Mobile and social marketing for hotels: more similar than you thought?

Many mobile marketing conversations focus on tactics such as applications and mobile web development, but there are other equally important concepts to consider as you plan a strategy.

Last week I presented on the Tnooz-ITB Academy webinar on how mobile technologies can be valuable tools for hotels, applying the guest-focused philosophy we advocate here at ReviewPro.

Here are some ideas based on what we do and also following on from the webinar.

Sell through service

From the day the first hotel opened, ensuring guest happiness has always been the key to success in hospitality.

Keeping guests happy increases the likelihood that they will keep coming back, tell their friends… and today, tell all of their connections online.

Mobile technologies provide us with some incredible opportunities to build on this approach and sell through service.

Because of this, there are many parallels between the social media and reputation management work we do and mobile technologies.

Last week, I attended the 2012 NYU Hotel Investment Conference. Again and again, guest experience was mentioned there by CEOs and senior hotel executives as the road to success in today’s market.

“Experience” has long been a focus for brand and marketing executives, but now it seems to be a priority for the financiers controlling the purse strings behind those brands.

This matters because mobile technology provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to deliver remarkable travel experiences for guests and customers. The ability to deliver helpful content in the context of where that person is – and what their needs are – is remarkable.

Ask your team how you can design experiences to become more helpful to your customers – and have those delivered through a mobile device.

While there is a wide variety of applications being built by hotel companies today, service is the common theme across the most successful mobile initiatives we see.

The Ritz-Carlton app, for example, goes beyond basic hotel search and helps deliver the Ritz-Carlton experience to any user – even if they’re not on a Ritz-Carlton property.

Company president Herve Humler shares his own personal tips for each property, as does the concierge team. QR codes are used to deliver experience tours on property, such as cultural art tours, and digital city scavenger hunts.

Another site to note is from Loews Hotels – developed by HeBS Digital and a fantastic example of simplicity and usability. They are tapping into location awareness to provide the most relevant information depending on location.

Digital publishing on mobile

Companies with resources to invest in this area have been creating standalone applications to sell through education. For example, IHG experimented with the InterContinental Kitchen Cookbook app for the iPad last year.

Another one that caught my attention this week is Hipstamatic’s new Snap application for the iPad. It’s a free monthly cultural lifestyle magazine featuring photography from Hipstamatic users, along with education on how to create great photos.

By educating their audience, they sell more upgrades for their application.

Could you do something similar? Hotel groups such as citizenM and Four Seasons have already done this with citizenMag and Four Seasons Magazine, respectively.

The reality is that many travel and hospitality organizations already have a magazine in place that could become an effective marketing tool if re-purposed into a digital or mobile format.

Selling where and when guests want to buy

A key part of creating helpful mobile experiences is understanding when and where guests are most likely to buy.

At EyeForTravel’s Travel Distribution Summit in Singapore last month, we heard research indicating that while many guests try to save money while they are in the booking stage of the travel planning process, they are also likely to spend more money once they have arrived on property.

This create unique opportunities for upselling through mobile channels.One of the hotels we work with, the Hotel Bel-Air, recently introduced iPads with an application for ordering room service.

The marketing team was expecting just 50% of room service orders to come to this channel, but found that 75% of their guests preferred to order on the iPads. Because of this, the Bel-Air team plans to extend this service to allow their guests to buy a wider variety of services on property in the future.

The principle behind this works in social media as well – with networks like Foursquare and Twitter enabling brands to be present everywhere a guest is during their trip, and provide service along the way.

Social and mobile come together

The convergence of social and mobile technologies is one of the hottest opportunities in hotel marketing today.

This isn’t news – we’ve heard it over and over again in conferences and articles – but the reality is that the convergence of social and mobile technologies is now creating huge opportunities for marketing professionals today to increase the buzz and conversations about their brand.

A variety of studies indicate that people using social networks on their mobile devices tend to be more active and engaged:

  • Social networking has passed gaming to become the #1 mobile app activity [Flurry]
  • 60% of time spent on the mobile internet is devoted to social networking [Ground Truth]
  • Americans spend more time on Facebook mobile than on its website [May 2012, Comscore]

How do you take advantage of this?

Bridge the online-offline gap

Hotel marketers who make digital publishing the foundation of their program face the need to source lots of great content. A great way to overcome this challenge is to take advantage of mobile devices to bridge the online-offline gap.

Encourage people to share more content and create more stories about their travel experiences. Help them interact with your hotel on that trip, and publish media and content from their phones during their trip.

In the photo above you can see how Bryant Park in New York City did this last winter – I’ve also seen hotels place signs throughout their properties encouraging people to share.

If you’re encouraging your guests and fans to share content, you need a system to pick up on that content and share it with the rest of your online community.

Hotel groups like Corinthia Hotels is collecting photos its guests create and share on Instagram and Twitter and putting them on Facebook, Pinterest, and elsewhere. This is a great way to showcase your fans, expand the visibility of your brand, and most importantly – have guests act as salespeople for your hotel.

Location based services and short-format feedback

Location-based services (LBS) are a perfect example of the convergence of mobile and social technologies.

They provide the ability for users to share where they are – giving indirect “endorsements” on the places they visit.

Additionally, integration with Facebook, Twitter, and other networks is increasing the reach of LBS and creating more social media content, as many of their users cross-post location to their contacts on other social networks.

This is building a wealth of short format feedback – valuable insight from a demographic that may not have the time or desire to write a 3-paragraph article on a review site.

I find it very easy to send out a tweet or check-in on Foursquare to leave a tip for my network there while I’m waiting for something – and I suspect I’m not alone.

The fast growing popularity of LBS and mobile-based social networking combined with time-starved travelers makes short-format feedback likely to be even more important in the months and years ahead.

Using location-based services is also a powerful way to create a curated brand experience. For example, The Ritz-Carlton introduced World Concierge on Foursquare as a way to extend their brand to a mobile audience.

The project was a simple concept: taking internal knowledge and making available it outside four walls of hotels.

The team collected the knowledge and the tips from concierges at each property, and collected it all into central account. The company got the whole team to contribute through close collaboration between the agency, brand, and staff at each property.

There are 76 Ritz-Carlton locations around the world – representing a huge infrastructure of knowledge – so it was just a matter of collecting this and putting it online.

Travelers have two ways to access this information. The first is to follow The Ritz-Carlton on Foursquare, where you can see every new tip that is published.

The other way is through traditional check ins. The program was designed to not be exclusively about The Ritz-Carlton, and you don’t have to be a guest to engage with the brand.

or example, if you are at the Red Square in Moscow, you might see tip or something special about the neighborhood. Promotional messages are not the priority.

Opportunity: Connect whenever, wherever

View mobile as a way to connect with customers whenever and wherever they are. People are bringing their devices with them wherever they go, and this is a huge opportunity to sell through education and by giving people the right information at the right time.

Because of constant connectivity through mobile devices, customers today leave “digital data trails” wherever they go – whether that is through photos, Foursquare check-ins, or mini-reviews on Twitter.

This has huge implications on social media engagement strategy and managing the reputation of your hotel online.

Better listening allows hoteliers today to pick up on the quickly-increasing volume of conversations to more accurately understand their customers and provide better service, ultimately improving guest satisfaction and driving revenue growth.

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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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  1. Hotel Managers Group

    Hotel marketers are always trying to find the best way to get into the heads of travelers who can potentially be guests at their hotels. Up until this point, the use of social media on mobile devices has met with very limited success. There is no doubt that people are using their mobile phones and other electronic devices more than ever, but are ads from hotels really getting people to book rooms? I think there is a long way to go before mobile and social marketing will represent more than a small portion of a hotel’s advertising and marketing budget.

  2. Ole Bo Larsen

    One thing is for sure – consumers are being hammered with social media and mobile opportunities. If
    you do not join the band wagon, you’re left behind. I do agree you need to be smart and style your business according to your means in a business where margins are thight. But, there are tools in the market that cost effective and simple can get you on the wagon and help you within minutes!

    • Robert Gilmour

      Great point. Not only are consumers being battered, the social media gurus tell us they’ve created the new hyperactive hyper connected travel consumer, perhaps invented is a better word, there is so much fantasy lands stuff in the blogsphere.

      Most of my client hotels tell me that customers haven’t changed their booking habits and behaviour one little bit, except for mobile where they’re seeing in partic, many more calls to the hotels. This is great because for hotels, as you say, time and cost are of the absolute essence, social media channels are producing little or no new business, far less catering much for existing, and we haven’t time to wait till Facebook gets its house in order, if it is ever going to become a significant commerce channel for hotel bookings, which frankly i highly doubt. so lets all stop trying to give social media undeserved credit by trying to attach it in every conceivable way to other channels(eg mobile) that ARE successful, that ARE working., quickly and cost effectively in these difficult economic times

      • Joseph Casey

        Haha, Rob, I see that someone burned you on Social Media during your career. Social Media is without a doubt a huge player in the marketing arena if used properly. I’ll be straight forward with you in saying that the most effective marketing is through reference groups. Therefore, it is all about creating enough experience with someone that they will reference you to someone else.

        You’re right when you say that social media is horrible for hotels. However, that is only due to the majority of hotel brands, almost every companies ever, having no clue on how to use it. Want to learn where social media trends start? Go to that disgusting 4chan site, and you will find out where the most powerful new social media trends start. By the way, I am so disgusted by the efforts of some companies trying to be funny. It almost enrages me when I see how corny their jokes can be. Pathetic… just pathetic…

        Social Media, Video Ads, and Customer Service are better put to use if they focus on getting people talking about their experience with your company. That said, when it comes to the hospitality arena there has never been an initiative to “get people talking” about your company outside of their efforts to increase customer service. They don’t want to get their suit coat dirty enough to make use of any advertising, even television ads, because they don’t understand their customers marketing needs at all. Interestingly the majority of the hotel market has no clue what to do for their guest unless it is the same ol’ same ol’, so it hasn’t left any hotel brands behind for that reason. Successful social media always relies on interactivity on a little bit of a controversial level because that piques the humanistic side of where social media reaches it’s prime.

        • Robert Gilmour


          You miss my point entirely. Most hotels (brands and independents) are not big on social media because its very low in their spend priority list, not because they don’t know how to use it properly.

          it doesn’t produce when judged against other marketing activity, we are in a difficult economic time, we can’t afford the luxury or unlimited time and marketing budget you would like us to have.

          I consult to Hilton and IHG in the UK. I know their marketing spend priorities and social media isn’t one of them, very understandably. They need instant, quick results, not something that the jury’s still out on and it may be years before it comes to fruition. Clearly you have not been in an executive meeting with a big brand to know how they assess and prioritise their marketing spend. s always, seeing is believing. Lets all get commercial, and stop wofflling.

          To say hotels don’t know/understand anything about their guests is just abject nonsense.

  3. Robert Gilmour

    Don’t agree with this at all. Again all the social media evangelists want to jump into bed with everything else that actually works.

    Get the social media basics right e.g. reliably measuring ROI for one thing. Social media gurus forget that there is a thing called a budget, and things called priorities (financially). For my hotel clients, social media is very low priority and expensive, with extremely low chance of business success thrown in (if you can actually measure success).

    The jury is lout on social media commercially q.v. the Facebook share price.

    Progressive UK hotels in a recession (yes we still have one here in the UK) are far more concerned than ever right now with channel management, occupancy marketing and yield management and don’t have time to read all this social media stuff. Its a bloggers’ dream, and a business nightmare right now, that’s the reality – as Facebook found when investors had to put a price on it.

    • Anil Varghese

      What has FB share price to do with social media?

      Do hotels need to bother about social media? The answer lies in what I read somewhere…

      “Your brand is already on social media, whether you want it or not. People will talk about your brand on social media, whether you want it or not. ”

      The choice to join the conversation and steer them to favour your brand/conversion lies with the hotel themselves.

      • Robert Gilmour

        Anil, the Facebook share price has everything to do with social media. its a massive thumbs down form the reality (the market) of the worlds’ biggest social media company. When you put a price on something, reality sets in and takes over. up till then, Facebook was all about hype and nothing about commerciality, as the market has found out.

        • Anil Varghese

          Absolutely, the FB share price was to do more with media frenzy and hype than anything else. FB still is the top social media site(before and after IPO) and growing towards a billion users. My point was FB is just one channels out of the multiple others – Linkedin, YouTube, Twitter, Google+. and many more… It’s unfortunate that many consider social media as a ‘sales’ channel – it’s more to do with CRM.


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