Social media success strategies for boutique hoteliers

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The importance of social media to the success of independent and boutique hotels in today's market simply cannot be overstated. While still relatively new, social media marketing is quickly becoming an essential component of any hotel's marketing strategy.

David Lopez, general manager of the "straight-friendly" luxury boutique resort THE OUT NYC, says social media is useful both as a branding tool and as a search tool for niche travelers. For example, THE OUT NYC shares (and encourages guests to share) photos via Facebook and Instagram that illustrate, in a candid and authentic way, the beauty of the resort and the fun that real people are having there in real-time.

That's a great strategy for staying top of mind with consumers who are already fans of THE OUT NYC, which brings us to the other side of the resort's social media plan: using sites like Twitter as a nontraditional search channel. The property frequently pushes out deal offers and other promotions on the wildly popular microblogging service, paying close attention to keywords in a bid to register in the search results for gay travelers looking for hot deals in New York City.

Indeed, THE OUT NYC-which opened in March-has confirmed several guest reservations as a result of actively responding to potential guest inquiries via its Facebook page and Twitter account, Lopez says. The resort has also benefitted from cross-marketing efforts on those sites, reaching out to fans and followers of its neighboring businesses to boost its own social media presence.

Which Channels To Monitor?
With so many social media channels out there, it can be daunting and even unrealistic to try to tackle them all. Instead, concentrate on three or four and be attentive to those. Facebook and Twitter are obligatory for any boutique hotel, and Google+ is also a smart bet. Other sites to consider include Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr. Even though hoteliers cannot realistically monitor every social media site out there, it is important to at least register handles on as many sites as possible to avoid brand dilution or account squatting. After all, today's obscure startup could become tomorrow's Twitter.

To truly establish a presence as a social media industry leader, a hotel may also wish to consider a blog, which is one of the most effective ways to position a boutique hotel as an expert in a particular travel niche or market. Another way to stand out from the social media crowd is to employ a brand advocacy technology such as Flip.to, which is an innovative platform that helps hotels boost brand awareness by incentivizing guests to spread the word about upcoming trips across their social media networks. THE OUT NYC is one of more than 100 hotels using Flip.to to supplement its social media marketing and brand advocacy efforts.

"Flip.to expands our ability to connect with guests during the arrival and departure process," Lopez says. "During the reservation confirmation process, the Flip.to component requests that guest share with their social media network where they will be staying. We receive an automatic guest feedback email when guests fill out the online comment card via Flip.to, which we then embed on our website. These comments entice potential guests of the hotel to book. Flip.to taps the hotel into conversation pre-arrival and post-departure while sharing through social media platforms."

Dos and Don'ts Of Social Media For Hotels
When building a base of fans and followers on any social media page, hoteliers should be mindful of their audience. Share content that travelers and potential guests would find interesting or relevant, and do so at consistent intervals. For instance, consider posting a photo every morning at 9 a.m. Or, an F&B-driven resort might upload a brief video every Tuesday of the chef showing how to prepare a specialty dish. "When considering what content to share, it's essential to offer a diverse mix of content, and not strictly advertising and promotions, in order to keep the interest of fans and followers and to actively engage with potential and confirmed hotel guests," Lopez says.

In fact, one of the biggest mistakes hoteliers make with social media is using it to spam followers with marketing material. If consumers feel like they're being advertised to on Facebook, Twitter and the like, the pitches almost always fall flat. A hotel's best advocates are invariably its satisfied guests, and that especially holds true in social media.

Duygu Sakuc, marketing and social media executive for Turkey's luxury boutique group The House Hotels, emphasizes that social media is about extending the hotel's service and brand image into the digital world. "Social media is not about promotion-it's about giving guests information and content they are interested in," Sakuc says. "The reason people follow a hotel on social media is to engage with it. They may book your hotel one day, but until then, they simply want to know more about it."

Most importantly, respond promptly to messages, posts, comments, and tweets, particularly those communications that include guest inquiries or questions about the hotel.

Here are a few basic tips to get the most out of social media…
DO ensure photos are good quality for the initial launch of the page
DON'T exclusively post content that is promotional or advertising in nature
DO construct social media pages with concise messaging regarding your property
DON'T miss an opportunity to engage messages from fans and followers
DO frequently share content that is as organic and candid as possible
DON'T use low-resolution photos as images on a main landing page
DO engage as many fans and followers as possible with personal or public conversations

Brian Kent is co-founder and CEO for Flip.to, a marketing platform for hotels that turns guests into engaged brand advocates. For more information, visit www.flip.to.

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