29 Sept 2011

Social media: ‘Test early. Test often. Fail cheaply.’

Image from ZenithDesignStudios.com

The marketing team at InterContinental Hotels Group has a saying when it comes to the fast-moving world of social media: “Test early. Test often. And fail cheaply.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing the next great frontier in interactive marketing, said Alan Magee, marketing manager for IHG. Hoteliers need to get out into the social space and see what works best for their particular portfolios.

And, for the most part, that’s exactly what they’re doing. 

Forty-seven percent of hotel companies are allocating greater than 50% of total marketing spend to interactive marketing for 2012, according to Scott Anderson, president and CEO of High Country Hospitality. 

Still, no one seems to have a particularly good handle on it. For every success story there is a dud. And today’s best practices are tomorrow’s failed strategies. 

A group of experts tried to sort through the key points during a breakout session last week at the 17th annual Lodging Conference at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

The No. 1 reason every hotel should do some level of social media is because of search. It’s a very strong search signal,” said Anil Aggarwal, CEO of Milestone Internet Marketing, which specializes in social-media campaigns.

Whereas before Google search was based on the quality of inbound links to a website, it now is much more relevancy-based, incorporating everything from links to images to video to tweets to events or notes on a Facebook page, he said. The name of the game is cross-channel marketing in this all-encompassing approach; social media is just one arrow in the quiver.

At IHG, the company’s marketing team constantly updates content on Web pages and fosters a certain degree of consistency across channels. A message that appears on IHG.com will be appropriately “translated” into more casual verbiage on Twitter or Facebook. 
That all ties together and drives all that search,” Magee said.

Brand vs. property
Overarching marketing campaigns at the corporate level are all good and well, but they don’t address the needs of hoteliers on the property level, Aggarwal said. Brands need to do a better job of sharing best practices and resources to assist franchisees with limited experience in the social space.

If you talk to the big brand managers … they break out in a cold sweat worrying about what their individual hotels are doing,” Anderson said. “I don’t think the brands have done a very good job of writing rules, ideas and communicating to their … franchisees how it is they should communicate.

When you’re doing it for the brand, it’s a different strategy. You have to engage them on the brand,” Aggarwal said. “When you’re doing it at the hotel level, the biggest mistake that most hoteliers make is they keep talking about their hotel.

When using Twitter, for example, he suggested talking about the destination instead of self-promotional ads about a given property. The former is not only more interesting and attractive to guests, but it also helps with search.

TravelClick often advises its hotel clients to ask followers and fans open-ended questions to engage guests, said Kristi White, director of demand and distribution marketing.

A hotel located in the deep American south (aka SEC college football country), for instance, had a moderately successful Twitter campaign, albeit one that lacked much follower feedback. Then the social-media manager asked the following question: “Which SEC football game are you most looking forward to this year?” Within an hour, the tweet had thirty-some responses, White said - to which that savvy social-media manager responded with information about room availability for some of those nearby games.

The age gap
In the above example, the social-media manager was in her late twenties. That’s not surprising in the social-media space, which is driven primarily by members of Gens X and Y. As such, hotel companies should hire twenty- and thirty-somethings who can talk the talk, so to speak.
But like anything in social media, there are always exceptions. White pointed to a hotel client that catered primarily to baby boomers. The 28-year-old who was assigned to lead the social-media charge was having a hard time connecting with those guests, so the hotelier replaced her with a 60-year-old instead.

The language you speak in your media channels must relate to the language of your customer base, White said.

DaypartingWhen’s the best time to Tweet or post content to a Facebook wall? “You want to be getting it to (potential guests) in the time they’re making their decisions,” Magee said.

Anderson cited a recent PhoCusWright study that analyzed hotel bookings by time zone. The two peak times were between noon and 1 p.m. and then between 7-9 p.m.

The challenge is to reach followers based on their respective time zones. That’s easy for Twitter, as hoteliers can send multiple tweets throughout the day. For Facebook, panelists suggested taking a more measured approach. Hoteliers can post something and fans will still see it hours later.

Proximity marketing
Some hotels have begun sending out proximity-based texts/alerts to drive in potential customers. If a family is driving down the highway en route to a vacation destination, they might get a tweet or text from a nearby hotel enticing them to spend the night, for example.

We’ve seen mixed success with that,” Magee said. Some hoteliers have made very good money, while it just doesn’t work for others.

Anderson shared an example of the former. At a resort property in Wisconsin, the social-media manager filled up empty spa and golf slots by sending texts to on-site guests with 15% promotional discounts.
It happened maybe two hours before the time slot,” he said. “We sold 80% of our offers both in spa and golf … to a customer that’s already in house.

Original article: HotelNewsNow