Best opportunities on the social web for hotels (and others) in 2012 [Part 1 of 3]

Niels Bohr once said: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”

So Tnooz has already done a fantastic job of covering important technology trends in its Predictions 2012 article and this episode of TnoozLIVE.

In this series of articles, I wanted to take a slightly different approach, and instead look back at the technologies I saw making the biggest impact in the hotel industry over the past year – and use this as inspiration for you as we look forward to another year of innovation.

Understanding if a technology is relevant for your audience and effective in your situation is often more valuable than trying to determine whether it’s the next big global trend or not.

Let’s take a look at some of interesting things I saw in travel technology last year, and think if you can put them to work in your situation.

Social networking became more private, with selective content sharing (and consumption) options

It should have always been like this. That holiday photo you want to share with people who attended the party may not be for the world to see.

With different preferences for sharing different aspects of your life with family, friends, coworkers, and clients – social networking needs different levels of privacy.

As Dave Taylor wrote in the Huffington Post:

“As people, we differentiate between our friends, whether we’re youngsters lauding our BFF or whether we’re married, have kids, social, cultural and political groups.

“You know what I’m talking about, it’s the ‘strength’ or ‘depth’ of an interpersonal relationship. It’s complicated, particularly when you realize that it’s not symmetric, either, in that you can view someone as your bestest friend, even while they think of you as a close friend, but not their best pal.”

Tools for sharing pieces of your life with select groups in your social network became increasingly advanced and important last year. In 2011, it looked like social networks finally began realizing your privacy preferences go far beyond private and public.

First, it was Google Plus introducing Circles as a way to share content selectively. Facebook quickly responded with advanced sharing options, and perhaps more importantly for travel companies, the ability to ignore people and brands that are not relevant for you.

This evolution in social networking means people now have more control over the content they see and the messages they receive, making it increasingly important for travel brands to stay interesting and relevant. (Even better, get influential, interesting people to be talking about you online.)

Boring content will become increasingly hidden. If you’re not remarkable, you might as well not even participate.

How do you stay interesting?

Learn from the people behind some of the most interesting, engaging content online today. Marc Schiller, CEO of Bond Strategy and someone who has designed campaigns for everyone from Christina Aguilera to The Economist, said this in an interview with Business Insider:

“As a marketer I focus in on behaviors, not technologies. We really need to look at and adapt to the behaviors of what people do online—how they express themselves, how they create, how they curate. Then, you have to provide value to that. That is the key to success.”

The same is true in the hospitality and travel industries. The curators publishing the most engaging content have their finger on the pulse of what’s new and cool.

Sabine de Witte is a great example of this, connecting with a new generation of travelers that cutting-edge hotel brand CitizenM is reaching out to.

Today’s traveling digerati want more than just information about your company. They want to know about what’s new and cool – and specifically, the people creating this.

“Our readers loved our ‘day in the life’ profile story of a very famous 23-year-old fashion blogger in the Netherlands. People want to hear about more than the superficial: they want to know about other people’s lives.”

According to de Witte, marketers today must live the lifestyle of the people they want to communicate with:

“If you’re living the lifestyle, you’ll know what type of content will connect with your audience, because it connects with you.”

The Roger Smith Hotel is doing something similar in New York with its e-magazine, The Jolly Roger. Suggestions of what to do in New York are provided by not just their marketing team, but by the director of sales, interns, and the general manager.

The result is a glimpse into the real New York by real New Yorkers – and provides a great example of something you could do in your organization.

That leads into the next big thing I’ve seen…

Entire companies became involved in social marketing

This happens when staff expertise is featured to create more interesting social media content.

As mentioned above, the Roger Smith team does a great job at this because they intentionally recruit the right people and them include them in the publishing process.

There are a wide variety of ways to involve your staff in social marketing. It could be as simple as introducing team members – like how the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group highlighted individual staff on its Hong Kong property’s Facebook page:

Or it could be more active, where different staff members participate in producing content. Your concierge team, for example, has a wealth of local knowledge and insider tips that can make compelling digital material – whether this is shared in a blog, on YouTube, through Twitter or on Foursquare.

Mobile photo sharing went mainstream

Design-led companies are beginning to embrace the rapid adoption of mobile-based photo sharing websites such as Instagram – which tap into the hot trifecta of marketing magic today: social/mobile/local.

Hotel groups such as CitizenM and Morgans are sharing not only what’s new and cool in their properties – but artistic shots from around their neighborhoods.

For consumers, these photos often act as a new form of review. People are using these sites to inspire and express their own creativity, so the content is nearly universally positive.

Niche social networks became valuable branding tools

Continuing from the trend above, niche social networks such as Pinterest are proving to be a valuable way to build brands and connect with niche audiences.

By curating cool content, it’s possible to communicate the lifestyle messages that are so important for many brands in the hospitality business. Plus, it’s a powerful way to feel the pulse of what’s trending – and influence some of those trends.

“Think of [our site] as a virtual pinboard,” says the Pinterest team.

Heather Allard explains the opportunity well:

“If you had the opportunity to make your business part of someone’s vision board, would you do it? Pinterest is that vision board. Consider it a visual buffet—a look book—of all the things we crave in life.”

Early adopters such as Gansevoort Hotels have already begun experimenting with image sharing on Pinterest:

Guestsourcing became even more important

The rise of niche social media networks and the dramatic increase in content production and sharing – much of it based on images and videos – leads to another opportunity.

I coined the word guestsourcing in 2009 to describe the trend of hotels using guest-created content in their marketing.

But 2011 was the first year I really saw hotels begin doing this well – often re-purposing content from photo sharing sites for use on other social networks.

InterContinental shared tweeted photos of their hotels on the brand’s Facebook page:

Hotel Indigo does a great job of guestsourcing – using photos that guests have tweeted or uploaded as a Pinterest board:

This concept is very simple, but more people need to be doing it. Just monitor the social web, grab interesting content, and re-post to Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest – or any other site – with credit to the original author.

Individual profiles became more visible (and important) on social networks

In the world where anyone can be a publisher, services that provide some insight into the credibility of that publisher became important.

Leading the way is Klout, which is seeking to become the standard for measuring online influence.

The use of metrics like this became clear to everyone from hotel groups providing service, to public relations agencies identifying people most qualified to spread the word, to marketers looking to build relationships.

Closely related to this trend is the fact that people want more background details on content publishers that will allow them to gather relevant information.

Over the past few years we’ve seen a big shift from the “wisdom of the crowds” to “wisdom of my friends” to “wisdom of my friends with taste”.

This is especially important on consumer-written anonymous review sites: both in understanding our own similarity to the person writing the review to understanding the reviewer’s credibility and history over time. People want experts.

The importance of trust and authenticity is rising quickly. As review sites look for ways to add credibility to their community and content, expect the importance of individual reviewers’ profiles to increase.

In the next article, we’ll examine some more trends in reviews and consumer-created online content – and explore how that affects business.

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Josiah Mackenzie

About the Writer :: Josiah Mackenzie

Josiah Mackenzie is a contributor to tnooz and works as director of business development at ReviewPro to provide hotel executives with customer insights and business intelligence through online reviews and social media analytics.

ReviewPro reporting provides valuable insight for action in the areas of marketing and PR, quality & operations, sales, revenue & distribution.

By moving social media engagement from a marketing tactic to an operational tool, they are changing the way the hospitality industry can use and profit from the social web.



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