By Daniel Edward Craig for ReviewPro
By now most hotels have a Facebook page, but many struggle with how much time to dedicate and what results to expect. Is Facebook a channel for sales, marketing or guest service? In ReviewPro’s most recent webinar, we tackled these questions and more. Here are the highlights from our discussion.
Is Facebook declining in popularity?
First, are rumors true—are people abandoning Facebook in droves? A study by digital agency iStrategy found that U.S. Facebook users declined by 25.3% in the 13-to-17-year-old age category between 2011 and 2014 and by 7.5% among 18-to-24-year-olds. But the study also found that users grew by 32.6% among 24-to-34-year-olds, by 41.4% among 35-to-54-year-olds, and by 80.4% among those 55+.
Does this mean young people are fleeing Facebook as parents rush in? And will parents soon follow? Only time will tell. For now, unless teenagers book the majority of your rooms, with 1.23 billion users worldwide Facebook is more relevant than ever for hotels.
Building Your Fan Base
During the webinar, panelist Alex Houg, vice president of optimization at BlitzMetrics, recommended a three-campaign system on Facebook: build an audience, engage and convert.
When building an audience, it’s quality and not quantity that matters, said Emeric Ernoult, CEO and co-founder of AgoraPulse. “The highest quality fans are those who have visited you,” he said. “They know your property, and they can provide that valuable ‘social proof’ travelers are looking for when deciding where to stay.”
Ernoult said that the best time to recruit these fans is when they are onsite. But it’s not enough to display a sign that says “Like our page”. “What’s the return for the guest?” he asked. Instead, offer incentives for guests to check in or to become a fan such as free Wi-Fi, a cocktail, an appetizer or an upgrade.
Spain-based Palladium Hotel Group knows all about building a fan base. One of its properties, Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel, has attracted over 318,000 fans and 171,000 check-ins in three years, despite having only 450 rooms and being open only a few months each year. How? Through a three-pronged strategy of commerce, guest satisfaction and loyalty, Guille Rodriguez, Palladium’s social media corporate manager, told us.
It helps that on any given day up to 5,000 people come to the hotel’s club to see the world’s best deejays. “That’s thousands of potential ambassadors,” said Rodriguez. “We encourage them to tell their friends and make them jealous.”
Ushuaïa makes it easy by providing ID bracelets that allow guests and visitors to log on to Facebook at kiosks around the property. They also give them access to free photos and videos of themselves for sharing on social networks.
Engaging Your Fans
The real power behind Facebook is its sharing features. People are more influenced by friend activity and advice than by marketing messages, so there’s an incentive to mobilize your fans to help spread the word. The more they like, comment on and share your content, the greater its reach.
But as with fans, not all content is created equal. Citing a survey BlitzMetrics conducted of 2,121 hotels and 114,634 posts on Facebook, Alex Houg said that pictures of food get shared the most, photos of local scenery get liked the most and promotional posts receive low engagement rates.
The data also indicated that different post actions have different values in Facebook’s algorithm. Houg identified the hierarchy from least valuable to most valuable as: likes, comments, shares, check-ins and reviews. “A comment is worth seven times more than a like, and a share is worth 13 more times than a like,” he said.
Ernoult stressed that guests are the most likely to engage with you on Facebook. He recommended holding onsite contests such as asking guests to post a selfie or a photo of the view from their room or to vote for the best local bars and restaurants.
Advertising on Facebook
Recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm have made it increasingly difficult for brands to get their posts seen by fans. This helps to keep news feeds from being cluttered with brand messages, but it has the dual purpose for Facebook of obliging businesses to pay for advertising if they want a guarantee that their posts will appear.
Facebook offers a variety of paid options to help boost engagement and build your fan base. Options include features that finds your guests on Facebook using emails from your property database and that retarget visitors to your website with Facebook ads.
But is advertising on Facebook worth it? Both Ernoult and Houg recommended experimenting with paid options and keeping a close eye on results to determine ROI. “Post content that resonates with your audience, and amplify it with a dollar or two per day so that people see your messages,” said Houg.
Ernoult said that he finds paid features that target friends of fans and “lookalike audiences”—users with profiles similar to your fans—to be most effective. Use Google Analytics’ attribution model to understand the role Facebook plays in the customer decision journey, he said.
Asked if Ushuaïa spends money on Facebook advertising, Rodriguez said the company operates on a very lean budget. “We prefer to spend money on technology improvements and innovation rather than advertising,” he said.
Facebook as a Customer Service Channel
For hotels, probably the most compelling reason for maintaining an active Facebook presence is its increasing popularity as a customer service channel. More travelers are using Facebook to share feedback and make inquiries directly with hotels. Given its public nature and the ease of sharing, this calls for extra vigilance.
For many hotels, Facebook has become an extension of on-property service, a channel for helping guests to plan their stay, for connecting with them onsite and for keeping in touch post-stay—all of which is truly meaningful engagement.
At Ushuaïa, listening, responding promptly and providing solutions are all part of enhancing guest satisfaction. “We learn from our guests. They are the best teachers,” said Rodriguez.
Panelist Tim Towle, co-founder of ReviewPro, demonstrated how ReviewPro’s social media dashboard helps hoteliers monitor mentions across social channels, track your Facebook Index Score and compare performance against competitors.
“Facebook is not a booking channel,” Ernoult told us point-blank. “There’s no harm in having a booking widget, but it’s not likely to help your bookings much.”
That isn’t to say that hotels can’t generate revenue. “We do sell through Facebook,” said Rodriguez of Palladium Hotel Group. “I agree that it’s not a booking engine, but it can help make people more likely to book.”
Palladium generates revenue through special offers and promotions and monitors conversion rates with tracking codes and Google Analytics. They also build loyalty by rewarding fans with exclusive offers. “Make them feel special, and they are more likely to come again,” he said.
Facebook as a Marketing Channel
Probably the greatest impediment to Facebook becoming a sales channel is intent: people go to Facebook to socialize, not to plan trips. That said, the path to purchase is increasingly social, and more consumers are checking out hotel Facebook pages and inquiring with friends before making booking decisions.
And it appears that Facebook is working hard to change this mindset. New features like Graph Search, Nearby Places and Reviews make Facebook more viable as a marketing channel by borrowing elements from Google search, Foursquare local business listings and TripAdvisor reviews and layering in the trust and influence of friends. Who knows what’s next—a Facebook metasearch engine?
Facebook: a Little of Everything
So it seems that a well-managed presence Facebook can be a modest hybrid of all three channels: marketing, guest service, even revenue. The key is to stay disciplined, to make guest satisfaction a priority, and to carefully weigh ROI against tried-and-true marketing channels like your website, search engine marketing and review sites.
For more information, check out ReviewPro’s Facebook for Hotels webinar.