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Guest Column: Social is changing travel dynamics

29-November-2012
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Guest Column: Social is changing travel dynamics

If recent trends in the hospitality industry are anything to go by, then it can be safely said that hotel properties can ignore social media only at their own peril. Social media has changed the way prospective travellers research and garner information. It took the hotel properties a while to realise the tremendous potential marketing on social media has for their businesses, but better late than never. Of late, hotels all over the world have started hiring professionals to manage their social media marketing, and have invested handsomely in all forms of user-generated media. Though, hotels in India are still a bit circumspect and are holding back.

In my extensive interactions with Indian hoteliers, I have found that the main reason for their holding back is the intangibility of results. In an age where everyone is obsessed with return on investment (RoI) calculation before going ahead, their concerns seem valid enough. After all, social media marketing does not promise instant windfall gains, and to me, this seems to be the heart of the matter. I believe that in order to settle this issue once and for all, we need an altogether different approach.

The first thing to be understood about social media is that it is a medium for brand building, online reputation management, customer engagement, and customer service, and not so much for customer distribution. I am not ruling out its utility in generating online bookings for hotels, but even when social media marketing is able to do this, the facts are not self evident, as bookings are made through Online Travel Agencies (OTA) or through the hotel’s own home website.

For a moment forget about revenue generation through boosting online bookings and let us limit ourselves only to the discussion of avenues, where benefits of social media marketing are tangible enough to be seen even by naked eye.

Managing online reviews: Posting one’s trip experience on OTA such as TripAdvisor may already be a thing of the past. Nowadays people post reviews on real-time basis. Few examples:
“No running hot water in my room at ….”
“Ordered a draught beer at 6PM, its 7 already, and still waiting…”
“Really slow room service, cannot believe I paid heck amount of money for this…”

Customers are also learning to post these comments right on the Facebook and Twitter accounts of hotel properties and not on OTAs, where it may take days to get noticed. Such comments can badly tarnish a hotel’s image built over the years. Hotels need to monitor and manage online review on a 24x7 basis. Negative customer reviews and complaints must be responded to at the earliest.

Brand building: Hotels spend a lot of money on brand building through ads. Advertisement on social media is relatively cheap when compared to traditional media. Another advantage is that on social media, your message reaches a very specific targeted audience, making your campaign much more effective. Facebook is an excellent avenue for brand building, and also for building a stout community of your followers, dedicated to your brand. You can recruit many individual Facebook users as your unpaid marketing agents. If people are sharing your posts, photos, videos on their wall, it means you are getting the most credible publicity.

Building a community: Twitter and Facebook can also be used for building a community of followers. You can keep them updated about your new properties, and services, and keep them engaged with your brand. Also, as social media is a two-way interaction process, you can also get their valuable feedback on your new ambitions. Facebook and Twitter posts can replace SMS marketing and emailers soon.

These are just some of the benefits, the complete list may run into many pages. Also, I have not even touched upon the benefits that can be reaped from sites such as YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, and Pinterest. Thus, the possibilities of marketing on social media is almost limitless.

The author is CEO of Internet Moguls

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