Luxury hospitality and the social mobile web

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The stakes are higher for luxury brands

Social is a highly effective marketing channel for hotels; no marketer worth his or her salt will tell you otherwise. Social is even more effective for boutique, luxury hospitality brands. However, by the same token, social can be exponentially more destructive to luxury brand equity if not handled properly. The goal of this article is to help luxury, boutique hoteliers see the social web from a new perspective, provide insights on building a strategy that is unique to their story, and explore media that are consistent with their message.

According to Phau and Prendergast (2000), "luxury brands compete based on the ability to evoke exclusivity, brand identity, brand awareness, and perceived quality from the consumer's perspective". Not only will it be helpful to have a shared understanding of "luxury", but the notion of a luxury brand maintaining its perceived quality and exclusivity can not be overstated.

The web is inherently social

Before we move forward in discussing the "social web", it's worth noting that the web has always been social. From its origins as a virtual hangout for physicists to share research, it was a social network. As the web grew to become a bigger part of our everyday lives, social networks evolved around our habits and our human desire to connect with each other. Our process for selecting these networks is also rather Darwinian, that is, the applications that allow us to connect with the people we care about in the most authentic way will always win out in the long term.

Therefore, when brand-speak creeps into a network, dominates the conversation, and effectively disrupts real people's ability to connect with other real people, users will migrate to the next network. I believe that people subconsciously (and at times, quite publicly) resent the brands that corrupt the purity of a given social network, even if unintentionally. Given our assumption that luxury brands compete based on their ability to maintain a consistent identity and evoke a sense of exclusivity, they must be extremely careful, deliberate, and consistent when engaging social channels as part of their marketing strategy.

The balance of the article will outline the common mistakes made by brands on social channels, examine the profound impact of mobile devices on the social web, and provide some helpful advice for luxury, boutique hotels hoping to re-evaluate their use of social media.

Socially Awkward

Common corporate mistakes in social media
1. Misunderstanding your audience
In order to tailor your brand's voice for social media, it's imperative that your marketing team understands how your audience uses these channels. At times, this can mean anticipating and accommodating for your audiences' technical shortcomings.

2. Oblivious insensitivity
We all have that friend on Facebook that shares a little too much information. When it's your uncle, you're not really allowed "unfriend" them. When it's a company, not only will you "unfriend" them online, you'll probably "unfriend" them in real life too.

3. Shameless self-promotion
You've probably heard social media likened to a cocktail party. Although this metaphor is overused, it serves to effectively illustrate a situation we've all been in: stuck with the person that only wants to talk about him or herself. When it happens, we tend to feel used and disrespected. Moreover, we'll probably avoid talking with that person again. Selling through social is a delicate balance, and usually there are more appropriate ways to reach people as they approach a buying decision.

Social ♥ Mobile

The role of mobile in the social web
Social has proven extremely effective within the travel context because it provides an indirect platform for people to share their experiences while on the road. It can get pretty monotonous uploading picture after picture of one's #nails so most of us increase our social output when we're travelling. We do this for two reasons. A) To keep our friends back home in the loop ("By the way, friend, I'm away in San Diego") and B) To make our lives seem fun and exciting ("Look how much fun I'm having in San Diego!").

Five years ago, "social" meant uploading the pictures we'd taken over the previous three months into an album titled "Spring 2007″. Now, we check-in, tag our friends and upload single pictures in real time through mobile apps like Instagram.

Most importantly, for boutique hospitality, the mobile-social context is a non-intrusive way for early adopters and influencers to stake a personal claim to a new hotel, restaurant, or spa that their friends haven't heard of yet. They will gladly endorse your brand if they see it as positively shaping their own identity, defining their lifestyle and evoking exclusivity. As a luxury hotel, you are ideally positioned in this regard.

Look for ways to reward influencers that promote your hotel (and I don't just mean retweeting). Reward them before they check out, send them a drink by the pool, or upgrade their room. Today, the biggest opportunities for luxury hospitality brands happen in real time, and real time means mobile.

With advanced location-based technologies included as standard features on today's mobile devices, the opportunities for authentically involving the user are rapidly expanding and evolving. Stay tuned.

Social Cues
Advice for integrating social channels into a hotel's marketing strategy

Social media provides luxury marketers with a highly qualified audience that has A) bought, B) will buy, or C) aspires to one day buy their product. In the case of luxury, boutique hotels, the aspirational dynamic of this relationship must not be taken for granted.

1. Too little is better than too much: Sometimes it's enough just to exist on the network. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to be creative or funny, simply use it as a way to hear what people are saying about your brand and, if appropriate, respond to their comments. As the old proverb goes, it's better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

2. Appreciate & educate: Your guests choose to associate with your hotel because it aligns with their self-perceived lifestyle. These shared interests can be as broad as art, technology, wildlife & adventure, food & drink, sheer opulence, etc. Use social channels as a way of helping your followers discover emerging trends in your related areas of interest. They willl love you for it.

3. Stay consistent across channels: Indeed, use each channel how it's meant to be used. But try to use the same user name, bio, and picture across networks to ensure familiarity. Practically speaking, if someone mentions you on Instagram, and sends it out as a tweet, people can link find you no matter what network they're on.

4. Don't beg for likes: Never, ever, ask the general public to like your page for the sake of padding your stats. Nothing will dilute your brand and lose the respect of your actual, loyal fans faster. Quality still trumps quanity when it comes to audience.

5. Be personal: It's OK to carry an informal tone, as long as it's consistent with your brand voice and fits your audience's expectation. Sometimes the most logical solution is to internally appoint a social media manager that best fits your target demographic. Our client, Provenance Hotels (Portland), has a PR director that does a fantastic job of maintaining a professional tone while consistently and subtly adding her own touch of personality.

6. Brands aren't people: Real people have allowed you into their network because they feel like they will benefit by hearing what your company has to say. They have entrusted you with one of their most coveted assets, their newsfeed. They may want to hear from you, but probably not everyday. And if you truly are a luxury brand, it's best to keep the special offers and discounts to a minimum. Our client, Singita (South Africa), does a fantastic job of sharing stunning photography on Facebook. It works because they produce content that past and future guests actually want to show their friends to help describe their experience, create new aspirational guests, and remind past guests to start booking their next trip.

7. Be mobile-friendly: If you have a good message, the message will spread. Unfortunately, you are unable to control how people receive the message. If the message you are spreading on social channels contains links back to a bigger story on your site, it is wise to ensure your content scales appropriately on all devices.
Concluding thoughts

As a luxury hospitality marketer, managing the approach to the social mobile web is now your job. The good news is that if you have a great product, people will naturally want to talk about it. And in most cases, your best strategy is to stay out of the way, listen to the conversations, and when appropriate, respond with a voice that is consistent with the real life experience of your brand.

Ryan Clarke is director of business development at Wallop Creative


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