By Lisa Klueppel, Senior Manager of Online Acquisition Marketing, VIZERGY Does your hotel have an effective, well-managed social media presence? Do you even need one? Do you feel like you’re making the most of Facebook, but lost on YouTube? These are questions that hoteliers should have asked themselves, or been asked by their Internet marketing partners, at some point in the last two years. After all, during that time span, the use of social media by both leisure and business travelers has increased at a rate that cannot be ignored. In a recent survey from The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, roughly 25% of business travelers and over 30% of leisure travelers said they use social media and review sites for hotel information. If that’s not enough, more than 64% of survey respondents in a Sheraton Hotels & Resorts study claim to use social media to help with travel plans. Despite the proof of social media’s popularity in travel or the constant buzz surrounding Facebook and Twitter, don’t jump into the game without a plan… a plan that provides a social media presence that fits your property. Social media is not “one size fits all.” Think of it more as a tailored suit. Just because a Facebook account with custom pages or a YouTube account with a corporate video is right for one property, does not mean it is right for every property. There’s only one exception. All properties, regardless of type, should monitor and respond to their online reviews. But overall, your social media presence should be catered to your property. An upscale, 500 room hotel near major attractions probably needs a Facebook profile to stay in touch with repeat guests (this recently became easier with Facebook’s Pages upgrade) and a Twitter account to promote special packages, whereas a select service property located on a major Interstate may or may not need Facebook and probably doesn’t need Twitter at all. Likewise, a boutique hotel with an art gallery may want a professionally produced video to showcase the art and a Flickr gallery that displays the uniqueness of the property, while a family oriented resort could use home videos of families enjoying their vacation. Obviously, your property type – full service, select service, resort, etc. – plays a significant role in your social media presence – whether you’ll need Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and/or Flickr. But other factors such as location, local attractions, property size, number of repeat guests, target market, budget and more also play a role. And as complicated as it sounds to choose the correct social media locations for your property, plenty of specialized and experienced help is available, including social media consulting and hotel Internet marketing companies. Besides selecting the proper social media outlets to capitalize on, outside companies can help with the setup of profiles, from technical expertise to creative designs and custom pages that fit your brand’s image and property’s offerings. Professionally developed, customized profiles will help maximize the potential of your social media presence. Perhaps most important of all, these experts help you get it right the first time, wasting no time and money. Creating an entire social media presence that doesn’t fit your property is not only a waste of resources, but also a poor reflection on your property. With expert help, you can avoid that potential pitfall and have a smooth transition into the daily management of your property’s social presence. Speaking of the daily management of social media… Although hotel Internet marketing companies can assist with this, it’s often better for your property’s staff to own - for numerous reasons. First and foremost, your property’s staff knows best what is going on at the hotel on a daily basis. It’s impossible for any outside company to intimately know the property like your staff does, from current promotions, to new packages, to room enhancements. This ensures accurate communication in the messaging to your followers and fans. It’s one on one, direct messaging that’s honest and credible. Even if an outside company is generally up-to-date on your property and can log in to your accounts, there would still be a slight disconnect that’s not present when your property’s staff owns it. Second, managing your own social media presence enables you to enhance brand loyalty and build repeat guests in a personal way. When travel shoppers or guests see staff members commenting on Facebook posts or answering questions, or recent photos from the property level, it gives them the feeling that your staff’s number one priority is providing a positive experience for your guests. Besides interaction at the property level, there is no better way to form personal connections with your guests. Another sort of separate component of social media that we mentioned earlier, and one where the consumers have more control, is reviews, including TripAdvisor® reviews. And even more so than Facebook and other profiles, it is vital that your property’s staff own the monitoring and responding of online travel reviews. Ignoring your reviews, responding confrontationally or responding vaguely can be devastating for your property, especially when considering TripAdvisor’s travel sites have more than 50 million unique monthly visitors and over 40 million reviews. Outside companies can still set up feeds so that you’re instantly aware of new reviews on your hotel and advise your staff on responses, but quick, specific and personal responses in apologetic and reassuring tones are a must to build and maintain a positive reputation for your property. For example, if a guest complains about an uncomfortable bed, a quick response should include an apology, reassurance that new mattresses are on the way and perhaps, a special offer on a future stay. Keep it brief though, as you should listen to consumers more than you talk. No matter the social media avenue, there are several rules of thumb for managing your presence. First, social media is not just a sales channel. It’s not search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, your distribution on the online travel agents, etc. Think of it as a communication channel that shows the “personal” side of your property, where travel shoppers and guests can connect in a relaxed manner and get comfortable with your property. Constant pushy marketing of your rooms, packages and promotions, especially without exclusive offers, does not promote a relaxed, social environment. Although one reason travel shoppers may visit your social sites is exclusive offerings (where it would be appropriate to link them to your booking engine), they’re often there to connect, communicate and share… which can eventually lead to increased brand loyalty and repeat guests. To keep them wanting more, always post consistent and relative content across your entire social media presence. As far as direct benefits of social media, don’t stop at revenue, because as we just discussed, it’s more than a sales channel. Think more along the lines of how much engagement you’re getting from travel shoppers and guests - from conversations to fans and followers. Track how many past guests engage with your property via social media. And although social media can help drive revenue through incremental bookings, it’s all about engagement with your guests and a more “personal” branding than what used to be. If your property’s not confident in your current social media presence, not sure whether it truly reflects your property or wondering where to start, now may be the time to get assistance. It’s obviously here to stay and only growing, especially with the boom in mobile devices, where consumers can access social media on the go. If you select the proper social media outlets that fit your property, effectively set them up, provide compelling content, have online interactions with guests and monitor your reputation via reviews, you’ll at minimum, establish greater credibility and branding. Ideally, you’ll cultivate relationships and repeat guests that become social brand ambassadors for your property. Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.hotelexecutive.com.