May 15, 2013

Word-of-mouth quickly morphing into word-of-mouth-and-image


The Internet continues to revolutionize the basic principles of hotel marketing, and new data suggest that the impact of social media on the hospitality industry is growing at a pace equivalent to technology itself. Here are a few key social media trends to remember.

- Word-of-mouth is quickly morphing into word-of-mouth-and-image: Kissmetrics reports that YouTube is second only to Google in Internet search engines, attracting 300 million users every week, while Facebook touts 2.5 billion photos uploads a month. Visual information, once reserved for very specific uses, is now common parlance, preferred by millions.

- Travelers never leave home without social media: More than half of today’s traveling population (52%, according to MDG Advertising) relies on social media for inspiration when planning a vacation, and even more get social once they arrive; A Marriot survey indicates that 74% of travelers use social media while vacationing. MDG Advertising tags Facebook as the most popular source of travel inspiration, with 29% of users, followed by Trip Advisor, with 14%.

- Facebook still reigns, but Instagram holds the key to the kingdom: Now that Facebook has acquired Instagram and integrated the platform, Instagram users, who post a daily 40 million photos, can direct all their “liked” photos to their Facebook feeds automatically; and 98% of the Interbrand Top 100’s Instagram photos have been shared to Facebook, according to Simply Measured.

The imperative is no longer simply to post photographs of your establishment. Social media is already saturated with routine images and users’ palates are quickly refining. The new imperative is to post select visuals that distinguish your establishment from all the rest while maintaining brand cohesion. Even expected images like rooms and amenities can be branded by a photographer capable of exploiting the medium, while unusual attractions, both in the establishment and the surrounding area, will help compel guests.

Creative video is equally essential. Guided tours should appear produced, filmed and narrated by professionals who highlight exceptional service everywhere they turn. A series of short films can also expand your brand’s utility from basic lodging to a traveler’s inspiration, guidebook and advisor. Complement videos with reviews of local restaurants, event listings, guest testimonials and fun facts about the area. Guests themselves can often produce exceptionally high quality visual testimonials; hold a photograph or short video contest for users across all social media channels.

Visual communication also offers new opportunities to leverage the connectivity that social media facilitates. Facebook has recently enabled businesses to create a “Fan Gate” through which exclusive content—and, done correctly, brand identity—can filter by differentiating a Fan’s experience from that of an average visitor. Turn Facebook users into Fans with a general promotion; reward Fans once they’re in with specials offers, exclusive content and premium design elements that emphasize your brand colors and logo.

Of course, like any marketing tool, Fan Gating is only as valuable as the people who apply it; it can be considered the 21st-century incarnation of a name and a handshake. That’s the irony of social media: the surge of digital information it delivers has amplified our need for personalized human contact. If nothing else, in hospitality that will never change.

Elise Redmann writes about hotel management and hospitality for U.S. News University Connection. You can follow her @EliseRedemann on Twitter.