Tips for Insta-Success: An Instagram Checklist for Independent Hotels

It used to be photos in magazines and scenes on television that inspired us to travel, but the internet has made the world much more accessible, inspiring our dreams anywhere, anytime. While we are still motivated by traditional media and recommendations from friends and family, we’re also now constantly influenced by online campaigns and social media, where the experiences of people we know—and don’t know—feed our travel dreams.

According to recent research by easyJet, more than half of 18 to 65 year olds book holidays based on Instagram posts, with almost a third choosing destinations based on “instagrammability” (how photogenic a place is). Filled with beautiful photos and captivating videos, Instagram allows users to categorize and find posts via hashtags like #travelinspo or #sanfranciscohotel, making it an exciting platform for both discovering and marketing content.

With its focus on visual storytelling and boasting higher engagement rates than any other social media channel, Instagram is the perfect platform for travel marketers. One billion people use Instagram every month—that’s a huge, highly engaged audience just waiting to be inspired to visit your property! Whether you are already on Instagram or just thinking about getting started, the following tips will help you make the most of your property’s Instagram account.

#AccountSetup

Business Profile

If you haven’t already, make sure your hotel’s Instagram account is set up as a business profile. Switching to a business profile is free and gives you access to tools that help you market to a wider audience, improving visibility and driving sales.

With a business profile, you can run promotions through Instagram Ads (more on that later), and connect your Instagram account to your property’s Facebook page to boost the exposure of your posts. An Instagram business profile gives you access to Instagram Insights, providing real-time metrics on post and account performance, and helping you fine-tune your marketing efforts. Last, but not least, your business profile allows you to select a category for your business and add contact information (email, address, phone number, website, opening hours) so customers can easily find you.

Username

Choose a username that clearly identifies your property; ideally, the actual name of your property. Bear in mind spaces are not allowed in usernames, so keep it simple and understandable.

Profile Photo

Your profile photo should reinforce your branding, so it’s best to use your property’s logo or a photo of your hotel that is easily recognizable as a small thumbnail image.

Bio

In just a few compelling words (up to 150), your bio should describe your property while showcasing your property’s personality and prompting customers to take action. Your bio appears near the top of your profile and should include a link to your property’s website. If you’ve created your own branded hashtag you should include this in your bio as well (more on branded hashtags later).

#BestPractices

Follow Local Businesses

Use the Search function to find and follow other local businesses that complement the guest experience, such as tour operators, restaurants, galleries and other attractions, and engage with them (like and comment on their posts) to build your Instagram community. Follow your local competitors too (you know what they say about keeping enemies close!) to gain insight into their strategies and help you stay competitive.

Maintain a Cohesive Look and Feel

Decide on a “style” for your posts that reflects your property’s personality. Maintaining a cohesive look and feel for your account helps to reinforce branding and tell your story.

Quality Photos and Videos

Instagram is filled with great-looking content designed to inspire, so low-quality images stand out like a sore thumb. Creating quality content builds brand credibility and isn’t difficult to do with Instagram’s various filters and effects, allowing you to produce creative, professional-looking photos and videos with your phone.

Purposeful Captions and Hashtags

Keep captions short and sweet, but do put some thought into them. Captions play an important part in engaging followers and calling them to action. Use captions to provide context for images, and communicate messages in your brand’s unique voice.

Include relevant hashtags to help people find your post, but don’t go overboard—any more than 10 will come across as spammy and desperate.

Use a Branded Hashtag

Branded hashtags are great for promoting your property and campaigns and encouraging user-generated content. Consistently using your property’s name as a hashtag (for example, #willowmotel) with every post helps people find your content and encourages guests to use your hashtag when posting their own pics of their experiences at your property.

Branded hashtags can also be created for special promotions, events and contests, for example, #willowmotelselfie #freenightonwillow or #willowdisco2019.

Add Location

Take advantage of the Add Location feature to tag your posts with a physical location that helps users discover your posts and your property.

Instagram Stories

Instagram Stories are short slideshows of photos and or videos that make full use of the mobile screen, have the ability to add text, stickers and music, and disappear after 24 hours (unless downloaded, archived or saved as a highlight). Stories are an effective way to promote your property, with one third of the most-viewed stories being from businesses.

Instagram Stories are a fun and engaging way to interact with your audience and are ideal for promoting limited-time offers, showcasing new amenities, running customer polls, and sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses into your world, all while celebrating your business’s personality and style.

Extra tip: Any stories you want to preserve beyond their 24-hour lifespan can be saved as “highlights,” which are displayed prominently on your profile until you choose to remove them. This helps make the most of those stories you worked so hard to create!

Paid Advertising

Instagram ads work like Facebook ads, helping you get the most out of your best-performing posts. With five ad formats to choose from—image, video, carousel, stories and collection ads—advertising on Instagram is a cost-effective way to expand the reach of any kind of post. It’s simple too, with ads run directly from the Instagram app or managed from your Facebook Ad account (if your Instagram account is connected to your Facebook page). Just like Facebook ads, you have full control over defining the target audience, campaign objectives, budget and duration of each ad.

Remember to keep an eye on ad performance through Instagram Insights to find out what works best.

Engage

To become an active and engaging member of your Instagram community, it’s important to engage with other users by liking and commenting on the posts of guests and local businesses that inspire you.

Promote Your Instagram Account

Let customers know they can find and follow your property on Instagram by promoting your Instagram account on your website and your other social media channels, in pre- and post-stay emails and your newsletter too. An Instagram icon or button that links to your Instagram account is all it takes. 

Promote your Instagram account offline too, in in-room welcome packs and on property signage. Include your account name and branded hashtag.

Post Consistently

You don’t need to commit to posting every day to be successful on Instagram. The key is being consistent. Settle on a schedule that is manageable going forward; consistently posting two or three times a week is much better than posting every day for the first week and then quickly running out of steam.

#ContentInspo

As for what to post, focus on telling your property’s story. People use Instagram to find inspiration, so inspire wanderlust by showcasing your property’s personality and uniqueness. In addition to promoting your rooms and facilities, create content that highlights the stay experience from different angles.

Out and About in Your Neighborhood

Attract visitors to your destination by promoting the scenery, attractions and local hotspots of your neighborhood. Show them an experience beyond the walls of your property.

Guests’ Interests

What do your guests like to do when they stay with you? Exploring the surrounding mountains? Wining and dining? Relaxing on the beach? Show them the kind of content they love.

It’s In the Details

Exercise your artistic eye and capture those special details unique to your property—like that cool pattern in your tiles, that beautifully presented dish from your restaurant, the way the evening light dapples across your patio…

Behind the Scenes

Give your followers a privileged glimpse behind the scenes to show them how much you care about making their stay a great one. Staff interviews and selfies, renovations in progress, the making of your best-selling cocktail, property events… sharing behind-the-scene moments helps your followers feel more connected with your business.

Seemingly everyone is online these days, which makes social media an essential marketing channel for businesses today, especially for those in the travel and hospitality industries. Instagram’s popularity in particular is rapidly increasing, especially among millennials who are proving to love to travel. So be sure to make the most of your property’s Instagram account to reach highly engaged travelers and inspire them to stay with you.

How to Inspire Guests on Social Media

Over the last few years, social media has changed the marketing game when it comes to reaching the modern traveler. Always connected, today’s travelers consider their smartphones an indispensable travel companion and, according to one study, 97 percent of millennials post to social media at least once while traveling.

This is especially important to hotel marketers, considering the rapidly growing influence of other people’s vacation photos and selfies on travel plans.

Today, most brands incorporate social media into their marketing strategies to amplify reach and connect with customers. The key to success is harnessing the power of user-generated content to inspire customers to book your property and, in turn, share their experiences.

Selfies Sell

Recent research by Blitz Agency revealed that 84 percent of millennials and 73 percent of non-millennials are likely to plan a trip based on someone else’s vacation photos or social media updates. And while traditional word of mouth is still the winning source of travel inspiration, Facebook and Instagram follow closely behind, well ahead of traditional sources of travel inspiration, including magazines, TV and movies. When it comes to inspiring travelers, user-generated content beats professionally generated content hands down.

User-generated content resonates with travelers more than professional advertising because it represents the brand in a more authentic way — from the customer’s point of view. Some big brands are already leveraging user-generated content through hashtag campaigns with great success, for example, Starwood Hotels’ #SPGLife, Fairmont’s #FairmontMoments, and Loews Hotels’ #TravelForReal. Such campaigns motivate travelers to share their own experience of a brand, especially if tied to a competition or giveaway.

So, how can independent properties capitalize on user-generated content? The first step is connecting with your guests on the social media platforms they use. Facebook and Instagram are good bets for connecting with customers that like to post and view visual content.

  • Let your guests know where to find you on social media. Promote your property’s social media pages and handles on your website, in email communications, online ads and even in print (advertising, business cards, front desk/lobby signage, in-room folders, etc.).
  • Engage with customers on social media. Respond directly to customers who post about your property, whether they are sharing a selfie, a comment or asking a question. Re-share their photos (be sure to tag them), thank them for positive feedback, and address their questions or complaints in a timely and helpful manner.
  • Encourage guests to share. Motivate your customers to share their positive experiences of your property on social media by creating fun hashtag campaigns that can be further incentivized by running a contest. Surprising and delighting guests with thoughtful in-room extras or other special touches and maintaining photo-worthy spaces and amenities (or even “selfie spots”) also works well to inspire guests to share the moment (and make their peers jealous) on social media.
  • Re-share their love. When a guest shares a great photo or video of their experience at your property, don’t be afraid to spread those good vibes by re-sharing the content on your own pages (always giving credit to/tagging the creator), incorporating it into your property’s story and encouraging other customers to engage. Add a personal comment of your own, such as thanking them for their stay, wishing them well on the next leg of their journey, or inviting them to come back soon. Curated user-generated content from social media can even be shared on your property’s website via earned content platforms like Olapic.

Top Hotel Experiences Shared on Social Media

Interesting research by Local Measure, a customer intelligence platform for tourism and hospitality, recently revealed the hotel features guests most frequently post about on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. According to the study, the top five subjects guests post about on social media are:

  1. The restaurant and meals
  2. The bar and drinks
  3. Views from the property/room
  4. The hotel room
  5. The pool

While online hotel reviews are filled with comments about staff, customer service, guestroom condition and standard property amenities, it seems that on social media — now a highly visual platform — guests are compelled to share more “photogenic” experiences that will make their peers jealous.

Lodging operators can leverage this knowledge by paying special attention to such areas on their own property to ensure that the guest experience is a great one. Whether or not your property has a restaurant or a pool, focus on providing delightful (and photo-worthy) experiences by enhancing the features you do have, be it a peaceful garden area, a breakfast nook, or by providing unexpected in-room treats (which could be as simple as a personal welcome note).

Encouraging and sharing user-generated content on social media is key to inspiring prospective guests to choose your property. And it’s a powerful strategy; the more your guests engage with your property on social media, the more you learn about them too, allowing you to personalize the guest experience even further to create stronger customer relationships that result in loyal brand ambassadors.

One last tip: 80 percent of time spent on social media is via mobile devices, so your social media channels are driving a significant amount of mobile traffic to your property’s website. Be ready for mobile customers by ensuring your website and website booking engine are mobile friendly.

7 Smart Social Media Practices for Hotels in 2017

Social media is an important part of an overall marketing strategy for most businesses these days — and just like any other digital application, it’s always evolving. To stay competitive on social media, lodging operators need to keep up with their platforms’ latest tools and trends and test new strategies to stand out.

Here are seven smart social media practices that will help lead to success in the year ahead.

Pay to Boost Content

Gaining organic reach on social media is becoming more and more difficult for businesses as networks such as Facebook prioritize posts from users’ friends and families. That may explain why between 2014 and 2016 (a mere two years), social media ad spending doubled worldwide from US$16 billion to US$31 billion, and analysts predict a further 26.3% global increase on social media ad spending in 2017.

All the major social media platforms now offer powerful targeting tools like custom audiences, which allow businesses to reach customers who are more likely to convert. Social media advertising offers an excellent ROI, attaining high reach at a relatively low cost. We recommend testing posts organically first and boosting the most popular ones (those that gain higher organic reach) through paid advertising.

Experiment with New Video Formats

Video has taken the social media world by storm. It’s no secret that Facebook prioritizes video over other types of posts with video driving much more engagement.

Recently, new video formats are gaining popularity, such as live (real-time) video and 360-degree video (and photos), and are now available across platforms like Facebook (Facebook Live), Instagram (within Instagram Stories) and Twitter. Live video in particular allows brands to create engaging content without requiring all the time and resources that go into more polished productions. Live video is great for giving audiences a glimpse behind-the-scenes or sharing a live event experience — authentic, real content that really resonates with audiences.

Lodging operators have a wealth of video subjects to choose from, including the property, staff, location/destination, events, guest feedback, etc., so this year have fun with different video formats to see what resonates with your audience.

Take Advantage of Instagram

Instagram just keeps growing. From June 2016 to December 2016, the number of monthly active Instagram users increased by 100 million from 500 million to 600 million! With last year’s launch of Instagram’s business profiles and tools, the recent release of Instagram Stories (a Snapchat-like feature that lets users post ephemeral photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours), and the upcoming shopping feature, exciting things are happening on the platform — especially for businesses.

After Facebook, Instagram boasts one of the best engagement levels across social media platforms and is a great discovery tool for brands. Because advertising is relatively new to Instagram (2015) there are still lots of opportunities for brands to stand out, so if you haven’t looked into this social channel yet, now’s the time.

Share User-Generated Content

The feedback and opinions of real guests tend to be trusted by potential customers over the property’s own marketing efforts, which is why it makes a lot of sense to capture and promote positive user-generated content (UGC).

Your guests’ experiences form an engaging part of your story, so be proactive in encouraging your guests to create content relevant to your property through social media contests and custom hashtag campaigns that inspire guests to share photos, videos and their own stories. Provide share-worthy on-property experiences such as thoughtful in-room surprises (like personalized welcome notes or a small gift) or special events. Make sure guests know where to find you on social media by promoting your social media handles and hashtags on your website, on-property and in advertising campaigns.

Respond to and share positive UGC through your property’s own accounts (and even on your website or in marketing campaigns with the user’s permission) to amplify reach. Of course, any negative feedback should also be dealt with appropriately.

Augment Customer Service through Messaging Apps

Messaging apps (such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber) are used by over 4 billion users worldwide. From email to SMS text messaging and social media to mobile messaging apps, digital has fast become the world’s preferred method of communication.

In our mobile age, the widespread use of mobile messaging apps and the quest to personalize the customer experience is leading the customer-brand relationship further toward one-to-one communication via channels that offer more instant and more convenient service. It makes sense for hotels to be accessible through the channels their customers prefer.

Mobile messaging offers many advantages as a customer service channel: it’s cost-effective and easy to implement and it provides an avenue for less vocal (or confrontational) guests to voice complaints and make requests — both valuable opportunities for properties to provide a level of customer service that earns loyal customers.

Make it Easy to Book through Social Media

Social media has typically been considered a channel through which to increase brand awareness and engagement, but with ecommerce features rolling out across platforms, social media is increasingly becoming a direct sales channel.

Offer your social media audience the convenience of booking with you direct through social media in an unobtrusive way. Lodging operators can add a “book now” button to their property’s Facebook page, which can take customers directly to the bookings page on the property’s own website. “Buy now” and other call-to-action buttons (like “Learn more”) can be added to Instagram ads that link to specific pages on your website.

Use Micro-Moments to Guide Content

It can be hard to keep things fresh when it comes to creating social media content, but keeping Google’s micro-moments in mind (the dreaming, planning, booking and experiencing moments) will help point your posts in the right direction.

Social media is particularly popular with travelers during the dreaming and experiencing stages but can be relevant during the planning and booking stages too. For example, posts recommending local hotspots, sharing travel tips or highlighting activities and events can be very helpful to guests in their planning stages, and information about special packages is obviously relevant to the booking stage.

Using micro-moments to guide your content strategy can help keep your posts focused on what resonates with your audience, is relevant to their needs and drives engagement. It can also help to maintain the right balance of personal and promotional content (of which the former should largely outweigh the latter).

As part of your overall marketing strategy, social media works best when integrated with other marketing channels and campaigns, such as your property’s website, email campaigns, online advertising and offline campaigns, and even customer service. As you plan your strategy for the year ahead, keep these smart social media practices in mind for an engaging and successful 2017.

Instagram Tips for Independent Hotels

Launched in 2010, Facebook-owned Instagram has approximately 500 million users and ranks as the eighth most popular social network worldwide (out of 21 leading networks). But what really make Instagram an exciting marketing channel is the level of engagement it drives; Instagram delivers significantly more engagement than Facebook and Twitter per follower, its visual appeal striking a more emotional chord with users.

Instagram was designed for capturing and sharing moments through photos (and now also videos) and it is this visual storytelling concept that has made it so popular among travelers — and, therefore, travel and hospitality marketers.

Travelers are not only using the mobile-first platform to share their travel experiences but also to be inspired. Instagram’s capacity for visual inspiration makes it the perfect channel for showcasing a property’s stay experience.

An effective way to connect with travelers and increase brand awareness, Instagram makes a lot of sense as part of an independent hotel’s online marketing strategy. Here are our tips for making the most of it!

Getting Started

When setting up your Instagram account, choose a username that clearly identifies your property; ideally your property’s actual name or the closest version of it that is available. Keep it simple and understandable — no spaces allowed!

Your profile photo is key to reinforcing branding. It’s a good idea to use your property’s logo or a shot of your hotel that is easily recognizable as a small thumbnail image.

Under your profile, you can also add a bio of up to 150 characters. Make sure to include your website in your bio as clickable links cannot be added to organic Instagram posts. (Links can be added to ad posts, but more about that later.)

Use the Search & Explore function to search for other accounts you might like to follow. You can search for people, hashtags, places and events that are relevant to your property and destination, for example local activity operators, tourism marketing associations and event organizers.

Take a look at what other hotels are posting for inspiration and guidance. Some examples of boutique properties that really know what they’re doing on Instagram are Dunton Hot Springs (duntonhotsprings), El Cosmico (elcosmicomarfa) and Urban Cowboy B&B (urbancowboybnb).

Content Creation

When it comes to creating content, travel-related businesses are lucky with an endless supply of photogenic subjects to capture and share on Instagram. The key is to concentrate on telling your property’s story rather than pushing sales.

Keep followers interested by posting a variety of images related to your property — not just of your property. Showcase your neighbourhood, the local scenery and attractions, as well as guests enjoying your property (get their permission first), beautiful dishes from your restaurant, eye-catching hotel design features, property events, and your smiling staff. Go behind the scenes, showing your staff shopping for menu ingredients at the local farmers’ market or loading the boat for the afternoon’s fishing trip.

Tell your property’s story in real time (after all, it is Instagram), maintaining authenticity, professionalism and branding with every post.

Being an entirely visual platform, image quality is important on Instagram. Images you’re considering putting on Instagram should already look good in their original form, but for those lacking a little punch try applying one of the many in-app filters to really make them pop. Just be careful not to overuse this feature at risk of appearing false.

When it comes to image captions, try to keep them short and sweet — let the picture do the talking. However, don’t think captions don’t matter. Captions play an important part in engaging followers, so it’s worth putting a bit of thought into them. The caption should support the image subject by providing context in an informative, interesting and/or entertaining way as appropriate.

Hashtags are a fundamental element of captions and key to the way Instagram works, so they deserve a section in this article all to themselves…

Hashtags

Hashtags are the means by which Instagram users categorize and discover content. Without appropriate hashtags, your post may appear on your followers’ feeds but will be impossible to find by those that don’t yet follow you (in other words, potential new customers). Hashtags are added to the caption or comments of a post.

Come up with your own hashtags involving your property’s name and use them consistently for both searchability and branding. Hashtags cannot have spaces or special characters (like % or $), and the simpler the better. Hashtags can also be created for campaigns and competitions, like #appleberryinnselfie or #appleberrysummer.

Using relevant hashtags that are already in use, like #nyhotels and #nyc, is key to being found by your target audience. Join the conversation around popular hashtag themes by labeling content with relevant well-known hashtags like #throwbackthursday (or #tbt), #traveltuesday or #beautifulsunrise.

The popularity or use of a hashtag (existing or your own) can be checked simply by typing it into the Instagram search box.

Hashtags can be incorporated into the body of captions, for example: “Wow, what a #beautifulsunrise at #appleberryinn this morning!,” and/or added at the end, for example, “Good morning! #beautifulsunrise #nyc #appleberryinnsummer”. While it might be tempting to use all the applicable hashtags you can think of, choose just 3 or 4 at the most. Oodles of hashtags can make posts look spammy or desperate.

Engage!

The visual nature of Instagram lends more intimate connections with followers — capitalize on that by interacting with them to increase engagement and reach.

Respond to comments left on your posts, and tag or mention people (@jimmysmith), like other local businesses or guests, in your posts when appropriate.

Relationships are reciprocal so take the time to like and comment on other users’ posts too. Instagram’s search function can be used to find posts about your local destination, local businesses, events, etc.

When your property is tagged in someone else’s photo it will be added to your profile. Photos you’re tagged in are set to appear on your profile automatically by default, but it’s a good idea to choose to manually approve them to prevent any undesirable images from being posted on your profile.

A powerful form of social proof, user-generated content is gold to hotel marketers and it can be motivated especially effectively on Instagram through hashtag campaigns. For example, Appleberry Inn might run an #appleberryinnselfie campaign to encourage guests to post photos of themselves at the property for a chance to win a free night — and to boost engagement and brand awareness for the property. User-generated content can be integrated into your website and used for future online and offline campaigns, with the photographer’s permission.

Promote your Instagram account and hashtag campaigns everywhere; online via other social media channels, emails and your website, as well as offline via on-property signage and in-room welcome notes. And check your profile and activity feed regularly to ensure you respond to people reaching out to you in a timely manner.

How often should you post? Everyone has a different opinion on this, but we suggest at least three times a week. If you can create a post once a day, that’s great, but remember the golden rule: quality over quantity! Consistency plays an important part in optimizing engagement.

Here’s another tip for increasing engagement: tag your posts by adding a location to the photo. The option to Add Location is available during the upload process. Adding a location is another way to help people find your posts, particularly travelers.

Advertising

Advertising on Instagram is still quite new, so, for the moment, organic reach is reasonably high, at least compared to other social media networks like Facebook. However, as more and more brands start advertising on Instagram, it will pay to get in on the action.

Instagram ads help promote your property to a broader audience, and include optional CTA (call to action) buttons designed to drive traffic directly to your website and increase website conversions. Target audiences can be defined for each ad based on targeting options such as location, demographics, interests and more. Instagram ads are created with the same tools used to create Facebook ads so you’ll need a Facebook Page and a Facebook ad account to run ads on Instagram.

Instagram is currently in the process of rolling out new tools for business accounts. Converting your Instagram account to a business profile (please note, Instagram business profiles are not yet available to everyone), will allow you to promote posts directly from the Instagram app and will give you access to additional tools like Instagram Insights, which is designed to help you understand more about your Instagram audience.

 

Instagram is a proven way to engage customers and a fun way to tell your property’s story, so grab your phone and start snapping some cool pics! What are you waiting for?