A recurring concern that I hear from innkeepers is how to understand all the different online marketing opportunities, and how they can be used profitably.
Though the conversation often starts with Facebook or Twitter, it also encompasses other social sites such as MySpace, Plurk, and many other communities. It also includes YouTube, Vimeo, and other video sites, WordPress, Blogger and other blogging sites, delicious, StumbleUpon and other bookmarking sites. The list can go on and on.
How does all this fit with your website, your directory listings, and all the other ways that vendors to the industry have come up with to separate you from your marketing dollars?
Like an optical illusion, using these tools can give the appearance that you are doing something productive, while they may just be taking up time (and possibly money, as well).
Is the Answer a Social Media Strategy?
There are many knowledgeable people who have written excellent articles saying that, before you plunge into the Social Media world you should develop a Social Media strategy.
Sometimes it sounds like these social media plans and marketing plans are only for large organizations. However, whether you take time to formalize the plan, or whether you shoot from the hip, you DO have an approach to marketing and to social media that we could call a strategy. So we agree and we also disagree with creating a social media strategy. We do agree that you should develop a social media strategy, but that will never help you make sense of all the different moving parts, and will not help you to see how social media fits into the big picture of marketing your business.
If one of your objectives in engaging in social media is to promote awareness of your property (and we suggest that this should be the case), then it is important that you see how social media fits (if at all) in with your overall marketing strategy. You do have a marketing strategy, don’t you? Good!
The Bigger Picture
For most small lodging properties, the marketing approach is similar:
- Create awareness of your property
- Generate reservations
- Educate potential guests
- Provide responses to specific questions or concerns
You may phrase them differently, and perhaps you would add something we’ve missed, but for most of us, that covers the main objectives.
We try to accomplish these objectives with
- Print advertising
- Web site
- Online paid advertising (directories, pay per click, banners, etc.)
- Any non-paid advertising such as being mentioned in a travel article, or the like
Where do the newer avenues, like social media marketing fit in? What should the priorities be for social media? Which ones should you choose, and how much time should you devote to them? Should you hire someone to blog/tweet/post for you?
Order From Chaos
The first step in making sense of all the different avenues is to place things in categories. We’ll deal only with the online portion, so we won’t comment on your print advertising at this time. Broadly speaking, your online presence falls into
- Web site
- Paid advertising
- Social media
For your web site, we’ll consider only the primary site, not your blog — even if it is actually a part of your web site. We also include any search engine optimization (SEO) you do, as well as local listings (listings on Yahoo Local, Google Local Business Listings, or Bing’s Local Business Center).
Paid advertising includes paid listings on lodging directories, pay per click (PPC) ads, or any other form of online paid advertising.
Sample table of online marketing networks and purposes
The list for social media is lengthy. For many of the most used sites, divided into categories, visit KnowEm. The most commonly used for lodging properties are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, TripAdvisor, Flickr, Panoramio, and a few others. Next, create a chart of the various media you use (or are considering), with the type and specific network on one axis, and the marketing objective on the other. We’ve created a sample chart (click on the image to bring up a full-size version).
Mark the purpose opposite each medium and see how well you are accomplishing your objectives.
Bear in mind that there will be some duplication and overlap. For example, your website or your blog may serve almost the same purposes as your Facebook fan page. That doesn’t always mean you should eliminate one of them.
Consider, first, whether there are any objectives that you are currently failing to achieve with your online marketing avenues. If so, see what you can do to overcome that deficiency. Next, see where your guests and potential guests congregate. These are places you must have a presence, even if it duplicates something else you are doing. Remember, you must go where your guests are – in an online world you can’t always expect them to find you!
Finally, if you see a genuine duplication, where the objective is the same, the ability to achieve it is the same, and there is no difference in the audience you can reach, consider whether you are expending unnecessary time or money to maintain that medium.
Validate Your Success
In order to be sure you are actually accomplishing your objectives, you must be able to quantify the results. A discussion of measuring the effectiveness of these avenues is beyond the scope of this post, but we will discuss it in more detail in a future post. For now, if you are using any form of statistics or tracking software, you must use it to validate that these efforts are performing adequately.