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What’s the Tone of Your Social Media Voice?
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By Holly Zoba, Senior Vice President of Sales - Hospitality, Signature Worldwide
August 2010

Like most people, I have a fairly diverse group of friends on Facebook — childhood friends, current friends, family, a few clients, many co-workers and all of my bosses. I decided long ago that posting about my wild night out was possibly not the wisest career choice.
 
Happily I have a very entertaining dog, Scout, so I always have plenty of content to post including picture, videos, and frequent Scout status updates. Last week, I was at lunch with the director of tourism for Ohio, a business associate and Facebook friend. In the middle of lunch he said, “How is Scout getting along at camp?” This man has never met Scout. He probably doesn’t know if I am married or single, with or without children, but he is aware that my dog is off at summer camp.
 
I realized at that moment that because of my frequent Scout Facebook posts, I have now branded myself as Scout’s mother. Everyone I know always inquires about how Scout is doing. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it is a little odd to me. I like Scout, but she isn’t exactly the center of my world. However, due to the ambient intimacy of social media, it appears to the outside world that she is.
 
The moral of that story is: Real or not, you are what you post on Facbeook.
 
What does that mean for hotels? Take a look through the hundreds of Facebook posts from hotels and it will become pretty clear that they are discounters. Here are the last few posts from a beautiful property in a spectacular location surrounded by shopping, cultural attractions and fabulous restaurants:

* June 7
   Come stay with HOTEL NAME this summer! Use code FACEB and receive the special Facebook rate for the season!

* June 9
   Cool off at the HOTEL NAME! Use the Facebook code and receive the Facebook discount Book today!

* June 11
   Come cool off with HOTEL NAME this summer with amazing summer rates!
 
July’s posts looked very similar. How is that hotel positioning itself in the eyes of the potential guests?
 
Social media is supposed to be about engaging our customers, having conversations and connecting. This is particularly true for the travel industry. Hotels have a unique opportunity to clearly communicate their differentiators and their personalities, but instead (except for a limited few) they are using this communication opportunity to further train customers to ask for a deal.
 
Most hotels can't afford to hire an advertising agency to run their social media campaigns, so they often decide to do it themselves. Like purchasing office supplies or processing payroll, the "task" of managing social media is generally assigned to one person and that person often seems to be the sales and marketing person, which explains why the posts have a “heads in beds” focus.
 
I spend a lot of time with hoteliers trying to find out why they do this and the answer is pretty simple. They just don’t know what else to say.
 
A popular study by Albert Mehrabian shows us that in face-to-face communication, body language such as facial expression accounts for 55 percent of what we “say.” Tone or the way words are said accounts for 38 percent, while the actual words only account for seven percent. Online postings can only use words. The pressure is great for those words to clearly convey the hotel’s point of view.
 
To help hotels sort this out, we started an exercise in one of our classes called “Finding Your Social Media Voice.” At first, we allocated about 20 minutes to this exercise, assuming that most managers understand their hotel's differentiators. It is now 90 minutes because the staff finds it to be such a helpful tool.
 
In the exercise, we brainstorm single words or phrases that help employees know how to communicate about their property. Next, we begin the daunting task of editing about 30-40 words and phrases down to about four. For example, one independent hotel has a rich history and strong ties to the community. The brainstorming words included historical, trendy, comfort, community engaged and mystical (there is some talk of the hotel being haunted). At the end of the session, we had all agreed to several terms that included “storytellers” and “community champions.”  
 
Once the voice is discovered, every post that is generated from the hotel is run through the social media voice filter. If the hotel is posting a status update on its Facebook page, the writer has to ask himself, am I reflecting our social media voice in this post? Can I make it more of a story? Can I tie my hotel into some community enhancing event? Suddenly, posting $99 for a Jacuzzi suite is no longer a consideration. The social media voice filter is applied to everything social — management responses on TripAdvisor, Tweets, and even special deals on Foursquare.
 
The results enable two-way conversations to take place that inform the hotel of existing customer needs, expand its friend base, and create partnerships with community organizations in order to grow business — all without a single mention of a discount!
 


About the Author:

Holly Zoba is senior vice president of sales for the hospitality division of Signature Worldwide, the leading provider of training solutions for the hospitality industry. Holly has more than 20 years of sales and marketing management experience in the hospitality industry and is responsible for managing Signature Worldwide’s sales effort by determining best-fit solutions for hoteliers — helping them improve customer service and increase revenue. She can be reached at hollyzoba@signatureworldwide.com or (614) 766-5101. 
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Contact:

Holly Zoba
614-766-5101
hollyzoba@signatureworldwide.com

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