Who is the Voice of Social Media in Your Hotel?
By Daniel Edward Craig
Thursday, 17th December 2009
When asked about social media strategy, I often hear hotel executives say they are 'carefully monitoring' or 'moving at a measured pace'; 'Our strategy is pretty much to listen and monitor,' said another one.

That's not strategy. That's hoping social media will go away. It won't.

On the other side of the spectrum are hotels that have leapt into social networking on all fours. They're issuing Twitter updates every thirteen seconds and recruiting Facebook fans by the busload. But their messages carry the meaning and life expectancy of an air bubble, and their "fans" are not brand advocates but deal-seekers who signed up hoping for something for free.

Social networking is not a contest to recruit the most followers. It is not a race to send out the most messages. It is less about talking than about listening. It's about engaging consumers in meaningful dialogue and recruiting brand advocates who will do the talking for you. These simple truths apply to every social media platform, from Twitter to Facebook to blogs to user review sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Expedia.

By now, most hotels have allocated funds for social networking. How best to spend this money? Given that participation in most platforms is free, the greatest expense is the time required to develop and maintain an effective program.

The first step is to establish your hotel's social media strategy. For most hotels, it should be simple: to utilize online networking tools to build a positive reputation and generate revenue. You need to determine the resources to dedicate, the distribution of responsibilities, the timeline, the tools to employ, and the standards regarding vocabulary, tone, imagery and responsiveness.

The next step is execution. Who will manage day-to-day activities? Your hotel's internet marketing company/search engine optimizer may seem like a natural fit given its expertise, but if it's located off-property, especially in a different city, it's a drawback.

Effective social networking requires the hotel to have an authentic, compelling voice that evokes its personality and brand. To engage in meaningful, real-time dialogue, the owner of this voice must have a finger on the pulse of the hotel's operations. Moreover, a system that requires hotel staff to feed information to an offsite company that in turn re-crafts and distributes it is inherently inefficient.

The same goes for the hotel's ad agency, PR company, social media strategist and corporate office. These entities have a role in strategy and implementation and should have an ongoing involvement, but the ultimate goal should be to bring social networking activities in-house.

It's a big job. A comprehensive social media program involves monitoring and conversing with entire online communities on a variety of platforms, disseminating and responding to feedback and using it to enhance the guest experience, blogging, and sourcing and distributing text, photo, video and mobile content. This role requires outstanding communication skills, technical proficiency, resourcefulness, strategic thinking, some serious multitasking, and a solid understanding of marketing and guest service.

Can your hotel justify a dedicated social media position? Consider how dramatically consumer decision-making has changed. Increasingly, travelers—independent and group, corporate and leisure—are consulting the opinions of others through social media platforms. Many are bypassing reservations and sales departments to book online. Have the resources of your hotel adequately shifted to reflect this new reality? It may be time to retire a reservations or sales position and replace it with a social media manager.

Yes, "moving at a measured pace" is prudent, but social media is moving at a breakneck speed and too much dawdling will leave your hotel in the dust. It's time to take advantage of the enormous potential of social media.

Your hotel's online reputation is at stake.

Daniel Edward Craig is a hotel consultant and the author of the hotel-based Five-Star Mystery series. He is the former vice president and general manager of Opus Hotels in Vancouver and Montreal and its current blogger-at-large.

For more info visit www.danieledwardcraig.com or email dec@danieledwardcraig.com.

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