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  • Emily Venugopal

Social Media is More Than a Corporate Hashtag

In this digital golden age of FOMO, it's often hard to keep your head above the live feed, posts, likes, retweets, stories, moments and more which reside in social-media-land. Similarly, social media sites have expanded significantly. Statista, recently revealed that 2 billion users used social networking sites and apps in 2015, and due to an increase in mobile devices, this number is forecast to hit 2.6 billion in 2018. Hotel operations are complex enough, without adding another layer to the proceedings, however the hotel industry has for the most part stepped up to the plate and embraced social media like no other, recognizing these platforms as a way to integrate the guest further into the hotel experience, connecting with them at a much deeper level than the traditional hotel brochure of way back when, could ever have hoped for.

The hotels and hotel brands that are at the top of their social-game have taken a broad look at how they can maximize guest engagement at every point of the guest experience. Firmdale Hotels, for example has pioneered social-media-worthy moments across each of their hotels. SBE Collection is another brand that does social extremely well and really uses its channels to promote a strong sense of place. From a cleverly curated art installation in the lobby, an immaculately presented in-room guest amenity, a personalized monogramed robe at the spa, an impressive artisanal gourmet cheese cart in the dining room or handmade cocktails at the Bar, worthy of the cover of Departures, a little effort on the part of the hotel goes a very long way in the world of social media and ultimately, in loyalty and guest retention.

Instagram has singlehandedly changed the way consumers look at the world and relate to the hotels, restaurants and hotel bars they frequent. Savvy hoteliers and designers can leverage this opportunity to ensure that its guests are given the tools they require to geotag, snap and post on social platforms, thereby building the buzz and spreading the word about offerings to their friends and followers in a genuine and authentic way. Some hoteliers are also finding reward in working with a stylist or designer who will procure and enhance elements of their hotels that could do with a touch of beautifying, in order to drive social posts and have those that pass through their lobbies instantly reaching for their smartphones. Today's guests genuinely look for what they can post in the venues they frequent, so why not embellish this at property level?

Who can forget that iconic nine-floor atrium visual at The Beekman in New York, widely covered on social media in its vintage state, long before the hotel actually officially re-opened, then subsequently on the social feeds of practically every person who passes through the hotel ever since. And then there are the iconic swimming pools of La Mamounia in Marrakech and The Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore; as well as the rooftops at Moxy Times Square and Top of The Standard to name just a few, each of which are repeatedly snapped and shared across WeChat, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Instagram and beyond on an hourly basis, instantly recognizable to all. If your hotel doesn't have an obvious Instagrammable 'hero' location, perhaps an infinity pool or a jaw dropping sunset to flaunt, don't despair, there are other ways to be creative. Never underestimate the power of a FunBoy inflatable swan to create an Insta-moment in your hotel's swimming pool, for example, a vintage branded flower Tricycle or whimsical sculpture to draw attention and create a sense of place. Does your hotel have a strong vantage point that you can brand as a social hotspot for guests, perhaps?

Huge opportunities exist for hotels to be immediately insta-relevant through creative F&B programing. Chefs and Mixologists in-the-know constantly think about the social-media 'legs' of their dishes. Will the souffle garner mass-likes? Is the signature cocktail styled and presented to the guest providing a premium 'wow' factor? And then there's the subject of lighting, which any restaurateur will tell you is the secret to having a strong supply of beautiful culinary social posts rolling in. Unless of course the diner happens to be a prominent foodie Instagrammer, in which case its likely they'll have a light box tucked inside their handbag, of course, just in case. We're seeing the rise in restaurants ensuring that over dining table and bar lighting is just 'so', to encourage perfect Boomerangs, Hyperlapses and Vimeos every time. Similarly, a little theatrical detail goes a very long way, and hotel restaurants are continuing to see the benefits of a dramatic visual presentation such as an interactive S'mores station, a vintage breakfast pastries cart, a gourmet marshmallow pyramid, or a table side flambe preparation for diners. Put simply, the more unique and visual, the better.

Similarly, social media savvy hoteliers know that social media is a fabulous way to connect with the guest and often a little behind the scenes detective work via the guests' social channels can give the tools required to create a personalized experience during their stay. Want to understand what fully makes your guest tick or if they are celebrating a special occasion? Guest relations teams already know that a little investigative research in this area will give them the edge. Is the guest a fitness junkie who might appreciate an in-room workout kit being sent upstairs? Will they be impressed by a box of cupcakes from their favorite cupcake store with a handwritten note from the GM? Are they a self-professed shopper who might appreciate complimentary car service along with the latest hidden sample sale intel from Concierge? The possibilities are endless when handled in a sensitive way, and this is a great way to authentically engage with guests firsthand.

The rise of social media has provided the hotel guest with the microphone and the ability to instantaneously voice their travel reality and viewpoint with the tap or swipe of a screen and with a few well-chosen characters. Hotels can leverage this opportunity wisely by taking a few basic steps, which most already offer, but surprisingly some hotels and hotel brands still overlook this. Some basics might include: providing guests with complimentary Wi-Fi, printing the hotel's handles and hashtags on cocktail menus as well as tastefully positioning these throughout the hotel, ensuring speedy connectivity and geotagging capabilities across the hotel, installing an in-bar or hotel Hotpoint 'video-booth' and so on. It sounds straightforward enough, but a little extra thought as to how the consumer or guest uses social in your space, will reap the benefits. Similarly, hotels can get ahead socially but setting themselves up to be social media team-players, it's extremely important to genuinely engage with hotel guests, and by carving out time to strategically like and follow future and current guests' posts, hotels can benefit greatly by commenting, sharing, retweeting and re-gramming. Sharing the insta-love is an essential part of the mix and very much at the heart of the social media community.

Equally worth thinking about is paid-for social adverts on the channels that make the most sense for your target demographic. Replacing the traditional marketing e-blast, paid-for posts can supplement your social media campaign seamlessly, especially when coupled with beautiful photography which both speaks to your audience as well as demonstrating the hotel at its best. Strong imagery, which speaks to the hotel brand, is authentic, and shot in real time (is there snow on the ground? - best hold the sunshine shot for another day) is the best. Similarly, for this same reason, go sparingly on platforms which schedule posts too far in advance, such as Hootsuite, Buffer or SproutSocial, unless the images you're posting are evergreen and you are able to put a halt on automatic posts in light of a global crisis or tragedy. In the same breath, these tools can be a godsend when tracking social-success, especially when layering different platforms and help the person running social media at property-level keep on track with how the campaign is evolving.

Along with the boom of 'power Instagrammers' and influencers, has come an increase in Instagram Influencers seeking complimentary overnights in exchange for posts and visibility on their social platforms. Everything, as with a press trip, of course needs to be vetted, discussed and negotiated in advance, so that both sides are happy with the 'ask' and the ROI, and then there's the micro-influencer versus the macro-influencer to consider, as well as the demographic and audience, plus what it will bring to the hotel in terms of awareness building and re-gramming possibilities. One size definitely doesn't fit all in this category as there are some fabulous social media influencers and some not so fabulous, so definitely be sure to consider carefully so that everyone is pleased with the partnership. It's important to consider your own clientele and which platforms resonate with them best also. Put simply, where are your customers spending their time socially? Is Facebook the platform of choice over Twitter for your guests? Will working with a Verified Twitter user increase credibility for your brand? When the fit is mutually amicable, it can be a great relationship for a property and a wonderful way to gain visibility and boost followers gaining traction for the hotels social media platforms too.

Social video is another huge opportunity for hotels and resorts. Whether this is via Instagram Stories, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube or another one of the many video channels out there, it's a great idea to tailor the video content you are posting to just one channel to ensure authenticity. Make sure you have a strong feel for the 'voice' of each platform, and as with the importance of photography being genuine the same is true for video. Real time engagement is key here, as is the ability for people to share to their networks.

Social media is crucial for the branding of any company, no matter the industry. Halo Ice Cream launched its product and simultaneously boosted sales by 2,500% solely from social media posts and paid-advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. Similarly, in luxury real estate, Madison Square Park Tower in NYC leveraged its presence on Instagram heavily to sell 75% of its building based exclusively on two print advertisements and an aggressive social media posting campaign. With hotels being such a visible entity, a multitude of opportunities exist for the industry to: increase revenue; interact and inspire guests; and build awareness of hotel offerings to an active audience. With the rise of artificial intelligence in the travel sector already visible through the use of Chabots, facial recognition and voice activation, time will tell how this may entwine and impact social media, but for now social is the ultimate tool for hotels to differentiate, tell their brand story and engage with travelers directly.

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