered. Responsibility for creating responses is split up among the team by day so that one person isn't left to manage the account themselves. "This provides a little variety and new ideas for tweeting. It ensures the content is always fresh, on brand and fun."
The time of day they try to publish tweets varies. "We do try and tweet during the evening on occasion, as well as during the standard 9-5. A good example was the recent bad weather in November and December of last year. With the weather changing every 10 minutes and peoples' travel plans being constantly interrupted, we tweeted a special offer in the evening so that if they were stuck in London, Edinburgh or Dundee and didn't have somewhere to stay, we were on hand to help.
Flexibility is probably one of the most useful things with social media. Some brands seem to be constrained by a rigid and formulaic approach and personally I think that can seriously impact on the value a company, and the people following that company will get out of the relationship, out of the conversation itself."
The Apex Strategy for Facebook (With Amy Spark)
Apex Hotels began building their Facebook presence in early 2009. Facebook has, of course, evolved their business profiles significantly since then - making them work more like personal profiles. "We find it has become a very good way for us to engage with existing guests, along with potential new ones." Apex Hotels now has over 3500 'likes' on their main brand profile, which is growing quickly. As with Twitter, they created additional profiles that are managed by their spa and HR departments. These more specific pages have also built a solid following.
What Type of Content Apex Publishes on Facebook
Apex has seven hotels located across three cities in the UK: London, Edinburgh and Dundee. They created a main Apex Hotels page for the group as a whole, which is where they publish content about the hotel group, the individual hotels and restaurants, and the cities where the hotels are located.
Trackable links are created for both Facebook and Twitter to see which content is most popular on each. "Particularly on Facebook, we find very corporate sales messages cause people to 'unlike' the page or unsubscribe from updates. Currently 6% of our fans are unsubscribed from receiving our updates in their news feeds and we obviously want to keep this percentage as low as possible"
As with Twitter, Apex prefers to stick to a friendly tone, and focus on competitions, photos and video, and events in the cities. "It's more about keeping people engaged with the brand so that they remember us when they need to book a hotel, rather than trying to sell to them right away."
After a few years of experimenting with both social networks, Amy finds they can get away with posting more content per day on Twitter than on Facebook. "The nature of Twitter is more fast-paced and people are used to receiving lots of short messages. However, with Facebook, we try not to post more than once a day as we find people start to unsubscribe, probably because they feel bombarded."
And as with Twitter, Facebook is also used to answer customer queries and collect feedback, which is passed on to the hotel managers. They notice the majority of the feedback they receive through Facebook is positive, but if they do receive anything negative it's important this is addressed and resolved as soon as possible.
How Apex Hotels Sources Content for Social Publishing
All staff members at Apex are encouraged to keep the social media team up to date with news from the hotels and surrounding area. All team members, especially those working on the front lines with guests, can be a huge resource.
Additionally, the social media team looks out for current events and occasions in their three locations. Alerts are setup to pick up items of interest, such as shows, festivals, exhibitions, and so on.
Local businesses that the hotels work with also provide a source of content. "Building relationships with other companies through social media gives us access to more discounts, competitions and useful information for our fans."
Content That Draws The Best Response
"Competitions and prize draws are by far our most popular posts. Offering a hotel break as a prize give us the opportunity to showcase our properties, which generates interest in them without sending out a sales message that will put people off."
Photos and video also work very well, especially on Facebook. The Apex team publishes new photography, hotel videos, and TV advertisements, which are always popular. Facebook fans and members of the hotels' online community are also encouraged to post photos.
The mascot for Apex Hotels - the Apex Duck - has also worked very well for them. "Guests receive a branded rubber duck in their rooms when they stay at the hotels. People collect them and take photos of them all over the world. We have a competition where the best photo of the year wins a hotel break." Each hotel offers a different colored duck that can be collected. Fans can also name the new duck whenever a new hotel opens.
Timing also plays a big role in the responses they receive. "We find that posting on Friday afternoon and on the weekends gives us double the impressions of posting at other times of the week, so we save their best posts for the end of the week."
Final Thoughts About Facebook
"It is difficult to track the exact monetary value as people may hear about us through Facebook, but then book using another method. We can trace bookings that have come directly from facebook.com through Google Analytics and in the last year we have had 28 transactions, but we believe the untracked total to be much higher than this."
For Apex, the main purposes of their Facebook presence are the following:
1.To maintain a relationship with previous guests
2.To attract new guests through recommendations from friends
3.To keep people engaged and interested in what Apex is doing as a company
4.To see what other hotels and companies are up to
"Facebook is changing and developing all the time and we look forward to new marketing opportunities as they arise."
A big thanks to Amy and Sam for sharing their thoughts with us. You can connect with Amy on Twitter #AmySpark and Sam #SJWmobile - and follow Apex Hotels at @ApexHotels.
About the author
Josiah Mackenzie, enjoys exploring the relationship between emerging technology and the hospitality industry.