The Maine Innkeepers Association Educational Seminar for April, 2011, was held on April, 28, 2011, and the subject was Social Media – Beyond the Basics. We gave a brief presentation on Facebook: Beyond the Basics, emphasizing engagement and mentioning, to a lesser extent, optimization and measurement. Here is the video (transcript below):

Transcript:

Hello, this is Scott from AboutTheInn.com. This is a short presentation from on using Facebook, that’s beyond the basics from an event on Social Media put on by the Maine Innkeepers Association that was held on April 27, 2011.

So as we move beyond the basics of Facebook, we’ll be focusing on three areas. The areas will be engagement, to some extent optimization and measurement of the progress, but primarily we’ll be focusing on engagement. We’ll do mostly Facebook, a little bit on Twitter, and to some extent these things all apply to LinkedIn. They also apply to other things where you may find your customers, but most of the principles are uniform – there are some differences and we’ll talk about those as we go along.

So first of all we need to consider just what the goal is. Often times we get absorbed in Facebook or Twitter, or whatever your platform of choice may be, and we think about how we’re going to do it, and how we’re going to find time to do it all, and we really don’t think about what we’re really trying to accomplish. So much as I hate the terminology ‘heads in beds’, that is the bottom line, because when we sell rooms, for lodging properties, that’s how we pay the bills, no matter how we want to characterize it. So we need to consider whether or not we have a plan, and the plan should include engaging guests and then some measurable objectives, as well.

So as we consider those things, the first thing to consider is “Where are our guests?” We know that by sheer numbers, they’re on Facebook, they’re on Twitter, they may be following our Blog, they may be on LinkedIn, they may be on a number of others, including FourSquare, Orcut, Gowalla, or any of a number of others. Certainly you need to focus on any networks where the majority of your guests can be found, and if there are other networks where you think there are a significant number of potential guests, then certainly you need to be present there, as well.

So remember that what we’re really trying to do is to create relationships. You’re trying to use social media to make friends for your lodging property. We’re not talking about just selling, or the hard sell, but we’re looking at creating relationships in the places where the guests are.

The first step, from a Facebook point of view, is to create engagement through your custom welcome page. You can create a custom welcome page – one that is very attractive – usually modeled on your web site, and with attractive graphics and text that draws the user in, and also, as in the example here, you can offer specials and extras for those who ‘Like’ you – things that are not available to everyone. This builds a relationship and makes the user feel that they have an opportunity for something special.

Next add photos and videos – things that tell a story. We had an interesting thing happen at a recent innkeeping show, where one of the keynote speakers mentioned that he was going to use one of our posts as an illustration of telling a story. In this case it was in less than 140 characters. We were in the habit of tweeting our breakfast menu. People liked it, and when we stopped doing it, they got in touch and asked, “What’s for breakfast?” One day we had a young couple get engaged at the inn, so at breakfast we tweeted that the “Cute young couple got engaged last night” and what they were having for breakfast. Story told. People were engaged with it, and passed that tweet around more widely than would have otherwise happened.

Another way to do it is to ask questions. Now, in Twitter you can ask questions and sometimes you get no response other than the echo of your own voice. In Facebook you can ask questions, in the conventional sense, but you also have the ability to use a Facebook Question, which allows you to create a multiple choice question, and you can limit the responses to those you define, or you can allow others to suggest new answers. We’ve done a number of things with this. Sometimes we’re earnestly trying to get feedback from our guests, which is certainly a good thing. For example, we asked them if they preferred sweet dishes for breakfast or savory dishes, and we got some interesting information from that. We also asked them what kind of sweet dishes they like: pancakes or waffles or more involved things, or just what they like. We allowed them to add their own choices and we saw answers that included things we hadn’t even considered. You learn a lot of interesting things by asking questions.

Another thing you can do to create some interaction is to feed your blog to your page, because a lot of your Facebook followers are not necessarily following your blog – unless you feed it to the Facebook page, and Facebook, as a page, is like a big, hungry animal, just waiting to be served. So post your blog to your Facebook group so they can all keep up with your news. And, to encourage interaction, even in your blog you may choose to ask questions or try to get feedback directly, there.

You can also offer specials just to Facebook followers, as was alluded to when we discussed the custom welcome page. You can also sell gift certificates directly from your Facebook page, there is an application that will allow you to do that, or you can create an application, depending on your booking engine, to allow bookings directly from your Facebook page.

From the point of view of optimization, you definitely want to optimize your Facebook page, both your profile information and the business description information available to you. Facebook is its own search engine, so you want to use terminology that your guest or potential guests will be using as they try to find lodging in your area. So just as you would do this on a web page, you not only want to create your vanity URL, but you also want to think of profile attributes as something people might search on.

You’ll also want to be create when you select the name of your page. Think about branded names, like the name of your property, but also non-branded or descriptive names. For a hardware related page, called “Black & Decker”, and that would be interesting if you’re into tools, but a site called “Women with Tools” might get more attention.

Similarly, Siteman Cancer Center started with only a couple of hundred fans, and is now up to a couple of thousand, but compare that to the page “Cancer Sucks”, with 48,000 fans and lots of engagement. Both are basically information and support pages, but there is a big difference. That isn’t a recommendation that you copy this approach, but that you consider the concept of an edgy name that people can identify with. Something to think about.

Be non-commercial in your commercial approach. What I mean is, don’t just try to sell things. It’s been said many times, and I certainly wholeheartedly agree, that, in many ways, social media is like a cocktail party, or a conversation among friends. You carry on a conversation, you don’t just try to sell stuff. You know perfectly well that if you go to a party and you meet, to pick on an industry, an insurance salesman, and his entire conversation at the party is to try to get you to make an appointment or to buy insurance, you aren’t going to enjoy his company unless you desperately need insurance. But if that same salesman makes witty, interesting conversation, perhaps even giving you some helpful information, you may end up making that appointment. That’s the point of view that most people expect in the social media world, so it becomes an important thing.

So think of things to talk about that appeal to large segments of people. In our industry you might say, I need a vacation – well, who doesn’t? Or maybe it’s coffee… Whatever, but keep it on topic. Remember, our focus is heads in beds, but by building relationships. Now there’s nothing wrong with the occasional personal reflection, story or comment, if you’ve established your credibility by being a helpful, knowledgeable, source. People find that interesting and genuine. The problem comes when you show that you aren’t able to separate your personal “persona” from your business accounts. People don’t want to follow you.

Measure your results. In the Facebook world this isn’t just a “check your Google Analytics” comment. In Facebook there is a thing called Facebook Insights. To get to it, go to “Edit Page” and in the left column, click on Insights. There you’ll see Users and a summary and graph and Interactions and another summary and graph. Both also provide more details, and you can view the latest day, week, month, etc. This gives you a good idea of how much you are engaging people, and which posts were the most effective to encourage interaction.

Thanks for listening. I hope you find this useful, and that you’ll continue encouraging engagement among your social networks.

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