As a marketer who has been heavily involved in social media for the last couple of years, this article on Social Media Optimisation for the Hotel Industry caught my eye this morning.

Before joining the Duxton, I was in charge of marketing for a large IT/web design company based in Saigon, and spent a lot of time discovering various areas of social media and how we could use them for marketing/PR purposes. To tell the truth it wasn’t ideal for a company selling $5-figure software installations, but when I moved to the Duxton, I realised that social media channels would be far more appropriate in a hospitality context. So appropriate in fact, that I’m frequently stunned at how few hoteliers are even aware of the term ‘social media’, let alone actually getting involved!

Anyway, getting back to the article above, here are my thoughts on the seven areas mentioned by the author, and how I’m using them at the Duxton:

1. User-generated content
This is by far the most relevant area to hoteliers. Web 2.0 travel sites such as Tripadvisor and Yahoo! Travel attract millions of visits per day, giving travellers a forum to share advice, experiences and, most importantly for those of us in the business, hotel reviews! This is an area where all our marketing and PR nous counts for nothing – it’s all about how guests experience our product and service.

But whilst we can’t control the conversation (and neither should we try!), we can contribute. Have a look at our Tripadvisor page and see how I respond to reviews, both positive and negative. Critical reviews usually get an apology and explanation, positive reviews get a personal thank-you message from me, and reviews with inaccurate information receive a polite correction. I also visit the Vietnam forum every day and give help and advice when I can. In total this probably takes about 20 minutes of my time each day – a small price to pay in return for interacting with guests, raising awareness of our brand, and positioning the Duxton as a modern, technologically-aware hotel with good local expertise. Such a small price, in fact, that the lack of activity on the part of other hotels is a constant surprise – and disappointment.

2. Blogs
Well, you’re reading this so little further explanation is needed! But here is the rationale behind the Duxton blog. The most important point in Anil’s article is the one about credibility and trust. People are naturally (and often rightly) cynical about brochures, press releases and promotional emails. Blogs effectively ‘break through the fourth wall’ and permit greater honesty and transparency, and customers see this as a more genuine reflection of the organisation’s character than the usual marketing blurb.

3. Online Videos
Another hugely under-used strategy, in the hospitality industry at least. For just a few thousand dollars, hotels can get a professionally made video, even a 360-degree virtual tour, which they can add to their website or post on Youtube, and provide a piece of marketing collateral that is far more immediate and effective than a brochure or a set of still images.

We had this video made in 2007 in conjunction with a Japanese TV channel, and ignoring the rather cheesy music for a moment, it’s been a really useful sales tool, especially for customers overseas who aren’t able to come to Vietnam for a site inspection.

4. Personal Social Networks
In our case, the hugely popular Facebook. One of the first things I did when I joined the Duxton was to create a Duxton Facebook group, making us the first (and still the only) hotel in Saigon to have one. Why? Well, Facebook has a large, active Ho Chi Minh City group that has proven to be very useful for local bars and restaurants to announce events and promotions, and in a city with poor local media and only one decent what’s-on magazine (The Word), a real-time promotional channel was long overdue.

We use Facebook to promote F&B promotions, parties, special offers, anything that we feel is worth shouting about. Does it work? In direct $$$ terms it has so far had little impact, but in terms of raising brand awareness and positioning ourselves as a modern, net-savvy business, then the answer has to be yes!

5. Photo-Sharing
Customers/partners, particularly tour operators, travel agents, press and third-party websites, frequently ask us for hotel images. When I joined the Duxton we were providing them the old-fashioned way – on a CD-ROM, via a login on our website, or by email. All pretty unwieldy, overly complex methods, especially email, which doesn’t permit the sending of large, hi-res images.

The solution? A hosted photo-sharing site, in our case Google’s excellent, free Picasa application. Whenever we commission new shots of the hotel, we can have them uploaded before the photographer has even left the building, so that people who need them for their brochures, articles or websites can download them, and my sales staff can send the link to potential and existing customers. No more CD-ROMs, logins or huge email attachments!

6. Social Bookmarking
7. Articles & Online PR

I’ve put these two together as they are both part of the hotel’s PR strategy. Each month we send out various press releases on any topic we feel like shouting about – F&B promotions, new appointments, hotel awards etc.

But rather than just sending them out to our press contacts, I also add them to our website, submit them to PR websites, and post them on popular social bookmarking sites like Digg and Cyvee. The benefits of this strategy are numerous, and include increased web traffic, a resource of articles for use in email newsletters, brand awareness, and search engine ranking.

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As Anil says at the end of his article, “We have experimented with all of the strategies described in this article and have found significant increases in the hotel’s search engine rankings as well as online revenue.  Social media channels may not result in direct increases in revenue from the channels, but indirectly do cause the hotel’s website to generate additional revenue. “  And that’s the whole point of working in social media – it costs next to nothing, but has a considerable ROI in terms of branding, perception and, further down the line, revenue.

It’s not our primary strategy – hospitality is still about old-fashioned jobs such as working the phones, pressing the flesh and meeting real people rather than Second Life avatars, and to an extent it always will be – but it’s a valuable part of our marketing mix and, in a field where none of our competitors are active, it gets us noticed!

Just to let you know we now have an online photo album at Picasa, so if you need pics of our hotel for your brochure or website, or you just want to have a peek around the hotel, go to our web album now!