As social media continues to grow, hoteliers are expanding their presence to such sites as Pinterest and Instagram to engage guests and increase bookings.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hoteliers are expanding their presence in the online community to sites such as Pinterest, a virtual bulletin board for people’s interests expressed through photographs linked to online content, and Instagram, a photo-sharing website. Although the return on investment can be difficult to measure, these social media platforms can help to increase bookings and customer engagement, sources said.
Brooke Snow, a Hotel News Now columnist and digital strategist at Anvil Media, a marketing consultancy company, said the use of Pinterest and Instagram in a hotel’s marketing plan creates brand awareness, but hoteliers need to be careful not to veer into “cheesy marketing tactics.”
“These platforms … should be used to create brand supporters who will then spread the word about you,” she said. “Pinterest and Instagram are great ways to show off the personality of hotels as well as extend your social reach.”
Pinning down brands
Pinterest was a perfect fit for the travel industry since its inception, said Sorya Gaulin, director of corporate PR and social media for Four Seasons. She said if people are using Pinterest in the travel and luxury space, then Four Seasons believes there is value in having a presence there.
“It’s not so much what Pinterest can do for us; it’s more what Pinterest is delivering to the people we want to have conversations with and how we can serve them even better (through Pinterest),” she said.
That’s why Four Seasons launched its Pin.Pack.Go campaign this August, using Pinterest as an online concierge. To participate, guests create a Pin.Pack.Go board and then leave a comment on Four Seasons’ Pin.Pack.Go board specifying which hotel they will visit. The appropriate Four Seasons hotelier will then follow each guest. Then, guests follow back and invite the hotelier to “pin,” or post, as a collaborator on their board. From there, the hotelier will “pin recommendations filled with insider knowledge and hidden gems,” according to a news release.
Example Pin.Pack.Go board from Four Seasons.
Although the back-and-forth process seems complex, Gaulin believes the program creates a halo effect of engagement because it reinforces Four Seasons’ service model of providing an individualized experience for guests.
“Modern travelers more and more will research their trip before they arrive,” she said. “It boils down to ultimate customization, which is our end-game.”
Pin.Pack.Go is a proactive way to communicate with guests before they arrive and allows for a more intimate relationship right away, she added. Hoteliers can customize experiences for individual guests based on what those guests are willing to share.
While Gaulin admits it can be difficult to measure return on investment, she believes the campaign could lead to increased awareness about the company and potential bookings.
“The investment is really in time that would happen anyway at our concierge desk, at our hotels and within my team,” she said. “The primary objective isn’t a return on investment; it’s a return on engagement.”
Gaulin said the program could pave the way for future business.
“That kind of commitment and delivery of service would make an impression,” she said. “Guests would be more willing to engage with Four Seasons in a variety of ways, whether it’s recommending us to friends and family, coming back to visit us in another location or simply following us on social media.”
Snow agrees ROI can be difficult to measure, but “can you really put a price on a relationship?” she asked. “As many in the social media world will say, the value you get from brand supporters is worth the time and money spent.”
Snow said hoteliers should use social media as a portion of their marketing plans—not a driving force. It may be difficult for hoteliers to see a direct correlation between social media and ROI as they would with other online marketing, such as pay-per-click.
However, she realizes some hoteliers like to see the numbers. In this case, she suggests hoteliers measure ROI through bookings resulting from social media. They can offer special discounts to their followers and then track ROI through the redeemed discounts.
“Don’t expect these numbers to be crazy high,” she said. “But if you need numbers there are ways to get them.”
She points to Google Analytics’ social reports tool, which provides overall social value and illustrates how social media played a role in a final reservation.
“Social media does help drive hotel bookings in our business,” said Heather Balsley, senior VP of the Americas for the Holiday Inn brand family. “The traditional marketing funnel doesn’t exist any longer. We live in a world where our customers more often than not take a winding path to get to their final booking decision, and social media certainly is one of the touch points.”
Social media is an opportunity to build guest loyalty over time, she added. “As customers look to make a booking decision, we can remain top of mind. This is part of how we build brand preference and loyalty.”
According to a recent report from Hotel News Now’s Jason Q. Freed, data from Google shows a poor mobile experience acts as a deterrent to guests booking. And according to Syncapse’s “The Value of a Facebook Fan 2013” report, the digital world is becoming “mobile first” and social landscape leads the way. Thus, mobile needs to become a central means of investment for brand success on social media.
“(Mobile is) a large and growing part of customers’ travel and social media behaviors,” said Nick Ayres, manager of social marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group. He said social media platforms such as Instagram rely heavily on mobile, and using this visual platform is a definite advantage to connecting with customers.
Therefore, IHG recently launched a sweepstakes via Instagram. The sweepstakes invites guests to snap pictures of their stays at IHG hotels and upload them to Instagram with the hashtag #DiscoverIHG for the chance to win one million IHG Rewards Club Points.
Ayres said words and numbers don’t always tell the full story of how diverse IHG’s more than 4,600-worldwide-hotel portfolio is, but photos can help showcase its breadth and depth.
The Instagram platform was a way for IHG to reach a broader audience. “Because our guests were already showing off their travel photos, we focused on finding a way to curate all the photos and participate in the visual conversation,” Ayres said. “Instagram was a natural fit for #DiscoverIHG, as the platform facilitates great user-generated content.”
Ayres believes the #DiscoverIHG sweepstakes will increase booking opportunities by creating brand awareness and interest, demonstrating through user-generated photographs that IHG is home to thousands of hotels worldwide.
“We believe as people come across the (#DiscoverIHG) hashtag or browse photos on the microsite, they will gain a better understanding of the myriad experiences IHG hotels offer guests—whether they are interested in business travel, visiting a new country or a family getaway,” he said.
Holiday Inn takes a similar approach to the two social media platforms, Balsley said.
“On Instagram and Pinterest, planning a vacation is an extremely visual experience, so both platforms give us a great way to highlight our hotels all over the world instantaneously,” she said. “We see a huge advantage in communicating with images, as it’s a quick and easy way to engage with the brand, and images are a universal language.”
Snow doesn’t see any disadvantages to using Pinterest and Instagram, as long as hoteliers take it seriously. She cautions hoteliers not to spread themselves too thin.
“Having profiles on platforms that are stagnant is worse than having no profiles at all,” she said.