Two more options often overlooked in the small hotelier's arsenal of online marketing tools are LinkedIn and Forums.
They're both free but take time and effort to make them useful. Why bother? Well, let's explore some of the possibilities you have using these two platforms.LinkedIn
LinkedIn is one of the "older" (I suppose if we count in dog years!) social networks. Because of its strict professional focus, it has retained popularity and it is actually a profitable company. But note what I just said: professional focus.
LinkedIn is not a place people go to chit chat or swap holiday photos. It is just like those old-fashioned networking events, but online.
So, whenever using LinkedIn, remember the same things I'd tell you if you were going to a networking event:
So how can LinkedIn benefit a small hotel?
- First Impressions count. In the real word, that's a business card. On LinkedIn, it is your profile. Fill it out with details about who you are and what you do.
- Relationships first, business second. You need to know more about someone before making a proposition, right? So put the spammy pitches away and start listening first.
- It isn't about selling. Just in case you weren't listening: relationships first! At networking events, people aren't there to buy things. They're there to meet people. So don't sell – you'll just come away disappointed.
- Follow-up is key. Connect with people, see what the synergies are, then actually take action.
- You could use it to create a networking group of professionals in your region or town or village. Share tips and secrets. You could also, instead of region, create a network of niche-orientated hotels – people like you that aren't competitors.
- Use it as a way to access media or other hard-to-reach people. Want to know who works at your local paper? Look it up. Then LinkedIn will kindly tell you which of your connections knows the person you need to talk to.
- Join relevant groups that you might find of interest, which you can use to get filtered news and updates on your industry (4hoteliers is your first port of call, of course, but what about a very sub-niche?)
LinkedIn, if you haven't realised by now, is a B2B tool. You're not going to clear out your unused capacity here. But for professional networking (especially if you have a time crunch and need to do that kind of thing off-hours), it can be an excellent resource.Forums
Forums are another great networking tool.
There are professional networking forums, of course, but there are vast numbers of travel community forums, such as Lonely Planet's Thorntree Forums www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree
or Travellerspoint www.travellerspoint.com/forum.cfm
The key to getting any value out of a forum is to be one of the members. So, add value by answering questions, promoting discussion, and listening. Would you want to participate in a forum where every message or discussion was someone selling something? I didn't think so.So how can forums benefit a small hotel?
- Customer research. What are people saying about your destination or niche? Take that away to update your website, your blog, or maybe its even something that will affect your products and services (such as a perceived safety issue or cost problem).
- Become the "go to" person for knowledge on that region. If forum members realise that you are one of the key experts, then you and your brand will be top of mind when they think of going there, or if they send a friend or family member there.
Forums are normally free but take time to participate. So do some homework and choose just a couple that you feel you can add value and that have an audience that is similar to yours.
If you try to stretch yourself too thin across too many forums, people can tell – easily.Andy Hayes is the Managing Partner of Travel Online Partners (TOP), a company focused on helping for small businesses in travel and tourism with online technology.
To find out more about their do-it-yourself guides, coaching and consulting, visit the website www.travelonlinepartners.com