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Social Media: Marketing Magic or Madness

by John Davies, July 16, 2009

There appears to be little doubt that the social media networking tidal wave has hit the hotel industry. To varying degrees, many hotels and hotel companies are attempting to implement some active level of social media marketing. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, corporate blogs, LinkedIn, or a myriad of other platforms, social media is rapidly changing the networking landscape. In addition to SEO, now social media optimization (SMO), online reputation management (ORM), are emerging as viable factors in managing effective online visibility. 

Integrating the use of RSS feeds, videos, images, and blogs to increase exposure, and improve online positioning, is evolving as a new generation of opportunity and challenge. However, therein lies the real dilemma, due to the rapid emergence and evolution of social media, there are few who have introduced and mastered an effective marketing strategy and ongoing platform that produces impressive and tangible  results. For obvious reasons, it is the larger hotel companies that tend to be out front with this effort. Some companies like Marriott, Ritz Carlton, and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts have been doing a stellar job with their social media programs and applications.  

They have woven social media marketing into the very fabric of who they are. Yet for most hotels, particularly the independents, the challenge is not only where to begin, but where to go with social media marketing once getting started? With intense competition, falling occupancies, and sluggish demand, many sales, marketing, and revenue directors are being asked to capitalize on the social media craze and turn it into a revenue enhancement application.  Some of these marketers are not only asking how to accomplish the task, but questioning if it can really become a quantifiable revenue resource? 

As with any integrated marketing effort, some benefits can be achieved and realized, but it takes sound planning and a commitment of resources and time. Donít feel alone, as it is a relatively new platform for most hotel marketing professionals. But before jumping into the social media frenzy, or Social Media Madness to some skeptics, there are a few factors that you might want to consider, evaluate, and determine:

Define your strategy and long term objective.  Is your goal to communicate to, or communicate with your guests and prospective guests? Are you seeking fleeting fans or are you out to build long-term, lasting relationships with your customers? Is the goal to enhance the credibility and reputation of your brand, or to clutter the communication channels with the transparent promotion of the week?  Is the strategy to engage and listen to your customer and utilize your social media marketing as an innovative and timely CRM platform?  Or, is it more simple and just an application to create visibility and support search rankings and website traffic?  According to Tom Dibble, CEO of Screen Pilot, a leading digital media and marketing firm, poorly executed social media strategies can cause a lot of problems.ďIf you donít ask why we are doing this, before how do we do this, you will chase your tail for months with no return on your efforts,Ē said Dibble. The intimacy of social blogs provides an incredible medium and opportunity to demonstrate what separates you from the pack and what truly defines the customer service culture and orientation of your hotel or company. It certainly does not mean you canít have ďfunĒ and occasionally offer a creative off-the-wall promotional opportunity just for your bloggers and loyal fan base, but it might be better to devote the heart of your effort to more receptive and engaging dialogue and interaction. Think online concierge and real-time information resource, as opposed to a one dimensional in-your-face-self-promotion platform.

Make sure there is a commitment to SMM .  As with any marketing effort, there is no silver bullet. Social media marketing is a process that involves participation, interaction, resources, commitment, follow-through, and time. If your strategy is to engage your customer, someone has to be there to monitor and be the resource for the guest. It will become pretty clear if your effort is just promotionally oriented or a bona fide interface with someone who genuinely cares. For example, there is nothing more reflective of passive online marketing than outdated websites with old information, expired promotions, and no timely news or PR activity. The current status of your website might be a good barometer for determining if you are really ready to make a significant commitment to a dynamic and interactive social marketing program. Maintaining multiple blogs and timely interactive streams of communication not only takes time, but if not monitored and maintained, they can backfire and become a marketing liability.

Social media should not be the anchor to your marketing plan.  With the near hysteria and avalanche of new social media applications and opportunities, it takes time to find your place, comfort zone, and desired return. Be careful in having realistic expectations and apply a commensurate marketing effort and resources. Give it time and donít dive off the deep end at the outset. Let social media marketing complement your marketing effort; not be the cornerstone to it. Sometimes when in new and uncharted territory, itís better to be the tortoise and not the hare. Let patience and perseverance prevail.

Make it a team effort with the unique applications of social media.  Get your property GM and company leadership on the SMM bandwagon. One of the more impressive industry blogs that has caught my attention recently belongs to Bill Marriott.  Whether heís reflecting on the lessons of his father, or conversationally speaking to the importance of green initiatives, or why health care for his employees is a priority, itís a powerful statement as to the values of his company, and poignantly underscores the legend of the Marriott brand. You might not be able to quantify a specific return from the effort, but based on the stream of feedback, he is solidifying and building legions of loyal guests and employees. 

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn is a business oriented networking site with over 40 million users representing nearly 170 industries, including hospitality. In addition, there are dozens of hotel industry specific sub groups, some with in excess of 20,000 registered members. Since most users are business people, managers, senior executives, and professionals, it provides a wonderful resource for defining and promoting your image and desired company leadership profile; and a potentially vast pool for recruiting similar management talent.  Each group has an open discussion section and job listing.  Moreover, itís available in several languages with no financial investment. 

Seek out the experts and observe those having success with SMM. With a little research and a clear idea of where you want to go, and what your expectations are for a social media marketing program, you might be surprised at what you discover. Be on the lookout for educational webinars and SMM ďboot campsĒ. Itís all foreign in the beginning and only made more confusing with the dramatic growth, expansion, and increasing complexity of social media. Walk before you run and be realistic with your expectations. It is very unlikely that the payback for your efforts will be measured similar to other marketing applications and initiatives. While it may be hard to clearly define the value of increased exposure, higher visibility, improved SEO rankings, expanded connectivity and linkability, reputation and brand enhancement, and improved customer relations, it is hard to dispute they are of value. Even if itís classified as soft marketing and providing an indirect return, there appears to be at least some inherent incremental value of being somehow engaged in the SMM phenomenon. Itís probably just a matter of time before analytics for accurately measuring the ROI of social media marketing programs are developed and available. For now itís a bit intangible, but when in doubt and unclear, always remember there is never a bad time to strengthen and solidify your relationship with a valued guest, client, customer, partner, or associate.  Maybe thatís the most compelling and reliable compass of all as you begin to navigate a path and find your way to an effective social media marketing program.

About the author 
John Davies, CHA, is a marketing consultant, advisor, and coach with over 30 years of property and executive leadership experience in hotel and resort sales & marketing. His career includes executive sales & marketing positions with Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Tiburon Hospitality, and Pointe Resorts. John resides with his wife and two children in Carefree, Arizona. John can be contacted by email at or by phone at (602)-692-5488

John Davies CHA


Also See: Perseverance In the Face Of Adversity. Timely Lessons./ John Davies / June 2009
Solid Sales and Marketing Fundamentals Can Improve Hotel Performance in Tough Times / John Davies / April 2009



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