Hotel Social Media Strategy: Plan, Measure & Succeed

From grandparents staying connected with their grandchildren to real estate agents listing properties to worried professionals keeping tabs on their pets, everyone uses social media. But you’ve heard that message already, right?

You know — especially if you’ve been following our blog posts here — that we’re big proponents of how valuable social media can be as a marketing tool for boutique hotels. It starts conversations with future guests that lead more often to direct bookings than other channels. The upside is immense and you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you’re sitting on the sidelines.

That said, these activities come at a significant cost in time, focus and money. You shouldn’t just jump in blind. Your boutique hotel needs a social media strategy.

How Can Social Media be Part of a Broader Strategy?

If you’ve set goals and created the actionable framework for a hotel marketing strategy, then you’ve taken a big step. If you went through this process for your hotel any time in the last few years, we’ll wager that social media was a big topic of conversation for the next step.

Make social media planning a part of a broader planning process for all of your marketing.
Make social media planning a part of a broader planning process for all of your marketing.

That is, when you sat down to pivot from strategy to plan, the idea of focusing your execution on social media was probably an attractive option. Many boutique hotels feel that way because:

  • They saw results with Google Adwords, but costs there have risen while conversions have dropped.
  • You’ve read about how important social media is to the traveler’s process — from inspiration to inspiring jealousy after the fact.
  • You turned the reins of your hotel’s social media accounts over to a junior employee and told them to “run with it.” This worked in the short-term but reach has dropped, your audience seems less engaged and you can’t attribute any real bookings to these efforts.

It’s time for your social media efforts to fall more closely in line with your other marketing activities. Here are three individual examples of how social media can help pull individual levers during your strategy setting and planning process:

  1. Use the robust audience profiling tools to help inform your hotel’s buyer persona profiles.
  2. Look at the messages you receive on Twitter or the reviews being left for your boutique hotel on Facebook to better gauge what features matter most to your customers and thereby understand their goals.
  3. Keep social media at the front of the discussion as you build a SWOT analysis — that’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — for your business.

Measurement as a Cornerstone of Success

Remember that within the SMART marketing goals acronym the “M” stands for “Measurable”, right? (And for that matter, the “Specific” and “Attainable” relate directly to the same idea.) Naturally, the same maxim applies to social media strategy making. In particular, you should:

  • Think about how the social media metrics you want to achieve have a measurable effect on your bottom line.
  • You want to make sure that your success on social media platforms translates into results for your operation outside of the network’s “walled garden”.
  • Once those users are on your site, you want to be sure that they are converting into customers and at a lower acquisition cost than other methods.

Does Organic Social Media Still Have a Place in a Boutique Hotel’s Strategy?

Absolutely. But the process for attracting bookings through Twitter or Facebook no longer goes:

  1. Build an audience, sometimes by solving customer problems, often by posting content with a slight connection to your business.
  2. Veer back towards your own business goals and brand’s features and present them by sharing blog posts on social media.
  3. Cross your fingers that some people click the links and book a stay with you.

Now, organic social media is about curation and brand identity. Especially with the rise of Instagram as a hugely important network for travel businesses, it’s time for indie travel operators to relax the over-energetic attempts to “connect” so that they can “show” and “tell” instead.

Focus Networks and Their Role in Hotel Media Strategy

We’ve long shared the view that it’s better to really nail one or two networks than spread yourself too thinly on four or five. Here’s how the networks might fit into your plan — perhaps differently than they did in the past:

  • Instagram stories have surpassed the newsfeed status posts as the core of the platform — and that’s a good thing for your hotel. You no longer need every photo to look like it was shot on a tripod by a pro, and you also have more of an opportunity to make an impact with text and weave posts together in a series. (And that’s to say nothing of the many more interactive options for a story compared to a regular post.)
  • Facebook is where you’ll often meet new customers first and has really developed the tools to help manage these interactions — primarily through the Messenger platform.
  • As Twitter continues to diminish in importance (outside of certain spheres like politics and journalism) it’s used by boutique hotels in a more focused way: To give immediate updates and answer customer-support type questions.

Maybe your hotel just opened or you’re new to one of these focus networks. Fair enough. In either case, you’ll probably end up using the networks in a more conventional fashion: Share content produced by others, reach out to engage with those in your space, and then share your own content.

Strategize Your Content Mix to Match Your Goals

In that audience-building phase, it makes sense to lean pretty hard on the social part. Try not to act like a business trying to sell, but rather like a person that followers will want to build a relationship with.

The change should never be sudden or feel to followers like you’ve turned on a dime, but you’ll gradually want to focus more posts on tactics that will help make sales. That could mean organic posts on Instagram about special offers or using Twitter DMs to reconnect with your hotel’s most valuable customers.

Meet Your Customers in the Season They’re In

Just as food writers have to test holiday turkey recipes in July, so do beach resorts need to start getting in front of customers while the leaves are still on the trees. As you’ve built the “who” information that makes up your customer personas, you’ll also (hopefully) have gained insight into their “when”.

  • When do they start planning a vacation that takes them your way?
  • When are they ready to book?
  • When will a last-minute deal capture the most attention?
Use social media wisely -- Twitter is great for updating followers on current beach and weather conditions.
Use social media wisely — Twitter is great for updating followers on current beach and weather conditions.

Paid Takes Prominence for Social Media Strategists

After it’s ongoing evolution (to put it charitably), Facebook has again tilted the playing field against organic reach for businesses. We’re looking at 1% reach for company pages. That means that if you post an update to your business’s Facebook page (and don’t pay Facebook), only 1 in 100 of the people who liked your page will ever see it in their feed.

This absolutely makes sense from Zuckerberg’s perspective. It has not been a good year for his company and who can blame him for wanting to return to the days of photos of cute kittens and newborn babies? Kidding aside, Facebook is a business and just as you wouldn’t let an advertiser put their logo on the side of your hotel without paying, Facebook also wants its due.

Organic won't cut it anymore, you'll need to set aside budget to get the most from your social media efforts.
Organic won’t cut it anymore, you’ll need to set aside budget to get the most from your social media efforts.

This increased focus on paid tools extends to other networks, as well. All of Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter saw big upticks in ad spending recently. Remarkably, Twitter ad spending by the travel industry surged by 250% in Q3 of last year.

Start Small with Paid Ads

With paid advertising a part of your hotel marketing plan you want to avoid getting burned by a bad first experience. Easy ways to start include:

  • Boosting a post on Facebook (but keep real-world marketing goals in mind).
  • Run a modest Instagram Story campaign to capture that platform’s notoriously attractive reach and CTR.
  • Give a small audience-building campaign on Twitter a shot to help round out your follower count.

Dynamic Creative Puts You in Control of Your Facebook Ads

Fall 2017 saw Facebook roll out a new layer to its paid advertising program. Dynamic Creative Ads give the opportunity to supply a number of copy options and even more image or video choices. These are then mixed and served to Facebook users in a way that the platform determines works best based on early results.

The tool itself has a dramatic effect on results by answers a few complicated questions at once: What image and testimonial are best at getting returning customers to take advantage of our offer? Those insights on how to connect with customers can guide the rest of your marketing efforts, too.

Metrics for Measuring Hotel Social Media Strategy Success

In the section on organic and paid social media marketing, we alluded to the idea of having early goals for your brand’s social media metrics. Commonly, these might include milestone like:

  • Getting to 1,000 Instagram followers.
  • A measure of reach like 20,000 impressions for your Tweets in a certain month.
  • Establishing a strong engagement with your Facebook audience by seeing an average of 10 reactions per post.

All of these are popular ways to look gauge early success on social media for a hotel. The idea is that once you have an audience locked in, can reach them with your content and know they will interact with it, you can then start selling to them.

Properly chosen and tracked social media metrics will keep your whole team on the same page.
Properly chosen and tracked social media metrics will keep your whole team on the same page.

It can be difficult to look ahead, we know, but we’d also like to see your hotel focused on the long-term, sustainable picture. Three metrics that will do well for you over the long haul are:

  • Response rate on Facebook: “When do the ski slopes closest to you open?” “Are dogs allowed in your hotel?” “Does your restaurant offer vegan options?” Answering simple questions with accuracy, but also as quickly as possible is how hotels will rise above the competition.
  • Hashtag growth on Instagram: If you manage to build a community around a branded hashtag you’ll want to track how this effort grows and changes over time.
  • Video completion rate: On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram there are few connections as valuable as getting a particular follower to watch your video content all the way to the end.

Social Media Analytics as Part of Your Broader Outlook

Metrics will inform the social media analytics that drive your decisions. As we said in our standalone post on the analytics topic:

Generally speaking, analytics try to answer the why questions of which social media ideas have more utility than others and metrics handle all the other more nitty gritty what and when questions.

Once the analytics you’ve been watching on social media are tied into a broader overview, your ability to make sophisticated decisions will be a lot more robust. For instance, integrated analytics will tell you that:

  • Your print campaign that featured your social media handles led to an uptick in followers and that coordinated with a new-customer offer on Instagram that led to more direct bookings this off-season.
  • You know from Facebook’s analytics tool, Insight that your followers are most likely to be online at a certain time. When you see a preference for using the “Call Us” call-to-action you know that that’s also the best time to have your best people manning your phone lines.
  • Take a dive into the analytics on your Instagram Stories to see how various group bookings interact differently with your brand on social media.

How Can You Bring a Complete Strategy Together?

Even small boutique hotels can become quite silo-ed. Your restaurant knows how many covers they did last Saturday and can see whether added social media advertising had an effect. But does the front desk know if that translated into overnight guests?

Coordinated, well-planned and strategic marketing means success for one activity, like a special dinner series, means long-term results.
Coordinated, well-planned and strategic marketing means success for one activity, like a special dinner series, means long-term results.

You ran a successful social media campaign to attract off-season bookings. But is your activities team ready to remarket add-ons like spa treatments and scuba lessons?

The book signing with a celebrity author was a stunning success. But are you prepared to measure whether those event attendees stick around as fans of your boutique hotel?

If you want to find success here, you’ll need to:

  • Take a holistic and birds-eye view of your entire marketing package.
  • See social as part of a broader and coordinated marketing strategy.
  • Unlock tools like Facebook’s Dynamic Creative

We also want to see you succeed in a way that transparently demonstrates value. In general, that means setting SMART goals and measuring against predetermined benchmarks. It also means pushing the envelope with new tools like offline tracking of sales.