Making Social Media an Asset for Your Hotel
Brand Karma regularly authors whitepapers for our clients on how to successfully apply social media to Operations, Sales & Marketing, Revenue Management, as well as to Hotel Corporate Management and General Managers. As part of a new article series called Making Social Media an Asset to Your Hotel, we’re publishing some of our most popular insights right here on www.brand-karma.com. Over the next few weeks, we’ll share our learnings on how social media can benefit the various departments and stakeholders at a hotel or hospitality firm, and present practical ideas for how it can be used to improve a hotel’s business. Our aim is that readers are left with a useful foundation for applying social media to increase brand favorability, guest satisfaction and loyalty, ultimately leading to higher profitability. As always, we welcome your comments and feedback below, or you can get in touch with us at any time.
But first, and for the rest of today’s posting, we’re going to start with a basic overview of the social media landscape for hoteliers.
Let’s begin with the social networks, which are arguably the foundation piece of social media. According to Wikipedia, a social network is “a social structure made of individuals (or organizations) called ‘nodes,’ which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.”
Indeed, social networks are made up of clusters of connections between individuals or entities, and are most commonly found on social networking web sites and communities, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Any web site or community where one member can “friend” or establish a connection with another member is considered a social networking web site. The scale of these sites on the Internet is massive, with Facebook boasting over 800 million members as of September 2011.
What has made social networks so powerful is their viral effect: it takes only two individuals connecting within a social network to bring together hundreds, if not thousands, of clusters of connections from the two individuals’ respective social networks. This can lead to incredibly broad and rapid distribution across the Web and the world. As a result, newer social networks (like foursquare) often benefit from established social networks (e.g.: your email contacts, your Facebook friends) by leveraging the sub-clusters that already exist. In other words, when someone on Facebook joins foursquare, they’re likely to invite their Facebook friends, who are in turn more likely to accept and join because the invitation comes not from foursquare, but from a trusted source. Therefore, the potency of social networks comes from their ability to reach a broad audience as efficiently as they reach niche groups. Further, the speed in which information can be distributed through a social network adds to its potency.
Next, let’s define social media in a way that’s relevant to a brand. Put simply, social media is comprised of conversations and online postings written by normal people (i.e.: not editorial journalists), which share experiences with a brand’s product or service. These postings have an impact on the brand’s perception, consumer purchase decisions, or both.
So while we began by exploring the social networks, in reality the social media landscape for brands is much broader than just Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and YouKu. Brand Karma defines the social media landscape for brands as having four main categories, as shown in the figure below:
Let’s summarize each of these categories briefly:
1) The Pure Review Sites are sites where consumers go to read and/or write reviews on a brand. No transactions take place on these sites, but they often become very popular channels in determining purchase decisions. In the hotel space, TripAdvisor is the clear category leader here.
2) The eCommerce Sites are sites where consumers go because they are ready to make a booking and are typically comparing multiple options that meet their price and location requirements. The online reviews on these sites are often used to break a tie between several different options (e.g. Which hotel has free internet access? Which hotel has the best brand-name toiletries? Which hotel is kid-friendly?). In the hospitality world, this category includes OTAs like Expedia, Ctrip, and Agoda and meta-search sites like Kayak, Wego, and Qunar.
3) The Influential Blogs are the new media equivalent of travel journalists. These are authors with significant reach and influence whose postings impact a large number of readers. Gadling and A Luxury Travel Blog are examples of influential travel blogs.
4) The Social Networking Sites were already covered in detail above, and include the big names like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and well as market-specific sites like Sina Weibo and YouKu (in China)
If you stop and think about this landscape and the types of postings that occur on all of the above web sites, you’ll realize that social media is simply the digitization of something that humans have been doing since the dawn of time: sharing vital information for the safety, enjoyment, and happiness of others. And because of its digital format, social media is archived and easily accessible, with conversations and shared experiences often coming to life via words, sounds, photos, and videos. Finally, one doesn’t need to be a film director or an award-winning writer to tell one’s story: free tools exist to help create, publish, and index interesting content that like-minded fans will find at the appropriate time.
As a result, hundreds of millions of people have already contributed to social media, and the outcome is a vibrant, dynamic and colorful web of content that in many cases has drowned out the brand images and messaging once carefully created by brand directors and their advertising agencies. This new Internet has become the catalyst for a paradigm shift in branding. No longer are inspirational brand promises presented in expensive advertisements sufficient; consumers seek to validate the authenticity of those attributes to determine for themselves what’s real and what’s marketing fluff. Gone are the days of when the public sees only what you want it to see; now the most insignificant operational oversight can get a guest on a soapbox to lead a revolt. Transparency is key to trust, and the definition of value is no longer determined by the brand, but by the collective experiences of its past customers.
The characteristics of social media make it a powerful new medium with direct applicability to the various stakeholders at a hotel company, including operations, sales and marketing, revenue management, and general and corporate management.
In the next article in this series, we’ll explore what drives the bulk of a guest’s hotel experiences: operations. We’ll cover how brands can use social media to improve operational excellence, and in doing so, take the important first step of improving and optimizing its public perceptions.