Ms. Miller

Social Media & Relationship Marketing

Brand Perception: An Increased Focus on Conversational Messaging

By Stephanie Miller, Social Media Manager, Madigan Pratt & Associates

Where are your guests when they're not at your hotel? The answer is simple: they're on social media. But, the real question is: are they on your social media?

Social media is the go-to platform for many travelers who no longer want to visit websites, pick up the phone or even send an email. It's the fastest way to communicate information about a brand. Often, it's the first resource referenced for news. While social media will always have its share of window shoppers, more followers are turning to it for specific questions about pricing, availability, onsite amenities and destination activities. Your followers expect immediate responses, informative answers and ongoing information about hotel news, updates and offers.

As social media managers, we're also brand managers. We are responsible for knowing the ins and outs of the hotel we represent and creating a seamless experience for the online user. It's our job to make every follower feel like the hotel is talking directly to them and specifically addressing their interests or concerns. To do this, it's critical to open the line of communication and increase your focus on conversational messaging before, during and after a guest's stay.

Frederick Reichheld's book The Loyalty Effect, the Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value says companies with the most loyal customers are the most profitable. Because of this, it's essential to take the hotel's relationship with the guests far beyond their stay and utilize social media to build and retain long-term relationships.

Ultimately, the bottom line is social media needs to help transform followers into leads, leads into guests, and guests into repeat guests.

Make it a Two-Way Conversation, or it's No-Way

As the name suggests, social media is intended to be "social." As tempting as it may be to control the conversation, this is the wrong platform for a one-way conversation. Don't talk to a follower, talk with them. The brand's image is defined by what a followers perceives it to be - not by what content you post.

Social media has quickly evolved into a platform where the audience can control the content and brand reputation. Listening to your audience is key, and social media managers should adjust their communications accordingly. Modify your content calendar, response plan and user-generated content strategy to create a foundation for meaningful relationships and conversation.

Auditing Your Audience, Listen Up

As the saying goes, "there's a reason we have two ears and only one mouth." It's imperative to listen, or in the case of social media, read, what your audience is saying.

To create the most significant two-way conversations, first determine what topics your audience finds most interesting and will respond to.

Over a few months' period, post a variety of photos that showcase the destination, accommodations, staff, pool, scenic landscapes, culinary experiences, cocktails, etc. Then, analyze which types of posts are receiving the most engagement - likes, comments and shares. After identifying the most popular themes, strategically, and naturally, incorporate them into your captions, pictures and comments.

For example, if followers engage the most when the subject is about staff, then highlight staff members in posts whenever possible. If a new dish is added to the hotel's menu, share the news with a picture of the beloved chef presenting the plated culinary delight.

It is still important to highlight a variety of topics to showcase a well-rounded viewpoint of the hotel. However, pushing content that the audience finds favorable is still more likely to boost comments, shares and likes, and open the possibility for more conversation.

Making it Real

It's expected for hotels to receive questions or observations in the "comments" section of a post, especially on the hotel's Facebook and Instagram profiles. How you interact with these comments will set your hotel apart from the competition and help create meaningful dialogue with your followers.

In response to these comments, include "likes" and "replies" in your response strategy. If a follower comments with a question or asks for more information, be sure to "reply" as soon as possible, ideally within a couple of hours. Provide a clear answer to their question, and it's generally appreciated to add relevant information or fun facts that the follower may find helpful. If you don't know the answer to a question, reach out to someone who will. A timely response is the most important thing, so even if it'll take a while to finalize the answer, be honest. Let them know you're researching it and provide any links or relevant details they can use in the meantime. Remember, even if someone never comments on your posts, he or she will still see how you are interacting with other followers. Timeliness, accuracy and positivity are key!

Alternatively, hotels receive many "comments" with general observations or remarks. Although you may not need to provide an actual answer, engagement is still vital. Reply back with warm wishes and share brief insight about something they may enjoy or how you hope to welcome them soon. Even better, ask an open-ended question about what they hope to experience.

While replying is important, be sure not to "over" engage. If the same person comments on your photo every single day and is not really asking for information, spread out your replies. You do not want to send them similar replies day after day. Further, you don't have to respond or "like" every comment. To make your followers feel like your comments are authentic and meaningful, it's imperative to find a perfect balance of engagement.

Tap Into Their Content and Win

Embrace user-generated content. Asking guests to share their photos is a great way to curate new and timely content and amplifies your one-to-one communication with guests.

A guest sharing a photo of your hotel provides authentic testimonial that is instantly exposed to the guest's friends and followers. This furthers your reach and provides the opportunity to engage with a new audience.

However, it's impossible to engage with posts you can't find. Encourage guests to tag your handle, check-in at your location and use your hotel's hashtag. There are easy ways to do this - create tent cards to place in the rooms, tell guests at check-in or even display handles and hashtags on your hotel's Wi-Fi login page. After your hashtag is established, monitor the tag on all platforms, so you know where and who to engage with. Sharing their posts onto the hotel's page is also a great way to strengthen your relationship with the follower. Ask permission to post and provide photo credit in the caption.

Although user-generated content may not be professional quality, photos from guests are considered more authentic and provide an accurate depiction of your resort. Sprinkling in user-generated content with regularly scheduled posts will help increase your engagement and build trust. Plus, you can typically count on the photographer/past guest to share the post they're featured in again on their own profile.

A Little Friendly Competition

Instead of searching for guests' posts, ask them to directly submit their photos and testimonials, which you can re-purpose in the form of social media content.

Many hotels have found ongoing photo contests to be successful. Ask past guests to email you photos for the chance to be featured on the hotel's social media channels, as well as potentially win a prize. The prize can be anything from a beverage credit to an overnight stay. A strong reward will encourage entries and increase the amount of new social content sent straight to your inbox.

Contests generate excitement and draw followers back to the hotel's communication platforms. This creates an opportunity to begin new conversations and discuss favorite memories. It's important to post contest winners on social sites as well as your website or newsletter, if you have one. Seeing that the hotel follows through with recognition and awards helps maintain credibility, encourages future participation and increases engagement.

The Payoff of Open-Ended Questions

One of the easiest ways to get guests to join the conversation is to pose a question on your regular posts. Ask guests for tips on a popular excursion, what their favorite on-site activity is or what menu item they most enjoyed. This creates a conversation not only with the hotel, but opens an opportunity for potential or past guests to connect and discuss experiences amongst themselves. While the brand should chime in with advice or acknowledgement, a conversation between two guests will be seen as much more authentic.

On Facebook, ask past guests to share their relevant and favorite photos in a comment. For example, post a photo of the hotel's bar and ask past guests to share their favorite cocktail picture in a comment. Unique shots are often shared that can be added to your photo library and later shared online (with permission and photo credit, of course). Comment on the shared pictures thanking the follower for their participation and even throw in a question about their experience. Keep the conversation flowing!

A Seamless Experience: Bringing the Magic to Life

Social media is a great platform to build and maintain ongoing relationships, but nothing truly beats a face-to-face experience.

Social media managers should keep notes about the important dialogue they engage in online, and discuss with the hotel's management on an ongoing basis. Then, when active social fans visit the hotel, the hotel staff can bring online conversation to life. Upon check-in, thank your active fans for engaging with your brand, surprise them with their favorite beverage they posted about, or reference a specific comment they made. A small token of appreciation or surprise conversation brings together a seamless experience for the guest and makes their social media involvement a bit more tangible. Often, they post about this genuine gesture, singing your praises. That endorsement has an exponentially higher ROI than other marketing initiatives.

Putting the "Social" in "Social Media"

There isn't one definitive formula for creating impactful engagement and meaningful conversations on social media, and the tactics will vary by hotel and constantly evolve. However, building and maintaining relationships online is certainly achievable and offers clear value for the hotel.

In conclusion, simply listening to your brand's followers and acting accordingly can provide followers with content and conversation that aligns with their interests, goals and lifestyle. Social media is no longer a convenient, nice-to-have platform in the hospitality industry, it is now an essential component of communication strategy. Use social media as a relationship-building tool for followers, leads and guests, and remember to stay "social!"

Stephanie Miller is an account executive and social media manager at MP&A Digital & Advertising, located in Williamsburg, Va. As account executive and social media manager, Ms. Miller assists in the day-to-day management of marketing communications and social media efforts for the agency’s growing list of clients. MP&A helps several of the Caribbean’s top hotels and resorts acquire and retain profitable guests using its successful integrated Customer Relationship Marketing (iCRM) approach. Ms. Miller is certified in social marketing (Hootsuite) and remotely develops and monitors content on seven social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest and WordPress blogs) for Caribbean resorts. Ms. Miller can be contacted at 757-645-3113 or stephanie@madiganpratt.com Please visit http://www.madiganpratt.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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