By Dean Minett
Have you ever had the experience of complimenting yourself in front of others? How about the experience of being complimented by someone else? Do the two experiences compare? Of course not. One is worth far more than the other.
For example, we all know that happy guests are the most effective ambassadors for your hotel brand. As online reviews became more influential in the booking process, hospitality professionals have learned that curating a fantastic experience for every guest has far-reaching effects. This understanding grows deeper all the time because every detail and every interaction matters.
But is it really accurate to say that every guest has an equal impact on a hotel’s reputation? From a philosophical point of view, yes, all guests should be treated equally – but we should also consider the realities of social media. Like it or not, there are people on every channel who are rightly known as influencers. And if social media is ground zero for hotel brand awareness in the 21st century, it stands to reason that influencers would be actively sought as brand ambassadors.
Did you know that Instagram currently has around one billion active users, with higher rates of engagement than Facebook? Instagram stars have emerged with huge followings. It doesn’t take a marketing degree to realise that such people could be powerful allies in building or strengthening a brand.
So how does a hotel, whether a global chain or a local boutique, get in on the action? What’s the best way to actively engage Instagram users, build brand awareness, and ultimately attract more bookings? And don’t forget there are two sides to this social media coin – actively seeking influencers to work with, and responding to those who approach you direct.
This article will cover the active approach, while the next one will look at the best way to respond to an influencer approaching you and how to ensure it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement anchored in results.
So, back to an active approach. As a first step, you can simply approach influencers with a proposition. Searching popular hash tags or directories can land you lists of big Instagram names, and the platform’s direct message feature allows you to say hello privately. A free or discounted stay, or even financial compensation, can be offered in exchange for Instagram posts. Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently formed partnerships with five Instagram users, who agreed to post photos during a complimentary stay in Paris. They even used tiny URLs to facilitate bookings directly through the Instagram posts. It’s a classic case of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
But how do you know your back will be duly scratched? Informal agreements are viable in many cases, but if you’re putting up real compensation for an Instagram star, there are media agencies (e.g. Laundry Service in London and the USA) who broker such deals and make sure each party gets what they want.
Powerful social media users have been making money for a long time, and none of this is any surprise. Instagram is a unique opportunity, however, because it forces hotels to think differently about engagement in the virtual world. An image or visual story that looks spontaneous and personal is worth far more on this channel (and perhaps in general) than blatant promotion. A subtle strategy is called for – one that highlights the best of your hotel in a natural way. Smart handwritten captions over your images, for example, can be very effective. Find out what other hotels are doing on that’s working. Adapt the best ideas and add your own. Not only are their guides for cultivating a vibrant Instagram account, there are guides for Instagram marketing for hotels.
Is it quite necessary to join the party? Perhaps not – but you don’t have to hire a social media influencer or make regular Instagram posts in order to get a positive or negative response from this channel. A well-placed piece of artwork, or an artisan coffee from the bar, can have far-reaching effects….and so can a silly mistake or tacky amenity. Instagram is an opportunity for guests to be delighted or disappointed – and hoteliers should not make visual promises that can’t be delivered.
We should, however, treat every guest like an influencer. We should seek to be complimented by others, in a natural context, instead of complimenting ourselves. This mindset can drive our industry toward more refined guest experience.