|Panelists speaking during the Revenue Optimization Conference’s “Social Media: Leveraging the Buzz into Results” session (from left): Anil Aggarwal of Milestone Internet Marketing; Jessica Rivera of Interstate Hotels & Resorts; and Loren Gray of Ocean Properties and chair of the HSMAI’s digital marketing council. (Credit: Brian Birzer)
AUSTIN, Texas—They might not always be the first questions asked, but it is inevitable that they will be asked in nearly every discussion about the value of social media to hotels:
- How do you measure success?
- Who should handle the social media duties at a hotel?
- How deep should the social-media platform be anchored?
Speakers participating in a panel called “Social Media: Leveraging the Buzz into Results” during last week’s Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International’s Revenue Optimization Conference said the answers to such questions are simple and complex at the same time.
The panelists indicated it’s not always possible to have a simple return on investment, but customer engagement is a key metric to implement in the calculation; search-engine optimization gets a huge boost from an effective social-media platform; a consistent message is required for success; and there’s no clear-cut way to determine in whose lap the social-media responsibility falls.
Dealing with responsibility
Jessica Rivera, regional director of revenue management for Interstate Hotels & Resorts, said social media needs a multi-person approach at the property level.
“Ninety-eight percent of properties feel the revenue manager should be responsible because ‘you are good with computers, right?’” she said. “It is a true marketing medium, whether it’s brand building, whether it’s research. It’s also a guest service tool to improve on product. It depends on personality and skill sets … it has to be a whole team effort.”
Rivera and Loren Gray, director of e-commerce for Ocean Properties and chair of HSMAI’s digital marketing council, said having a revenue manager oversee social media often takes that person’s focus off the more important task at hand.
“Revenue managers have been taken away from analyzing forecasting and pricing and have been put in more of a role of social media, blogosphere and Twitterworld,” Rivera said. “Can we be a part? Yes. Should we lead it? No.”
“Revenue managers are keepers of the keys, and revenue management is a tool for the actual purpose,” Gray said. “The weight (of social media) has fallen on sales people at the property level. It’s unfair to them to play a central role because their role is group sales. If you don’t have a specific marketing person (to handle social media duties), then you need to share the burden between the two.”
Anil Aggarwal, chairman and CEO of Milestone Internet Marketing, said social media duties generally should rest with the director of sales or director of marketing. But one model many hotels are adopting is utilizing local college students, under the guidance of an executive team member, to handle much of the day-to-day monitoring.
“Our recommendation is to get someone at the hotel—even if it’s for a couple of hours a day,” he said.
The right returns
Regardless of who oversees a property’s social media efforts, it is important to make sure everyone from the owner to the GM manage their expectations of what to expect from the program, according to Gray.
“(Return on investment) is a great term because you measure everything for success,” he said. “But ROI is the worst single filter to put social media through. How can you measure the intent to purchase until you know whether that person intends to purchase something? … Social media is about being part of a conversation that’s already in place. You are simply becoming part of it. To measure it, you have to define what ROI is. Is it brand awareness? Is it a matter of human resources? ROI is literally what you are looking to get out of social media as a channel.”
Aggarwal said the first question Milestone is asked when it is hired involves how to measure success. He said establishing interaction with followers is a key component of any answer.
Rivera said Interstate mandates property-level involvement on review sites such as TripAdvisor to encourage interaction. She said other sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are addressed if the property has the time to do so.
“We definitely do see that when your TripAdvisor ranking goes up, your bookings go up,” she said. “As a hotel, your first concern should be listening to what your customers say on TripAdvisor. It is your public guest satisfaction store.”
Revenue managers are responsible for making sure property information is correct, and the GM is responsible for making sure it is being monitored, she said.
When prompted by an audience member who addressed the importance of capturing email addresses during interactions with followers, Gray said it’s a slippery slope to traverse because it can instantly create a chasm between the hotel and followers if it is done wrong.
“We sometimes feel we like email because we feel like we own them then,” he said. “Social media is the action point. If they approached us on one channel, that’s their de facto channel of choice right now. It’s wise not to push them onto another channel.”
Another key thing properties must consider before launching a social media strategy is to know what they want to accomplish with their resources, Aggarwal said.
“We’re very big proponents on being on different channels,” he said. “But if you haven’t taken care of your website, don’t get into social media—it’s not for you.”
The underlying importance of a proper social media platform shows up in the most visible places, according to the panelists, because search engines utilize social media presence as a key component to placement.
Have a voice—and a strategy
Rivera also reminded attendees it’s OK to have multiple voices for difference social media channels. She said appealing to different audiences is essential and pointed to Allstate Insurance’s two distinct ad campaigns—the Mayhem guy and the much more formal Dennis Haysbert ads—as proof that multiple voices work.
“Before you get into social media, figure out what your voice is,” Rivera said. “Make sure everyone at the property understands that is the voice of your channel.”
Rivera said properties must understand the difference between using social media as a marketing tool and using it as a communication platform.
“I don’t see Facebook as a marketing channel. Twitter is a marketing channel—you have to be on it constantly,” she said. “Facebook is a place to have communication. It’s building a relationship, it’s building a brand.”
“You have to have a strategy,” Gray said. “Twitter is the top, Facebook is the meat, blogs are the rest. Figure out the relationships you want with people then you know what to put. It’s not about being great once, it’s about being consistently good.”