Instagram is fast and free marketing that communicates your brand in seconds, so hoteliers must ensure that each picture posted really does say a thousand words. Katherine Price looks at how to do the big picture
It has about 700 million monthly users and engagement rates that are 70% higher than Facebook and 669% higher than Twitter. It’s one of the fastest-growing social media platforms – and it’s how your customers research and plan their holidays.
But how do you ensure your Instagram posts are selling your hotel? Whether it’s tone of voice or imagery, everything about your Instagram account needs to align with your brand – and that can vary wildly from hotel to hotel.
“It’s a very public forum, so it’s important that we get it right,” says Paula Fitzherbert, group director of public relations of the Maybourne Hotel Group, which incorporates Claridge’s, the Connaught and the Berkeley in London. “It provides a whole new marketing campaign for hotels and it’s a huge resource.”
Make pictures the priority
Instagram, of course, starts with pictures. The Rosewood London hotel has New York-based agency Spherical in charge of its community management and social media, and the agency visits the hotel a few times a year to photograph the property. Since taking on the agency last November, the hotel’s account has garnered an additional 10,000 followers, says director of communications Marie Le Vavasseur. The team has also started investing £300 per month on social media advertising and has started using Instagram Stories, which allow users to share photos that disappear after 24 hours.
The Ned in London has a carefully curated feed of professional images and beautifully shot videos that has earned it more than 38,000 followers in just nine months. Social media and marketing manager Laura Dickinson says video content receives the highest levels of engagement, with many garnering about 10,000 views each. Ahead of the hotel’s opening, Instagram was used to build excitement with ‘behind the scenes’ pictures and short videos, providing a look behind the building’s iconic doorways.
Now the hotel is open, Dickinson is focusing more on Instagram Stories to market events in real-time. “It’s a great way for our followers to feel like a part of what’s happening at the Ned, even when they’re not there,” she says.
Many hotel marketing departments, including Claridge’s, Rosewood and Hotel Café Royal, have created WhatsApp groups for staff, to supply them with images. Eliot Sandiford, director of public relations at Hotel Café Royal, says: “The photos don’t go through a long process of different approval levels, because that stifles them. What we don’t want is a hugely rigid, uniform strategy.”
There are always the classic Instagram images – avocado and eggs, breakfast in bed, flowers and cakes – but it’s the unexpected, quirky, individual details that really stand out. Pictures of Hotel Café Royal’s rainbow croissants went viral after Sandiford spotted their Instagram potential – executive pastry chef Sarah Barber hadn’t even intended to serve them. And a shot of a 45ft ballerina sculpture by Jeff Koons outside the Rockefeller Center in New York on the Claridge’s account received nearly 9,000 likes because it was something that people hadn’t already seen a hundred times.
Claridge’s also posts or re-grams pictures of London using the hashtag #placeswelove. “We love to promote our neighbourhood and our local community,” says Fitzherbert.
Creating Instagram moments
While it’s paramount to get the images on your own feed right, the pictures other people take of your hotel are just as important. Exclusive Hotels has one group Instagram account encompassing its four properties, to encourage visitors to look at all its hotels. The group focuses on creating ‘Instagram moments’ – deliberate opportunities for guests to take photos and Instagram them. In the past 18 months, the hotel has posted 87 photos and the hotel’s account gained 810 followers.
“People trust their friends more than they trust corporate accounts,” says Exclusive managing director Danny Pecorelli. “It’s more powerful when people are doing it about you. If you push too many offers, people get bored.”
The group is already thinking about what the Instagram moments will be at the spa under construction at South Lodge hotel in Lower Beeding, West Sussex. And at Lainston House in Winchester, the Season Cookery School name, logo and Twitter handle are positioned behind the chef demonstration table, offering both an interesting stage for photographs and subtle promotion for the school.
But it’s often the smaller, more unexpected details that become the most Instagrammed feature of a hotel, such as the huge gin glasses at the Manor House hotel near Chippenham, or the horse statue and ‘Yin and Yang’ double bathtub at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, Surrey. Although it can be harder to quantify how much revenue Instagram is driving, Pecorelli says that when The Only Way is Essex reality TV star Megan McKenna posted a photo of herself in the Yin and Yang tub on social media last year, the phones were ringing the next day with people wanting to book the suite.
“A bottle of Champagne, flowers and fruit are always gorgeous and everyone loves that, but we try to create more of a wow moment,” says Fitzherbert. For example, the hotels will often monogram guests’ dressing gowns or leave biscuits in the shape of a dress, a high-heeled shoe or a handbag from the Berkeley’s Prêt-à-Portea afternoon tea in their rooms – and it’s important to engage with guests when they photograph these things, too.
The team at Rosewood London spends up to two hours a day liking and responding to every picture of the hotel. The team aims to respond to every message, including negative comments, within two hours, and it even organises restaurant bookings through Instagram.
And Instagram can have an enduring effect offline. The Hilton Cleveland Downtown in Ohio in the US, for example, asked locals to send in selfies featuring Cleveland landmarks, which it then used to create a huge mural depicting the city’s skyline. The mural is now on display in the hotel and is still popular with the locals, who pop in to spot their own photos and often end up staying for a cocktail or dinner.
Influencing the influencers
One problematic aspect of community management has been engagement with bloggers and influencers. One post on the Instagram account of someone with a large and engaged following can help build brand awareness and even drive business. But who do you trust?
Sandiford says he will respond positively to those who have a professional-looking blog with a significant following who have made the effort to find his email address and approach him with a well-written pitch.
The hotels The Caterer spoke to emphasised the necessity of choosing an influencer that reflects your brand values and ensuring everyone is clear about what is expected. And look carefully at the person’s Instagram images – are you happy with their style of photography and the type of pictures they take?
London-based blogger Camille Kenny-Ryder, aka Thoroughly Modern Milly, started her lifestyle blog eight years ago. She has nearly 15,000 followers and 70,000 unique users per month visiting her blog – a number that rockets to 120,000-150,000 unique views a week on Instagram. She stays in hotels approximately once a week, and most of the time the hotel will approach her with an offer of a room. She clarifies which posts are paid for by putting #ad on an Instagram post or ‘sponsored’ at the end of a blog, and will charge about £300 for an Instagram post.
She advises hotels to do their research, so they know what to expect from an influencer. For example, she doesn’t tend to agree on a set number of photos, and points out that to suddenly start posting 10 photos a day to an account that does not post often could lose a hotel followers. She adds: “If you have come to me and you have asked me to do it, you have to trust that I will do what I believe is best for your hotel.”
How one hotel solved its influencer issue
The Melita hotel, a 20-bedroom, three-star hotel in London, started exploring digital word of mouth marketing, but found managing the requests of bloggers and influencers too much, says general manager Alan Johnson.
The hotel hired digital entrepreneur David Gabriele to come up with a solution, and he created online platform Swayy, to help hotels find professional influencers to visit their hotels. Hotels pay from £99.99 to upload an ‘advert’, and influencers can ‘apply’ to the advert.
Costs for images range from less than 1p to £3 per 1,000 followers, depending on the size of the influencer’s reach. Videos and ‘Boomerangs’ (which stitch together a burst of photos into a mini video that plays forwards and backwards) start at £103 and £31, respectively. The site now has 27 hotel clients in the UK, the US and Europe, including Cheval Residences, Hyatt and Corinthia Hotels, and “thousands” of influencers on its books. The influencers are not paid until the hotel confirms it is happy with their images and content, and influencers are also vetted before they can join the site.
“It puts it on a professional footing,” says Gabriele. “The expectations are set by the hotel, so there’s no ambiguity and it saves time and costs.”
Johnson says the hotel generated more than £3,000 in direct bookings in May from using influencers, tracking where website visitors were coming from and offering booking codes. He says he has seen a 6.3x return on a pound-for-pound basis spent with Swayy and says he will be doubling its budget with the company next year.
The power of pets
Hotels are clocking on to the Instagram potential of a much-loved puss or pooch. The Dakota Deluxe hotels in Glasgow and Leeds both have their own dogs made of rope in the reception – Roper and Fetcher – which are much-Instagrammed features, and the Rosewood London has its golden retriever, Pearl, who has her own Instagram account (@pearlofrosewoodlondon) with 3,000 followers. The property markets itself as a luxury, pet-friendly hotel and provides beds, treats and toys for animals, and uses Pearl’s account to show pet-friendly places to go.
How to take the perfect shot
- Think about lighting – if you can, take your photographs in daylight, near windows, and with a decent backdrop.
- Don’t photograph what everyone else does – think about your hotel’s unique details.
- Use the best camera you have available.
- Ensure all lines are straight, whether that’s a horizon, the edge of a table or a building.
- Don’t just post any photo on Instagram – cultivate your feed so you are showing your best photos.
- Photos with people in them can help your followers and guests relate to the experience they have had or will have.
- Keep an eye out for potential Instagram shots and bank them for later use.
Who posts the most?
- @the_berkeley 1,145 posts, 35,600 followers, 1,186 following
- @claridgeshotel 2,008 posts, 131,000 followers, 3,529 following
- @theconnaught: 1,482 posts, 42,800 followers, 1,280 following
- @dakotahotelsuk 646 posts, 2,982 followers, 200 following
- @exclusive_uk 87 posts, 810 followers, 65 following
- @hotelcaferoyal 1,459 posts, 24,600 followers, 1,839 following
- @themelitalondon 485 posts, 18,200 followers, 1 following
- @thenedlondon 88 posts, 38,200 followers, 177 following