Your Guests are Talking About You on Social Media. Are You Listening?

By Bernard Perrine CEO & Co-Founder, SocialCentiv | July 26, 2015

The Internet has changed the way many travelers choose and evaluate hotels. Is your business changing as well?

As recently as the early 2000s, guests often used the room rates a given hotel charged as an indication of that property's quality or value. But a scholarly study published in February 2013 found consumers were placing a far greater emphasis on a very different barometer: so-called "user-generated content" – notably online reviews of hotels from other travelers.

"Reviews are the most powerful value indicator for consumers," noted one of the study's authors, Kelly McGuire, in a subsequent blog post. "Our research overwhelmingly indicated that consumers look to the reviews over aggregate ratings to form quality and value perceptions … (And) in the presence of ratings and reviews, consumers do not use price as an indication of quality."

Although the reviews consumers use are most commonly located on travel sites such as TripAdvisor, the growth of importance of user-generated content in their decision making highlights a key online arena that helps sway where they stay during travel: social media.

In one survey, 52 percent of respondents reported altering travel plans (with 33 percent changing hotels) at least partly because of research they had done on social media. Seeing friends' holiday photos influences the vacation choices of 52 percent of Facebook users, according to Social Times.

With social media buzz being so vital in travel choices, it's more important than ever for hotel companies to monitor what people are saying about them on sites like Facebook and Twitter. This checking process, called "social listening," not only helps hoteliers turn people who make positive comments into brand ambassadors, but also aides in discovering and promptly responding to cyber criticisms.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.