FACEBOOK, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube ... last year, it seemed, hardly a day passed without us being confronted by newspaper or magazine articles about social media, industry conferences with discussions of or sessions on the best way to utilise web 2.0 tools in our daily operations, or business partners telling us how they are now on LinkedIn or other social networking sites.
Guess what? 2011 won’t be much different! Do not fret, though, you have not missed the train yet and social media is not a bubble that is about to burst – on the contrary, it is about to get bigger and more social!
It took Facebook only five short years to sign up 500 million users and other social media sites are growing at a similar pace, so we are not just talking about the latest fad here, but rather the beginning of a cultural change not seen since the invention of radio or TV.
Wether you are already using social media in your organisation or daily life, or whether you are just looking to start, read on and see what will shape the coming year from a social media perspective and how you can make the most of the various services out there...
Your guests and customers are social – shouldn’t you be, too?
You can sit at home watching a football game on TV and scream at the referee, but nobody will share your excitement. On the other hand, you could watch the game on the Internet or share your outrage about the referee on Facebook and hundreds or thousands may join the fray. Social media, as the name suggests, is not just another form of media – it is “social” – it brings people together. It also brings companies and people together.
Whether you like it or not, your guests or customers are talking about you on the Internet, mentioning your company’s name on Facebook, tweeting about their experience in your hotel, or blogging about the holiday they booked with you.
Years ago, many consumers judged a company by its address, not so long ago, they started judging it by its website – in 2011 they will start judging it by its engagement on social media sites.
The right and wrong way to be social
Before jumping onto the social media bandwagon, carefully consider which audience you want to reach and make sure you use the right platforms and sites to target your (potential) guests, clients, and visitors. Different sites have different demographics; Facebook, for example, is very strong in Europe and the US, whereas Orkut has more users in Brazil and India than any other social networking site. Equally, LinkedIn is mostly used by business travellers, while other sites may be better to reach people who travel for leisure purposes.
Do not fall into the trap to use social media platforms purely as another advertisement medium! This may have worked when such sites first started, but it certainly does not work anymore.
Your guests and clients want to be engaged, not simply advertised to, so become part of the conversation and start talking to your followers. Invite them to post pictures, videos and stories and share exclusive content and news with them.
Consider employing a member of staff who acts as a “Community Manager” and looks after your entire social media online presence and also take the time to learn as much as you can about the people who connect to you online. Turn what you learn into additional revenue streams, e.g. you may find that somebody is talking about coming to your hotel for their birthday or honeymoon – prime upselling opportunities abound!
People are more likely to trust what their family-members, friends, or colleagues have to say about your company, than what is written in a guidebook, magazine, or newspapers, so tap into as many networks as possible and engage with your guests, clients, and visitors!
Case Study: The Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers in Dubai
The Bonnington is a 480 keys, five-star hotel and hotel apartments property, in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers area in Dubai, just opposite Dubai Marina. Officially opened in May 2010, the hotel entered the market during a difficult time and used social media extensively to assist in creating brand awareness and engage with guests, future guests, and visitors:
• Difficult market conditions.
• Low brand awareness/visibility amongst target audience in the region.
• New website, but very little traffic.
• Build brand awareness and create brand ambassadors quickly in a highly competitive market place characterised by an oversupply of hotel rooms and recessive demand.
• Fine-tuning of the website to make it more search engine and user friendly.
• Established a hotel blog to compliment the information displayed on the hotel website.
• Created and heavily promoted brand’s online presence via online promotions and social media channels.
• The hotel is currently the only independently owned and operated hotel on TripAdvisor’s Top 30 for hotels in Dubai, and the only non-chain property in TripAdvisor’s Top 10 for business hotels in Dubai.
• Readership of the hotel’s blog has grown from 44 readers per month in April 2009 to over 2,500 readers per month in October 2010 – the hotel’s blog is the third biggest referring site to the hotel’s website.
• The hotel now has more than 4,000 loyal followers across Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare – revenue generated from these followers is roughly Dh50,000 ($13,600) per month and rising steadily.
• Traffic to the hotel’s website has increased by 70 per cent over the last six months, conversion rate of lookers into bookers also increased sharply in 2010 and revenue generated from the website for the first 10 months of 2010 was in excess of Dh1 million ($270,000).
This work was mainly done in-house, with occasional support from dedicated industry consultants iconsulthotels.com, and will continue in 2011 with increased emphasis on social media promotions and location-based services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places.
Let’s talk about (online) reputation and crises management
Even the best business will sometimes have unhappy customers. They may be unhappy about something out of your control or be unreasonable, but if they are unhappy it can impact on you and your business. Remember that complaints can be positive and harness the power of social media to give your complaint handling the modern edge!
Have you heard the stories which say an unhappy customer will tell 10 people about their bad experience with you while a happy customer will tell only two or three about you?
That was yesterday. Today, with customers and guests using social media to broadcast their experience with your company or using social review sites like TripAdvisor, an unhappy customer can tell hundreds of people about their experience with you at the click of a button. So, of course, can a happy customer!
I urge you to take your company’s online reputation seriously and to regularly google your company’s name and, in case of hotels and restaurants, also the name of your outlets. Even better, use Google Alerts to let you know when somebody mentions your company or outlets online – it’s free and only takes a couple of seconds to set up.
Do not be discouraged by negative publicity online, but realise that, unlike previously when people may have been talking about their experience in private without you knowing it, you now very often know what people are saying and, in many cases, even have the ability to reply to their complaints online.
The keys to effective online crises management are speed and honesty! An unhappy customer, whether he/she voices his/her opinion online or offline, expects his/her complaint to be dealt with speedily and efficiently, so if you do come across something online that does arouse suspicion or concern, investigate the matter immediately. Where possible, post a reply saying that you are looking into the matter and will get back to the customer as soon as possible, or, if possible, contact the poster directly to try and get more information and establish direct communication.
On platforms like Facebook and some other online communities, you can remove posts relatively easily and you may choose to do so for slanderous or otherwise unsuitable posts. Other sites do not give you the option to remove posts, but may let you comment on posts – if so, do reply in a courteous and matter-of-factly manner and do not get into a mudslinging match with the poster. Invite the poster to contact you by phone or email to resolve the issue.
Certain sites/platforms, will not allow you to comment on posts or contact the poster, and essentially leave you with only two options: Let, whatever it is, go and move on, or, if the matter is serious enough, contact the site/platform owner(s) and ask for the post to be removed. The latter may be a long and protracted process, so is probably only an option for very serious issues, e.g. copyright violations, libel, or slander. In most cases, as much as it may irk you, it’s best to just move on.
What the future holds
In the future, more and more people will access the Internet through their smart-phones, often while on-the-go, so location-based services like Google Local, Facebook Places and Foursquare will be all the rage. People will arrive in a new city and log on to the Internet using online maps on their smart-phones to find out what services, restaurants, hotels, and bars are available around them – and what other people think of them or whether any of their friends recommend any particular activities or companies!
Make sure you are listed on all such services and have up to date information, pictures, and videos on display. A picture says more than a thousand words – a video says even more! Increasingly, the lines between “offline” and “online” will get blurred, much like the lines between “work time” and “leisure time” – consumers will access the internet from anywhere at any time and “work” will no longer be confined to an office for many people. Information will be shared freely and frequently between networks of friends (both on- and offline) and colleagues.
Martin Kubler heads up iconsulthotels.com, an ultra-boutique consulting firm specialising in assisting small & medium hospitality companies and hospitality professionals achieve their business goals through innovative use of (online) PR, social media and customised CRM strategies.
Follow him at http://twitter.com/iconsulthotels or www.facebook.com/iconsulthotels.