Social Media as a PR Tool: How to Use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn Effectively
By Didi Lutz President, Didi Lutz PR | May 19, 2010
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, are currently the top social networks used for businesses. At this point, these three online communities are more than a trendy buzzword tossed around at parties, they are household names and part of our everyday lives. If I had to define the term, I would say that social media provide the opportunity for people and businesses to share specific, instantaneous information in the form of quick updates to a select group, who choose to follow those updates, and as a result, provide feedback through commenting, engaging in conversations, and sharing that information with other groups.
Essentially, social media allow and encourage messages, photos, news, and other bits of information to become viral with other groups, for the purpose of talking about a subject. For instance, a hotel posts on their Facebook page that they are starting a brand new loyalty program for their guests to earn points and hotel benefits. That information is read by all the "fans" of the page. Then those fans talk about it on their own Facebook pages, and so on. It's really the old word of mouth dynamic, but through the awesome power of the Internet that has made this communication new, exciting and global.
At this time, Facebook and Twitter have become the mainstream social media outlets. Hotels, and the hospitality industry in general, were fairly late in catching this new wave of communication, primarily because they didn't understand how to use the networks properly. They are monsters that constantly need to be fed with new information. They are also not going anywhere. Social media are not a fad, they are here to stay, and it is important to learn the tools to use them well. Facebook may become passe a year from now, or it might be stronger than ever. Twitter might be replaced with something better, or not, the point is the idea of social networking has caught on tremendously, and hotels need to find their place in those netoworks, especially as 2010 begins to show more signs of economic recovery.
Even for those of you who have accounts with all three networks, I would like to take a moment to clarify the differences of each one, and in what respect they should be used:
- Facebook is a perfect outlet to post everything you want about your property, by building a full profile, including text, photos, special promotions, and it is generally a very efficient way to connect with past guests, current, and potential guests.
- Twitter is used to share information about the industry, fun articles, anything quirky going on at your hotel, last minute specials, weekend rates, holiday menu links, and anything that can be shared in the form of a newsflash (remember, Twitter only allows 140 characters). If you are linking something on Twitter, make sure you tiny/shorten the link first, so you have more spaces to develop a clear message.
- LinkedIn is purely a business network. It's a great community to network with other professionals you wouldn't necessarily do so on Facebook. It's more an online social network for industry professionals, so GMs and executives should definitely have profiles on it. Hotel blogs can be linked to your profile, too, which promotes the hotel, but LinkedIn is strictly for business networking. You can join forums and group discussions that target the industry, and answer related questions posted from others in your network.
Now that we've clarified the distinction among these prime social media outlets, here are some PR tools to use them properly:
- Select the right audience for your hotel. Attract fans and friends that are likely to carry your message and make it viral. Engage with them, and make them excited to participate on your page and in your posts.
- If you don't have the resources to manage both Facebook and Twitter, pick one and do it right. It is best to have one account and really put the effort in making it a great place for your fans to communicate, rather than have an account in both, and leaving them stale and idle for weeks at a time. Daily interaction is ideal, though hotels have still not gotten to that level yet.
- Post interesting updates. You have a renovation underway? Talk about what you can. Create interest and start conversations. A special Valentine's Day menu that promises rose petals and Veuve Cliquot? Make it as exciting as possible. You may not get a comment or a thumb up every time, but remember, most people read more than they comment in general, and it keeps your communication open and flowing.
- Follow-up on comments and posts. Just like you would on a blog, it's important to acknowledge the feedback that comes your way. It's not only polite, but you will be encourage future comments, and hopefully create an engaging network of friends and followers
- Show appreciation to your followers. This is true for all networks, but for Twitter especially. You typically don't know personally your followers on Twitter, so to establish rapport, when someone chooses to follow your hotels updates, send a quick direct message saying "Thank you for following us, we're looking forward to your tweets!" Or, something similar that shows appreciation for the follow.
- Photo albums on Facebook are a great way to share anything from the hotel's rooms, food and beverage outlets, spa, amenities and more. It's also a good way to "tag" fans, guests who have stayed at the hotel (assuming they let you take their photo, always ask first, people!). It's a fun way to keep the page fresh and active, while inviting comments about how their stay was.
- It goes without saying that quality of friends and followers versus quantity is far better. Don't be jealous of those pages that have 1,500 followers. Chances are they are overfriended. Overfriending happened a lot in 2009, but in 2010 quality will be much more important as social networks find their niche.
- Since social media is part of the PR toolbox now, it's important to make news more personal. Don't post press releases on your page, no one will care to read them. Make the news simple, direct and interesting without too many words. Press releases are formal announcements that don't invite feedback. The point of engaging in social media is to drive the conversation.
- Offer incentives and reward your friends and followers Offer them a 10% discount for instance on a weekday, or free breakfast, wi-fi, or a welcome gift on arrival. Make them loyal to you even if they haven't stayed at your hotel yet. Your friends will appreciate that, and let their friends know about it. Remember, the hardest thing to do in online communities is to establish a rapport that is personal and genuine. It is a true challenge and it takes time to develop and learn to value those relationships.
- Learn to monitor your page's friends. Learn to dump if you have to. Some users tend to abuse social networks and do not behave well as they engage. Report them if you need to, and get rid of them.
We're in a new decade now, and 2010 is not a year to make cuts in PR and Marketing. These budgets are no longer optional, they are the only way to improve your branding image as the industry recovers, albeit slowly. If you can't afford a full PR program, at least prioritize and focus on the areas you can - and should - spend money on. Cultivating social networks should be among those priorities this year.