By Florence Quinn President & Founder, Quinn PR
March 11, 2020. Little did we know that this spring day would be the last time many of us would see the inside of our offices for the rest of the year and that it marked the start of the COVID-19 lockdown that would bring the travel industry to its knees. Little did we know how it would significantly change and impact our lives – both professionally and personally. In a matter of weeks, hundreds, if not thousands, of hotel, resort and travel bookings were canceled. Hotels were shuttered. People's beloved travel experiences were put on hold. At first, we were in a state of disbelief. Then we went into our bunkers to make tough decisions, including some that adversely affected people's livelihoods. After that, hoteliers got back to the business of hospitality and connecting to travelers, including on social media. Hotels wanted to know how to "be" in social media. How do we address COVID and safety? Should we pause? Should we go dark? Do we address people's new state-of-mind and concerns? The cry for help was loud and clear: What should we do?? What they did was pivot and change how they showed up in social media. They got real. They got funny. They got creative. And they got emotional. They let people into their hearts via social media. And when travelers could no longer come to them, they went to them, into their homes. They did such a phenomenal job that we will continue to practice out of choice what was started out of necessity. "They let people into their hearts via social media. And when travelers could no longer come to them, they went to them, into their homes. They did such a phenomenal job that we will continue to practice out of choice what was started out of necessity." Here's the 8 things hoteliers did in social media and the 8 takeaways that we will keep. They are the hard-earned lessons of COVID.
1. Used Humor to Keep Us from Crying Deer Path Inn, a Tudor-style inn that sits along Chicago's North Shore in one of the wealthiest zip codes in America, taught us that it was okay for a luxury property to be funny in social media. Deer Path Inn used its Instagram account to provide the world with light-hearted posts -- all while keeping us updated on COVID protocols and events. Funny ended up being better than okay; it warmed people and made folks like them even more. Some of the entertainment included: staff members racing down the street in empty luggage carts (video was key here); the General Manager and Innkeeper going "camping" with Winston, the hotel's Rubber Ducky mascot, and being serenaded with a violin performance (also video). Forbes covered Deer Path Inn's COVID antics in an article entitled: "This Midwest Hotel's Hilarious Instagram Feed Is What We All Need Right Now."
Takeaway: Keep us laughing and smiling! Forbes covered Deer Path Inn's COVID antics in an article entitled: "This Midwest Hotel's Hilarious Instagram Feed Is What We All Need Right Now." Deer Path Inn kept the laughs flowing through the holidays. They hopped on the latest Christmas craze, Elf on the Shelf, by creating their very own pixie, Elfie, who could be found throughout the hotel. Hanging from a chandelier and in the wine cooler were a few of Elfie's hot spots. 2. Made Social Media the Go-To for News and Updates COVID hyped up our response time on social media. For some brands it became the go-to outlet to announce updates, trumping media as the first platform for communicating news for the first time for some brands. Zemi Beach House in Anguilla added FAQ around traveling to the resort and the island to its Instagram via a story and kept it on as an Instagram highlight.
Takeaway: Continue to use social media as a key communicator of news Sharing news via social media first is a trend that is here to stay. And if not the first line of communication, it will most definitely further spread the message.
3. Employed Social Media as an Amplifier Many hotels used their Instagram to amplify a media win, help with voting efforts and/or contests, as well as help drive traffic to their websites with apps like Linktree, a social-media reference landing page that is often found in a person or brand's Instagram bio section. Takeaway: Keep using social media as a megaphone Social media is a powerful way to amplify your other marketing work, such as media placements, news, updates and awards.
4. Some Hotels Truly Inspired and Touched People's Hearts Many hotels, resorts and destinations shifted from promotional Instagram and Facebook posts that, let's face it, can get generic and predicable pretty fast, to being truly fresh and inspirational by directly addressing the devastation of the pandemic on them and people's lives. Many hotels let down their guard of perfection for the first time and expressed heartfelt emotions. In return, people responded by sharing the posts among family, friends and colleagues, while the media covered it. For example, Study Hotels was not afraid to show empty buildings. On the contrary, it lit up the windows of vacant guestrooms to create beckons of hope, gratitude and solidarity. The Study at Yale, New Haven created a larger-than-life heart to honor the community and healthcare workers. The Study at University City, Philadelphia beamed the Red Cross symbol of hope and aid to a world in need. The Philadelphia Citizen (@thephiladelphiacitizen) shared it on Instagram : "it's the little things during times like these, amiright?" We saw similar gestures of kindness, understanding and appreciation from Standard Hotels, The Dewberry in Charleston, S.C., throughout the Vegas Strip and as far away as the Atlantis the Palm, Dubai, to name only a few. Takeaway: Keep inspiring! Keep making it creative, heartfelt and about people The takeaway is to keep being creative, heartfelt and to make it about people. Study Hotels has continued to use the façade of its buildings to flash messages that are meaningful to its university-related audiences. Study Hotel properties in New Haven and Philadelphia are giving a shout out to the Yale, Drexel and University of Pennsylvania communities by displaying and spelling out the letters "Y" for Yale, "D" for Drexel and "P" for Penn during each school's designated college days.
5. Harnessed Social Platforms of Traditional Media to Reach Travelers As media outlets increased their content on their social-media platforms, more and more hotels turned to them to share updates and news. For instance, to get people thinking about travel to Hawaii while it was still banned, Merriman's Hawaii Restaurants and Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Honolulu, hosted Instagram takeovers with Travel + Leisure. Takeaway: Keep utilizing the social platforms of media outlets By communicating via the media's social-media feeds, you are reaching enormous numbers of potential customers. Travel + Leisure alone has 5.6 million followers on Instagram. Takeovers should continue to fill your feeds. Good news on this front is that LinkedIn is now offering LinkedIn Live.
6. Provided a Way to Get Through This Together by Shifting to Virtual Events When the citizens of the world were told to stay at home, hotels went to them, providing people with a way to stay in touch with travel and their favorite brands and places. Hotels started hosting online, virtual events that would never have happened pre-COVID. In doing so, they reached and connected with people live in real time in their homes perhaps for the first time ever. It was go live or go home! For example, sbe hosted "Taste of sbe", one of the hottest annual events in Miami, online for the first time. Viewers paid $50 to watch a rock star line-up of celebrities, including Nick Jonas, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, cook alongside culinary icons Dani Garcia, Masaharu Morimoto, Dario Cecchini and Jose Icardi from their homes in a series of five cooking sessions. The online platform enabled people to tune in from anywhere in the world while giving everyone an intimate glimpse into the stars' kitchens. AKA, a hotel residences brand, offered Live Instagram sessions with FitKit co-founder and internationally recognized fitness expert, Amie Hoff. Once a week, AKA's followers were able to participate in free workout sessions led by a buff and motivational Hoff. hen coral reef safe sunscreen brand Raw Elements shifted its World Reef Day campaign in June to be virtual, they did so with a series of Live takeovers and Q+As with brand ambassadors, influencers and partners including Ocean Ramsey (@oceanramsey with over one million followers), big wave surfer Garrett McNamara (@mcnamara with over 160,000 followers), environmentalist Elana Jadallah (@elanaloo with nearly 45,000 followers) and Kate Williams. Takeaway: Live content will continue to be a great way to connect Live content will continue to be a great way to connect with existing and potential customers. It's another reason to make sure you have a robust and ever-expanding email lists. Ambassadors, influencers and partners will continue to play key roles in marketing and PR.
7. Used the Time to Reassess What's Working and What's Not Working COVID gave hotels the opportunity to pause and reassess what's working and not working in social media. For Charlestown Hotels (Charlestown), a leading hospitality management company, that meant conducting an audit of its LinkedIn page. After reviewing what posts performed best and what had the lowest performing content, the recommendation was to:
Share Charlestown news including what the brand was/is doing during COVID.
Share media coverage to keep the brand fresh and current.
Start a monthly "Employee Spotlight" to honor frontline staffers while humanizing the brand for future travelers.
Refrain from sharing industry insight since these posts weren't performing as well.
Takeaway: Keep reassessing and refining Assess the effectiveness of your posts on a regular basis. If you can't be objective – perhaps because you created the strategy and posts – ask someone you trust to provide honest feedback. Posts need to resonate with followers. Don't post for the sake of posting. Ask yourself, will this help my followers? Are they going to learn from it? If not, don't do it. Less is more in the world of social media, including LinkedIn. 8. TikTok Grew Significantly One social-media platform that grew significantly during COVID was TikTok, where users make and post short-form videos from genres like dance, comedy, and education that have a duration from three seconds to one minute and are shared via reels. According to Music Business Worldwide, during the week of March 16, the video app was downloaded two million times (an 18 percent increase in downloads from the previous week). While previously thought of as an app used primarily by teens and 20 somethings, team members and peers well into their 30s and 40s have started downloading it. They are now uploading their own challenges and videos even though they said they never would. Tal Dekel-Daks, former social-media and audience-engagement editor of Departures.com, said "TikTok is here to stay…hotels should embrace the platform and use it as that is where a majority of their target audience is." "TikTok is here to stay…hotels should embrace the platform and use it as that is where a majority of their target audience is." - Tal Dekel-Daks, former social-media and audience-engagement editor of Departures.com Final Takeaway: Make TikTok your new bestie More hospitality brands will join TikTok. They will strengthen their relationships with influencers and ambassadors that will help make challenges go viral and bleed into Instagram reels (since you can now reshare TikTok reels on Instagram). With the amount of reach and engagement TikTok users can garner per video, it's a no-brainer. TikTok, here I come!