Paid to Post: A Hotelier’s Guide to Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing. It’s likely a term you’ve heard thrown around in the last year or two, and perhaps is something you’ve considered doing yourself. You wouldn’t be alone; Hotel brands like Starwood Resorts, Fairmont, and Hilton Hotels are just a few of the businesses that have capitalized on this new opportunity. And a recent post on eHotelier included it as one of the top 5 marketing strategies for 2019. But it’s not just for large chains. Influencer marketing is a powerful tool available to independent hoteliers as well—one that is certainly worth your consideration. Here’s a quick guide to get you started:

What is influencer marketing?

Platforms like Instagram and YouTube have created an ecosystem of influential people with huge followings. And just like traditional celebrities, their endorsement has immense commercial value. By partnering with these individuals, brands can reach new and larger audiences more authentically.

The arrangements between brands and influencers (and the content that is created) can come in many forms. Brands can ask for anything from blog posts, to photos on Instagram, to Snapchat videos, and compensation can be in the form of money or free product.

Why should I do it?

It works >> Influencers are called that for a reason: they have influence (a lot of it). These internet personalities have amassed troves of followers sharing their lives online and have earned tremendous loyalty from their fans. So, their endorsement matters. In the same way that a recommendation from a friend holds more credence than an advertisement, the endorsement of an influencer packs a massive marketing punch.

Makes targeting easy >> Partnering with influencers also gives you access to very specific and well-understood audiences. Their followers are their business, so influencers are acutely aware of who their demographic is and what they want. This can help you choose who to partner with in the first place and also means the influencer can create content they know will resonate with their audience.

Who should I partner with?

Find the right audience >> Choosing the right influencer is key to finding success with this marketing strategy. You want to find someone whose ethos and audience align with your business. Make a profile of your typical guest (based on region, age, lifestyle, and income) and search for an influencer that can deliver that demographic. If you own a boutique hotel that caters to affluent millennials, find an influencer whose audience reflects that. If your guests are primarily families, partner with a family travel blogger. Like any marketing investment, you need to ensure your content is reaching potential customers.

Micro-influencers >> Influencers with massive followings can be extremely expensive to collaborate with, but don’t let that scare you. Social media is a flourishing ecosystem, and there are plenty of smaller influencers, called micro-influencers, that make great collaborators. Not only are they cheaper to partner with but they tend to have a stronger relationship with their followers (more like a friend than a celebrity) and therefore can have much higher engagement.

How can I be successful?

Assess their engagement >> The success of social media influencers has prompted many people to buy fake followers in hopes of reaping the same benefits. Obviously, you want to avoid collaborating with these types of accounts. To ensure your influencer is legitimate, you should assess the engagement of their account (the number of likes versus the number of followers) and take a scroll through their comments to see if they reflect genuine, loyal fans. A comment section full of spam is a big red flag.

Measure ROI >> At the end of the day, influencer marketing is like any other marketing investment. The point is to increase revenue at your business, so you need to know it’s working. Calculate how much the partnership is costing you (whether it’s in free nights stays, amenities, or a fee) and compare it to the revenue they bring to your business. You can track their impact by giving them a unique promo code, a branded hashtag or using UTM parameters. 

Social media has changed the marketing game irrevocably. Today’s consumers (made up by a millennial majority) engage with businesses and each other in entirely new ways. Influencers that rose to fame on social platforms are the newest celebrities, and they have the power to bring in massive revenue with their endorsement. Consider incorporating influencer marketing into your current strategy to increase your marketing reach. 

Location First Marketing: A Hotelier’s Guide

It used to be that location was the most important factor for a business’ exposure (and therefore success). Whether it was a hotel or a boutique, being visible was necessary for winning customers. Then the internet happened. Suddenly, people could find what they were looking for online, and everyone became a potential customer, regardless of location. But things have changed once again. With the advent of mobile devices (and the ever-increasing frequency with which they’re being used), location is once again playing a major role in marketing—only this time around, it’s the customer’s location that matters most.

What is location-first marketing?

Location-first marketing is when a business uses a customers’ physical location to target them with relevant content. There are a number of different strategies for taking a location-first approach—all made possible by the ubiquity of GPS enabled mobile devices and location-gathering apps.

Why it works

These days consumers expect a personalized experience from brands. It’s an expectation that extends to their marketing collateral—and that makes sense. Irrelevant ads on our news feeds and web banners are annoying. But if we’re met with content that’s relevant to our lives, suddenly those advertisements have value and feel less intrusive. Instead of disregarding them, we’re more likely to engage. And that means higher click-through rates.

Location-first strategies

There are several location-first strategies hoteliers can use that range in complexity. Here’s a quick overview:

Geo-targeted Ads>> Whether it’s for emails or online ads, geo-targeting is a common strategy for marketers. Platforms like Google Adwords have built-in features that make geo-targeting easy. Depending on your goals, you can target users by country, area within a country (perhaps there’s a city with an affordable direct flight to your locality), or even a set radius surrounding a location of your choosing (maybe your local airport?). The platform also has options to target based on search intent, physical location, or both. Whatever ad campaigns you choose to run remember to analyze the numbers. The performance of an ad in various locations can tell you where (and where not) to target in the future.

Geo-tags on social media>> Geo-targeting is not just for ads. A savvy hotelier can use it for guest engagement as well. Geo-tags are commonly used on social media. On platforms like Instagram, users will often tag their location when uploading posts—making it easy to find location-specific content. If you want to surprise and delight a current guest, check-out your properties geo-tag for recent content. Perhaps a couple just got engaged at your property (and posted about it). Surprising the happy couple with a complimentary bottle of Champagne would do a lot to nurture guest satisfaction.

Geo-fencing>> This is where things become a bit more complicated. Geo-fencing is a marketing strategy that sends SMS messages, emails, or push notifications when a person crosses a “virtual barrier” (or a geo-fence). For example, someone walking down the street past a Starbucks could be sent a notification advertising a special promotion at that location. And it’s not just for advertising. Geofencing can be used to check-in guests, monitor posts made at a property (without requiring geo-tags or hashtags), and collect data on how guests spend time at your property.

With GPS-enabled smartphones, there are treasure troves of location data that marketers can and should be putting to use. Targeting customers with marketing collateral specific to their location creates a personalized experience more likely to yield a conversion. Make sure you’re using location-first strategies to get the most out of your marketing efforts.

How to Sell Hotel Rooms Without Offering Discounts

Slashing room rates can feel like an obvious and easy solution to a decline in bookings. However, your marketing strategy should not appear obvious or easy. Low prices invite the idea ‘you get what you pay for’ and discounted rates can indicate a hotel-in-trouble. For many, price determines quality, and price is likely to determine a potential guest’s first reaction to your hotel. If rates were the only factor in selling a room, the hotels with the lowest rates would always be fully occupied. So, while discounts may lead to some short-term bookings, they rarely lead to the long term goal of establishing a sustainable and flourishing business. But the question is: how do you sell rooms without slashing rates?

1. Be Distinct.

It’s laughably obvious, and of course, what everyone and every business desires to be. But it’s worthwhile to spend time and repeatedly revisit the following questions: What makes you different than other hotels, inns, and B&Bs in your area? Why should someone book with you instead of with the hotel down the street? Who are your ideal guests? What do they value? Be specific. You cannot build a successful marketing strategy without understanding who you are. Get out a piece of paper and jot down ideas. If your hotel’s unique qualities and distinct assets do not come quickly to mind, this is where you need to spend time and energy because the following pieces of advice rely on your answers to these questions.

2. Add Value.

Instead of discounting prices, maintain your rates and add services and products. Your potential guests will perceive and then receive increased value, which not only sells rooms but strengthens your brand by providing another opportunity to highlight your assets.

Add value in two ways:

Offer hotel products, amenities, or services. Consider offering unlimited access to your onsite gym, a complimentary massage at your spa, free laundry services for business travellers, or whatever services or products that make your hotel unique. This takes some creative thinking, as you want to ensure you’re offering something that your guests find valuable but also keeps costs low.

Collaborate with local businesses. Approach restaurants and music venues to offer a combined price for a night or weekend away. Collaborate with museums to bring out-of-towns guests to see the opening or closing of an exhibit. Create packages with sports teams or theatre companies that offer season passes that would bring guests back multiple times a year. Understand what experiences your ideal guests desire and work with local businesses to offer mutually beneficial packages.

3. Enhance your Online Presence.

Website. Your property’s website is vital. It offers a powerful first look at your hotel and should immediately present the feel of your establishment. Your website should make someone want to stay at your hotel. Currently, minimalism is the trend for websites, which is particularly effective for hotels because it gives a clean and calming impression. It’s important to understand that a website should be updated regularly, not just for its content but to keep it looking fresh and modern. This is especially important if your brand incorporates these traits. A website should be easy to navigate, responsive (so that it can be viewed on every possible screen), feature high quality images, and offer information that’s readable and concise. It’s recommended that you hire a professional. A good website designer, writer, and developer can help you tell your brand’s story through images and concise words, and can also ensure that your website is easily found through online searches.

Hotel Rating Websites. Websites like TripAdvisor have become a necessity… and a thorn in the side of many service oriented businesses, even the ones who consistently get good reviews. You cannot stop people from posting negative reviews, but you can respond to them, giving potential guests an opportunity to see how you resolve issues. Here’s a helpful guide to maintaining online reputation.

Social Media. Social media is a good medium for showcasing your carefully curated packages, but mostly it’s a storytelling platform. Many modern travellers seek individualized experiences, and one way to show that you can fulfil their desires for individuality is to be unique yourself. Tell and show the behind the scene stories of your hotel through original photographs; highlight the people who work for you or the people who stay with you (with their permission); and feature your surrounding area’s attractions. Remember, too, that social media is meant to be social. Don’t focus solely on presenting your story. Interact with other businesses and members of your community; engage with former and potential future guests; and respond quickly to inquests.

Cultivate Repeat Business. It’s easier to encourage repeat guests than to attract new ones. To do so: think small. Small gestures have a big impact. Ensure the front desk staff know and address repeat customers by name. Walk around at breakfast and briefly chat with guests about how their enjoying their stay. Send handwritten thank you notes and birthday cards. Offer complimentary champagne upon the arrival of a repeat guest. Also, consider starting a customer loyalty program based on the number of nights booked or referrals made.

Empower your Staff. While their main role is not to sell rooms (although staff members are potentially your hotel’s greatest ambassadors), they can upsell. Whenever the opportunity arises, your front desk staff should have the knowledge and freedom to offer room upgrades – the suite with the oceanfront view, the room with the king size bed or garden terrace – for a suitably enticing price.

Welcome Pets. More and more people desire to travel with their pets, especially dogs. This is particularly important for guests travelling within a 300-kilometre radius. These are the clientele who are most willing to pick-up-and-go for a weekend (or even mid-week) getaway, and they’re more likely to embrace spontaneity if they do not have the added complication of finding care for their four-legged family members. Need more incentive? It’s likely you can charge extra for a pet-friendly room. Here are some considerations for accepting four-legged guests.

Offer Discounts when Appropriate. Discounts have a time and place, but they should be offered for a reason. Guests become irritated when they discover that they could have found a reduced rate through another website or if they had waited longer to book. However, there are ways to offer discounts fairly and effectively. Consider offering discounted rooms for extended stays, for repeat customers, and for referrals.

If you offer discounts too frequently and without a specific purpose, you run the risk of having discounted room rates become your regular rates, which means your revenues will decrease, you will no longer be able to offer a high level of service, potentially driving away repeat customers. It’s a trajectory you do not want to instigate. When facing a slump, it’s natural to think ‘let’s try lowering prices,’ especially if other hotels are doing so. However, it’s best to maintain your rates, maintain your service, and return to the foundational questions: Who are you as a brand? What do you do well? Who are your ideal guests? What do they most desire? The answers to these questions will help you build packages, market your assets, tweak services, enhance communication with the public, and ultimately, sell rooms without slashing prices.

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.