Exclusive Advice for Hotels from Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook and Twitter.
By Daniel Edward Craig
Thursday, 9th January 2014
What words of advice do senior executives from Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook and Twitter have for hoteliers for 2014?.

While researching ReviewPro's most recent webinar, Top Social Media Strategies for 2014, I checked in with movers and shakers at the Big Four to find out. Their responses, below, provide rare insight from people who are helping to shape the future of social travel. I asked each the following questions:
  • What do you think are essential social media strategies for hotels in 2014?
  • Why are they important?
  • What should hoteliers do about them?
Surprisingly, their answers contained a consistent message involving four concepts: shift more resources to online and mobile marketing; engage guests on social networks before, during and after trips; align social with marketing strategy and the guest experience; and use paid products to amplify visibility and reach.

Here are summaries of what they had to say, edited for clarity and brevity:

GOOGLE: Rob Torres, Managing Director, Travel
"The travel path to purchase is increasingly social," said Rob Torres, Google's managing director of travel. "An active social media presence is important for all marketers but particularly for those in travel, as it allows brands to participate at moments of influence throughout the travel journey. Social media has a place whether your brand is trying to build awareness, influence consideration, drive sales or grow loyalty."

Torres cited recent Google research that shows that the internet is the No. 1 source for planning travel and that nearly half (46%) of respondents use social media to share travel-related experiences (Google and Ipsos MediaCT Travel Study, June 2013). 

"Social media is a tremendous outlet for brands to get real-time feedback and drive engagement at scale," Torres said. "While hoteliers don't have control over everything that's said about their brand online, they can leverage social media to be discovered, create deeper relationships with new and existing guests, and measure the impact of their efforts."

Torres' recommendations:
  • Ensure that your brand is present across relevant channels.
  • Surface rich, relevant content on a regular basis. Think about what matters most to your guests and how you can extend your brand's hospitality and personality to online channels. 
  • Establish a consistent brand experience both online and offline.
  • Experiment with content and types of engagement and measure the impact when possible.
  • Align marketing efforts (SEM, email, social, offline, etc.) and take advantage of the unique capabilities of each platform.
To enhance the guest experience with social, advertisers have used Google+ Hangouts on Air to promote a concierge-like experience for travelers prior to arrival, he said. "This is just one feature of Google+, which helps brands establish a unified, consistent brand identity across the web. Today, Google+ content is amplified across the web—in Search, YouTube, and Gmail," Torres told me.

TRIPADVISOR: Steve Kaufer, President and CEO
"I've spoken with quite a few hoteliers over the years," said Steve Kaufer, TripAdvisor's president and CEO, "and with even more travelers who rely upon sites like TripAdvisor for vacation planning. The most common disconnect I see is hoteliers who have trouble accepting criticisms, deserved or not, and travelers who are eager to hear hoteliers' side of a story.  Every hotelier likes great word of mouth recommendations, and I can appreciate how it is hard to see a criticism posted publically."

Kaufer's recommendations:
  • Leverage the free platforms that sites like TripAdvisor offer. Post photos, answer criticisms and thank positive reviewers. Engage with your past customers and leave a positive impression for future customers.   
  • Go where your customers are talking about you, and engage in the platform. Whether it's TripAdvisor, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or anywhere else, where there is a public comment about your product or service, respond in public. Don't leave a complaint unanswered.
  • Talk to your guests before, during and after their stay. Learn what might make their stay special before they get there, and try to exceed expectations in some way during the visit. Then ask them to share their experience.    
  • Advertise direct contact info and special offers with paid Business Listings and real-time rates and availability with the new TripConnect.
"The buzz of our times is social marketing, which is nothing more than old style word-of-mouth marketing on steroids because guests can share as easily with a single friend as with all of their friends," said Kaufer. "It's all about expectations, and when you can exceed them social media will let your quiet fans become brand evangelists."

FACEBOOK: Lee McCabe, Global Head of Travel Strategy
"First and foremost, hotels should invest in digital with an emphasis on mobile," said Lee McCabe, global head of travel strategy at Facebook.

"Growing your business in this predominantly digital environment isn't a job for just a small team dedicated exclusively to social marketing," he said. "The reality is that social marketing is just marketing and should be acknowledged—in theory and in practice—as an integral part of a hotel's overall media/marketing strategy.

"In an era when people now spend more time online than they do watching TV, marketers' investments and efforts should reflect this shift in consumer behavior," McCabe said.

With 1.19 billion people using Facebook worldwide, marketers can scale their businesses with sophisticated targeting based on rich profiles of authentic identity, he added. 

McCabe's recommendations:
  • Facebook is a place where people discover what matters to them. Use reach, frequency, sophisticated targeting, compelling creative, and meaningful stories to become what matters to people. 
  • People spend an average of 30 minutes a day on Facebook and much of that time is on News Feed, so reach them via this "prime digital real estate".
  • Engage in authentic and ongoing conversations with guests to bolster loyalty and keep them coming back.
"At the end of the day, hotels on Facebook can do three things: inspire, convert, and retain," said McCabe. "That's what Facebook is for travel marketers. And the most successful hotels incorporate all three."

As an example, he cited MGM and its "always-on strategy" in which mobile plays a key role. The company has seen high returns on promotions, offers and paid products like Custom Audiences and Facebook Exchange, he said. Worth noting: the MGM Grand Las Vegas hotel's Facebook page has more than 605,300 likes.

TWITTER: Mike De Jesus, Head of Travel
"In 2014, hotels need to incorporate an engagement strategy that reaches guests and potential guests at all stages of the travel planning process," said Mike De Jesus, Twitter's head of travel.

Opportunities range from "inspiring travelers in the consideration phase (creating emotional experiences through rich media, for example) to driving bookings from users who are ready to make a decision, and ultimately to engaging users and guests who are on-property to give them the best experience possible," he said. "Social media plays an increasingly important role in all of those phases."

De Jesus also emphasizes the importance of mobile. "Hoteliers need to adopt strong mobile strategies as more and more people come to mobile to communicate and receive information," he said. "Hotels need to capitalize on this because their guests are becoming more and more mobile-focused."

De Jesus' recommendations:
  • Ensure your website is optimized for mobile devices.
  • Cultivate strong presences on mobile-first platforms like Twitter.
  • Have a sophisticated mobile app and on-property integration strategy.
To power-boost Twitter-follower numbers, Twitter offers a number of paid products, including Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets. The products also allow users to find users based on keywords and interest, and amplify the reach of a hotel's tweets.

For more information check out ReviewPro's webinar, Top Hotel Social Media Strategies for 2014, and the accompanying highlights article.

Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager and the founder of Reknown, a consultancy specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management for hotels and the travel industry. He collaborates with ReviewPro as Industry Advisor. Visit www.reknown.com.

Copyright: © 2014 Daniel Edward Craig. Reprinted with permission.
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