Sincerely, BLLA

Social Media Success Strategies for Boutique and Lifestyle Hotels

Social Media for boutique and lifestyle hotels is powerful and highly valuable when used properly. The return on financial and human capital investme...

Social Media for boutique and lifestyle hotels is powerful and highly valuable when used properly. The return on financial and human capital investment can be very substantial. Despite this, many owners and operators either ignore or achieve mediocre results with their social media efforts and investments.

Through numerous discussions with senior marketing professionals in the industry, and through executing various social media strategic engagements it has become clear why operators often fail at social media execution. These reasons can generally be summarized as follows:

  1. Most senior marketing professionals, hotel owners, operators, and brand executives began their careers and spent a good portion of their careers without the existence of social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
  2. Most executives are focused on KPI’s – Key Performance Indicators, but very often on the wrong ones.
  3. There is a lack of understanding of the utility and role of Influencers.
  4. Most misunderstand how to identify and effectively use hashtags.
  5. Those that use outside agencies without clearly defined deliverables and goals will achieve subpar results.
  6. Outside agencies generally use the same strategies at numerous hotels.
  7. Use of social media posts solely for direct sales purposes will be ineffective.

Concepts

Before exploring each of these issues, it is worth clarifying a few relevant concepts.

Influencers: Influencers can be Macro-Influencers or Micro-Influencers. Kim Kardashian is an example of a Macro-Influencer with 191 million followers on Instagram. Hoboken Girl is a website and company based in Hoboken, New Jersey, but is essentially a Micro-Influencer with 77 thousand Instagram followers. Micro-Influencers will be much more relatable and more connected to local markets.

Hashtags: Hashtags are a form of identifying digital content related to a specific topic. Instagram allows for the use of up to 30 hashtags per post.

Followers: On Instagram and Facebook, followers can be grown artificially or organically. Followers can be bought to artificially inflate statistics. Followers can be grown organically using original and unique content and through direct and consistent engagement. Not all Followers have the same value.

Engagement: Engagement levels on Instagram are usually between 1-2%. Engagement is measured primarily by likes, and comments on posts. An engaged follower base is usually very valuable.

Demographics: For Instagram, the demographics skew towards females aged 25-45. For most hotel and hotel related handles and hashtags, the demographics are similar. For Facebook, the demographics skew older and the user base is less engaged.

Positioning and Content: It is important to highlight the features that differentiate a specific hotel. It may be the location, view, design, or other unique attributes. It is critical to identify the target audience and to understand that there may be more than a single target audience given different amenities and offerings. Content including images and videos should highlight points of distinction. Users are attracted to high quality photo and video resolution. Instagram stories differ from posts as they disappear after 24 hours. Stories allow followers a glimpse into a hotel and activities at the hotel. Instagram stories should be authentic and consistent with the hotel’s character. Instagram stories might highlight special events, sales, changes in offerings or hours, or communications from staff members or chefs.

It is important to create a targeted bio with a direct link to the hotel website. The Linktree booking tool should also be utilized, regularly updated, and tracked to convert followers to customers.

Many guests and customers will embrace any opportunity to take or pose in a photo. As a result, small details such as the layout of a breakfast buffet, a bar setup, the room lighting and bedding become critically important. Any areas or items that look messy or off brand can appear highly unattractive and disorganized when photographed.

Posting: Posting at optimal times will drive substantially better outcomes. Often, those responsible for social media accounts post content when it is convenient, rather than at demonstrated optimal times. It is important to post on a regular and consistent basis and at times that will maximize exposure and drive highest level of impressions and engagement. Photos and content posted must be of high quality. Data insights related to posts should be carefully and continuously monitored and evaluated including follower demographics (location, gender, age etc.), post engagement and reach, as well as periods of the day when the follower audience is most active. Such insights should be used to design future Instagram strategy, the optimal times to post for maximized lead exposure, and unique promotional campaigns. Effective and well-conceived social media posts and strategies include a call to action.

User Generated Content: Over 75% of travelers post pictures of their trips. One of the most authentic and efficient ways to engage with followers is through user generated content. This is content created by others and posted to social sites. User generated content broadens the engaged follower base and is highly relatable.

Issues to Address

Most senior marketing professionals, hotel owners, operators, and brand executives began their careers and spent a good portion of their careers without the existence of Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms. Many senior hotel executives do not see the value of direct spending on social media activities. Often, social media efforts are made to “check a box” and satisfy owners or asset managers. Instagram is the most powerful social media platform for boutique hotels as it is a highly visual platform. Instagram is by far the most important social media platform for influencer marketing strategies. Facebook is not as productive for hotels as the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 65+.

Most executives are focused on KPI’s – Key Performance Indicators, but very often on the wrong ones. Based on a general lack of understanding of social media, usually the focus is on number of followers, follower growth, and number of posts. Others may be evaluating social media based on visual quality and nature of posts and stories. While these may be important metrics, the level of follower engagement is by far the most important. User generated content is also highly valuable and can be easily leveraged, as responding and engaging with creators of UGC results in strong advocates. Posting schedules should be based on detailed insights and data (optimal day and hour for different types of posts). Statistics should be closely monitored and continuously re-evaluated. Measurement of posts and their reach and engagement is critical to enhanced performance outcomes.

A social media campaign and effort may be viewed as highly successful by the corporate or property level marketing team, however considered unsuccessful by the owner and general manager. While the number of followers, follower growth, and impressions, is interesting, and may even sound impressive, if it does not drive leads for rooms, events, meetings, or food and beverage and if those leads cannot be converted to revenue, then the efforts are often considered nice but quite unnecessary.

There is a lack of understanding of the utility and role of Influencers. By definition, many are attracted to Influencers with very large followings. These Influencers usually command cash compensation or significant value via barter exchange (such as rooms, spa services, food and beverage). An Influencer with national or international appeal and following may generate a lot of immediate impressions but very few lasting followers. Macro-Influencers that are not directly on message and lack authenticity and are perceived by users and consumers as such. Micro-Influencers that are local to a market, and with highly engaged and loyal followers, will be perceived as authentic and believable. Customers are more likely to relate to the review of someone they trust and can relate to than they are to a blatant marketing effort.

It is common practice for Influencers to negotiate heavily and many owners/operators agree to Influencer requests without negotiating specific deliverables. Influencer deliverables should include posts while on site, at least 1 story while on site, and additional photos or videos for later use. Influencers can provide high quality images at a fraction the cost of professional photo shoots. Instagram influencers must be researched thoroughly in order to identify strong fit with the hotel brand identity. It is critical to ensure that Influencers have a significant number of real followers. Fake influencer statistics still fool many. Confirming that Influencer following is authentic and engaged and not simply bought or populated by bots is essential.

Most misunderstand how to identify and effectively use hashtags. Images with hashtags generate substantially greater user engagement. Hashtags, if used scientifically, will substantially increase reach. Hashtags need to be researched and used in a targeted manner. Up to 30 hashtags can be used for a single Instagram post. Many believe that simply creating a catchy phrase will lead to a viral or trending strategic success. This is an incorrect belief and is a recipe for failure. Researching competitors and markets is necessary. Branded hashtag following must be carefully managed and built up over time. Location and trending hashtags should be utilized as they create greater visibility.

Those that use outside agencies without clearly defined deliverables will achieve subpar results. Many owners and operators engage outside social media and marketing agencies in order to leverage experience and resources. Many owners do not know what deliverables and scope of work should be negotiated and demanded. As a result, they will receive a mostly generic level of service. Agency personnel will generally be on site for an initial takeover and then once per year. To maximize success, a social media plan should be created with clearly defined goals, metrics, and statistics. The plan should provide for ongoing measurement monitoring, and reporting. Measurement, at a minimum, needs to capture followers, engagement, advertising spend, Influencer results, and other critical metrics. Ideal social media strategies include planning the posting schedules in advance and then monitoring the success of each post. This facilitates consistency and can provide for balanced content and messaging.

Outside agencies generally use the same strategies at numerous hotels. The key to significant success at a social media agency is scalability which involves leveraging creative content work done at any hotel for use at numerous other hotels. This is the same with leveraging influencers, photographers, and hashtags. To achieve maximum results, customized targeted plans and unique strategies should be demanded and received. Strategies should be specific to the property and the sub-market.

Use of social media posts solely for direct sales purposes will be ineffective. Users tire quickly from non-stop selling and advertisements. It is important to provide meaningful and interesting content. It is also important to quickly provide relevant information and to respond promptly to questions, direct messages, and comments. Content must be relevant, authentic, and on brand message.


JF SOCIAL DIFFERENCE

The JF Social Media strategy is very simple. Utilize our detailed understanding of the hotel industry, operations, and profitability to create effective strategies and quantifiable results. We drive meaningful and consistent engagement to produce measurable leads, bookings, and revenue and net operating income.

To discuss your social media challenges and opportunities, please contact Agita Jaber, the Director of Social Media at JF Social. Agita can be reached at: agita@jfcap.com or 201-214-8180.

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