By Victoria Hsia
In hospitality marketing, the digital landscape is constantly evolving and the travel consumer journey to a direct booking is becoming more and more complex. To help you better navigate the digital landscape and shift share to the direct online channel, HeBS Digital’s “Jumpstart Direct Bookings” Series shares industry best practices to boost direct bookings through the top revenue-generating marketing channels. From SEO to Multichannel Campaigns, you’ll learn insider strategies and concrete action steps to start shifting share from the OTAs today.
The first best practices action plan covered how to jumpstart direct bookings through SEO. Next up in the series is “How to Jumpstart Your Hotel’s Direct Bookings through Social Media.” Read on to learn how to incorporate social media into your strategy in a way that increases your property’s website revenues.
As social media continues to grow and evolve, more and more businesses are increasing their social media marketing efforts, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. By 2017, social network ad spending will reach $35.98 billion, representing 16% of all digital ad spending globally (eMarketer). Social media has already become the #1 customer engagement and reputation management channel. In the same time, social media is among the top 3 hotel booking decision influencers and is firmly among the top 10 hotel direct booking channels.
What does this mean for hoteliers? In order to remain competitive in the digital space, hoteliers need to take advantage of the customer engagement and revenue opportunities this channel has to offer. Here is a checklist to help you jumpstart your hotel’s direct bookings through social media.
1. Ensure that your social media pages are optimized and branded.
Today, social media users have come to expect business pages to not only be claimed but also fully-optimized and branded. A hotel’s social media page should be a reflection of the brand itself and provide the most up to date information for visitors. Hotels can further engage audiences and set themselves apart from competitors by branding their pages through creative page elements such as the profile picture, cover photo, posts, and custom tabs on Facebook. In addition to building brand awareness, a well-optimized social media page will encourage users to follow the hotel, engage, and eventually book a stay. For example, on Twitter, hoteliers can design a branded header image promoting a seasonal campaign and pin a tweet to the top of the page that provides more information and a link to the campaign landing page. Some platforms may offer more branding opportunities than others. However, hotels should optimize their social media presences as much as possible and get creative in order to drive bookings.
Social media plays a role throughout the travel planning process, from the inspiration phase to the booking phase. Therefore, hoteliers should offer content that appeals to their target audience in each phase. For travel especially, inspirational content is important as users may not be planning a vacation while using social media. Through rich photos and videos of the destination, accommodations, dining, and more, hotels can peak users’ interest and keep their brand top of mind to drive bookings in the long term. To engage users within the planning phase, hoteliers can highlight special offers, upcoming local events, and destination-specific travel tips. With so many posts competing for attention at any given moment, is it crucial that all content shared through social media provides value to the target audience.
3. Invest in social media advertising.
Nearly all businesses, including most hotels now have a presence on at least one social media platform, resulting in greater competition for organic visibility. Therefore, hoteliers should allocate a portion of their marketing spend to paid social media. No wonder that today 85 cents of every digital advertising dollar is spent on either Google or Facebook. Almost all platforms offer some form of advertising and they are constantly developing and honing their capabilities. While it may not be necessary to run ads on every single platform, it is worthwhile to test paid opportunities on the platforms most widely used by your target audience. For instance, Facebook offers some of the most robust social media advertising, with a wide range of ad formats, from Canvas Ads to Carousel Ads. Hotels can also refine their Facebook ad campaigns with diverse targeting options including demographics, interests, retargeting, and more. As a result, paid social media plays a role in driving direct bookings as it allows hotels to expand reach amongst a highly qualified audience and drive additional traffic to the brand website.
One key aspect that sets social media apart from other channels is that it’s a forum for users to share their thoughts publicly, in real time. As a result, many travelers will share their experiences and leave reviews for businesses with whom they interacted. 88% of consumers trust reviews they find online just as much as personal recommendations (BrightLocal). Therefore, bad reviews, good reviews, or a lack of reviews can influence a consumer’s travel plans. Hoteliers should periodically check reviews posted on social media platforms and respond to all reviews in a timely manner. This conscious effort will be recognized and appreciated by the reviewer and other users who come across the review. In addition, hoteliers should search platforms such for posts mentioning the hotel. For example, hotels can search Instagram for posts taken at the property and see what people say about it. Social media can provide valuable information for hoteliers which can be used to monitor their online reputation, improve their services, and build brand loyalty- all of which contribute to direct bookings.
5. Utilize Smart Data Marketing to reach more qualified audiences.
Smart Data Marketing refers to the balanced utilization of both CRM Data and Intent Data. Through Smart Data Marketing, hoteliers can engage past guests as well as first-time guests by targeting those who are “in market” and planning to visit a given destination. This two-part targeting strategy is the most effective for driving direct bookings. On Facebook, hotels can utilize Smart Data Marketing by creating Custom Audiences based on their email subscribers or website visitors, and layering on targeting based on interest, location, etc. By working with a travel ad network such as Sojern or ADARA that provides first-party travel data from top airline and travel planning websites, hoteliers can target more qualified audiences resulting in more bookings. One of Facebook’s latest ad products, Facebook Dynamic Ads for travel, lets you target users across devices with relevant ads based on a mix of first-party data and activity on the brand website. This allows you to serve more personalized ads to those who are deeper within the booking funnel.
6. Take a multi-screen approach and reach audiences at the right place and time.
Travel planning occurs across multiple devices. However, each year, more and more people are planning travel on their mobile devices and mobile conversions are growing. Therefore, hoteliers should ensure that their social media content and ads are optimized for the three screens. Both Facebook and Twitter allow brands to designate devices for ads to be displayed on, and offer previews of the ad for each device or placement. When developing a social media plan, it is important to take into consideration the goals, target audience, and user experience. For instance, to target locals and drive foot traffic to onsite amenities such as dining and spa, hoteliers may consider creating an Instagram ad that promotes a Locals Love special offer and includes a “Call Now” button that allows users to make a reservation with ease.
7. Keep learning about your target audience and optimize.
As social media platforms and users continue to evolve, hoteliers should continually evaluate their strategy to ensure that they are utilizing the most appropriate platforms and targeting options to reach their target audience. On Facebook, brands can reference the Facebook Audience Insights tool to learn more about their target audiences and use this information to create more relevant content that is more likely to generate results. Throughout a social media ad campaign, hoteliers can examine who is engaging the most and further optimize. Hoteliers can also use A/B testing to test multiple targeting options and multiple creative to determine what works best and better tailor future campaigns.
8. Incorporate social media initiatives into multichannel campaigns.
The average travel consumer visits 18 sites in the path to purchase. To get the most out of social media, hoteliers should create multichannel campaigns that utilize core revenue drivers such as SEM, email marketing, and the Google Display Network, and seamlessly integrate social media initiatives. Effective multichannel campaigns are built around a specific business need, target customer segment, and one cohesive brand message or theme. When social media is incorporated into a multichannel campaign, it moves from being an influencer channel to one that amplifies reach and drives conversions. For example, someone who is planning a vacation might conduct a search on Google, read TripAdvisor reviews, read an article on Travel+Leisure, and browse Facebook for content surrounding the destination. Multichannel campaigns allow hoteliers to reach and engage consumers across multiple touchpoints, which increases brand exposure and referral traffic to the website.
9. Create social media exclusive promotions.
A great way to boost followers and drive revenue directly from social media platforms is to create promotions that are exclusive to these channels. For instance, a hotel can create a Facebook custom tab that prompts users to enter their email address to receive a promo code for a Facebook-only special offer. Not only does this drive direct bookings but it also helps build the email marketing list for future promotions. To further increase participation, hotels can include a sweepstakes element and choose one random winner for a free giveaway. Since many social media users interact with discounts and contests on social media platforms, social media exclusive promotions can contribute incremental revenue.
10. Track and optimize your social media efforts on an ongoing basis.
Similar to other digital marketing channels, tracking on social media is important as it allows brands to analyze their efforts and refine their strategy moving forward. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide native analytics which allow brands to track their performance through a variety of metrics. However, hoteliers may access more robust analytics with tools such as Adobe’s Marketing Cloud (Omniture), which can provide exactly how much revenue was generated from each initiative. By tracking the performance of social media efforts, marketers can determine which platforms, content, or targeting work best, and further hone their social media strategy for the future.