Katherine Price reports
Set to be one of London's most ambitious hotel openings of 2017 - with extravagant, theatrical interiors from French designer Jacques Garcia - the £40m L'Oscar will require a carefully orchestrated social media strategy.
Ordinarily, general manager Michael Voigt would have sought the advice of an experienced, and potentially costly, consultancy firm. But having liaised with a group of enthusiastic hospitality students, he was so blown away by their ideas that he is now implementing their social media proposals.
A cutting edge strategy
Voigt had already thought it would be a good idea to get students engaged somehow in the opening of L'Oscar when he visited the Edge Hotel School in Colchester, Essex, where final year students undertake a consultancy project with a hotel. He was paired with students Vivien Schaper, Peter Jackson and Emily Kidson, who suggested they would be ideally placed to come up with a social media strategy to build anticipation in advance of the hotel's launch. "What better people to give me advice on social media than that age bracket which knows most about social media?" explained Voigt. "I know very little about it and they know all about it."
He was impressed by the students' professionalism and communication skills from the outset. In turn, the students were impressed and excited by the hotel concept. "We wanted to get involved, to understand Michael's vision and what he wanted from us, and deliver what he wanted us to deliver," explains Kidson.
The hotel will be influenced both by its structural origins as a Baptist church, and by the history of Holborn. Inspired by the area's cultural, literary and artistic links with society life of the 19th and 20th centuries, the hotel was named L'Oscar after Oscar Wilde. The hotel's character - summed up by its tagline (and Wilde quote) 'Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future,' - will be expressed by Garcia's design, which aims to appeal to guests at the top end of the luxury sector.
At their first meeting at the school, Voigt provided the students with a brief - to produce social media strategy ideas and to look at other luxury brands to produce a detailed competitor analysis.
A central feature of any successful hotel social media campaign is the identification of a target audience. Knowing your audience will inform which digital tools to use, the platforms and media chosen to host messages and the content of the messages themselves.
"Gone are the days where success is measured by simply the amount of likes and retweets a brand achieves," says Emma Putt, a consultant at communications agency APCO Worldwide, which works with Lebua Hotels & Resorts in Thailand.
Zeroing in on the most important individuals in the digital crowd for your hotel - a process known as audience segmentation - will define your strategy's success. Above all, this means understanding your commercial priorities - Twitter and Facebook are free marketing tools, but a digital strategy targeting high net-worth individuals will require more than just a hashtag campaign.
"Once you're clear on who you want to reach, you can select the tools and platforms you'll need for success," adds Putt. "The most successful brands aim to create experiences their target audiences will engage with, without expecting anything in return."
To identify the 'conversations' the audience engages with, hoteliers need to ask: which websites, blogs, apps or streaming services are most popular with international travellers? Within that bracket, which are the most popular with luxury travellers? Which are the most popular with high-end business travellers? And which pages, songs or films do they like?
Illustration by Tim Bradford
The students came up with five objectives to guide their strategy, with the aim of driving sales and repeated engagement to create individual advocates for the brand:
- To investigate social media channels to recommend which would be the most appropriate for L'Oscar
- To research innovative, relevant social media campaigns
- To produce a competitor analysis
- To formulate a strategy for the launch recommending timescales, themes and imagery
- To formulate a blueprint on how to retain social media engagement in the future
After agreeing the objectives with Voigt, the team split the areas according to their strengths and interests, and began their initial research. The whole project took approximately seven weeks, involving two meetings, a hard-hat tour of the hotel, email correspondence and a follow-up presentation of their social media strategy.
The students branded themselves Evolve Consultancy, and began to look at the audience they were targeting. They analysed the profile of Holborn and Camden residents, the age and income brackets in the area, and how that fed into which social media platforms would be most relevant for L'Oscar, as well as identifying the hotel's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. They even came up with 'personas' representing the characteristics of targeted individuals, identifying the age range, careers and motivations of potential guests, outlining which aspects of the hotel they would engage with, and how to sell the hotel to these different characters. A socialite, for instance, would engage with the hotel very differently to a businessperson, or someone who saw staying in the hotel as a treat for a very special occasion.
The students say the hard hat tour and seeing the style of the rooms in particular made it easier to see which brands related to the character of the hotel. "It was important to us to understand the history of the place," Schaper says - the fact that it was a church and that it was inspired by Oscar Wilde were essential pieces of knowledge when it came to understanding the brand.
Targeting the right market
Analysing how different brands use social media, and corresponding that with a user breakdown of different social media in terms of age, gender and characteristics, enabled Evolve to suggest the best platforms for L'Oscar.
Instagram was one platform they identified in particular, because of the endless image opportunities the property can offer. Facebook and Twitter, as more conversational platforms, were identified as opportunities to enable L'Oscar to interact with customers. As well as YouTube, these sites were identified as the most successful among L'Oscar's competitors, not just in terms of followers but in retaining engagement.
Evolve produced a competitor analysis not only on other luxury hotels and competing hotels nearby, but also on other iconic luxury brands like Rolls-Royce, Rolex, Apple and Chanel. They looked at what these brands do on social media in terms of content, followers, engagement, frequency, which platforms they use, and which are most successful and retain the highest engagement.
"They followed the brief exactly," says Voigt, "I didn't only want to look at hotel brands, I wanted the students to think outside the box." Part of his reasoning behind this was his wish to retain a sense of mystery about the hotel. He wanted the group to look at how luxury brands such as Chanel and Hermés are discreet in how they disclose information about their brands, and keep their websites and social media messages simple and uncluttered.
The students ultimately developed a strategy in order to pique interest in the hotel prior to opening that could then be taken forward. They focused on creating a sense of mystery and suspense around the hotel opening, suggesting a month-by-month social media plan including what to post when with suggested imagery that intertwined storytelling with mystery and sex appeal. One of the advantages to their report, says Schaper, is that it is designed by the age group most in tune with social media.
"We understand their mindset, what social media they would be using, and what they would like to see; what we would like to see," she says.
They then presented their findings and ideas to a panel including Voigt and their tutors at the end of the project. "I was blown away by the presentation," says Glyn Adams, a tutor at the Edge Hotel School, "they knew their stuff".
He explains: "They believed in everything they were doing. Michael was so utterly committed to the project and believed in them because they believed in him. Peter, Emily and Vivien have proven they can do this kind of thing to a professional standard."
Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future
Voigt believes the students have possibly produced better results than some of the highly paid consultancy firms he has previously worked with, and is full of praise for them, pledging to become even more involved with hotel schools. Since the project, he has volunteered to be the education officer for the Institute of Hospitality. He is also organising the institute's Student Learning and Development Forum in November, a free event to enable hospitality students to take part in workshops with industry speakers. Schaper, Jackson and Kidson will be attending to present their project as an example of how to engage with a potential employer while studying.
As a result of the students' hard work and professionalism, they and their school have gained a great ambassador in Voigt for hotelier involvement in hotel schools, as well as experience and confidence. Schaper says the fact that Voigt both listened to their ideas and is implementing them really meant a lot to them. "It's been an amazing experience," says Kidson. "We all really enjoyed the project, we learned so much," agrees Jackson.
And it is evident that Voigt has also learned a thing or two along the way about the different social media options available to hoteliers, and has benefited from the addition of fresh, young voices.
"I know these three will not have a problem finding a job because I will always be there to help them to find one if I can't offer them a job myself," says Voigt. "No hesitations - I would happily employ these students."
The Edge Hotel School at Wivenhoe House
The Edge Hotel School
Edge Hotel School students study both the theory of hotel management and work alongside hospitality professionals at Wivenhoe House, a four-AA-star, 40-bedroom country house hotel. Students undergo a two-year intensive BA (Hons) Hotel Management course involving 45 weeks' study with intakes in autumn and spring. The school is based on the University of Essex Colchester Campus in Wivenhoe Park.
The 67-bedroom luxury boutique hotel L'Oscar is a £40m development of an Edwardian baroque building in Holborn, central London, set for an April 2017 opening. It was built in 1903 as the headquarters and congress centre for the Baptist church but fell into disuse in the early 1990s and had been on English Heritage's at Risk Register for 20 years.
Owned by Triangle Hotels and Resorts, a division of investment and asset management group Triangle, the Grade II-listed venue has been designed by French interior designer Jacques Garcia, known for his work in Paris, including the Royal Monceau Raffles Paris, the Hotel Odeon Saint Germain, and in particular the exuberant Hôtel Costes.
The design will hark back to its structural origins, respecting the heritage fabric of the interiors, the Regency-style moulded plaster ceilings, and marble fireplaces with terracotta narrative panels. However, it will take its primary design inspiration from the life of Oscar Wilde. The hotel will also feature bars, restaurants, spa, gym and conference facilities.
Tony Fleming, previously of the D&D London South Place hotel, has come on board as executive chef to create two restaurant concepts at the hotel, including a grill room in the original domed Baptist chapel and a more informal, all-day café with a terrace on Southampton Row. He will also be responsible for two private dining rooms.
How to create an effective hotel social media strategy
- Understand your audience and how to market to them Which social media do they use? Which websites? What are their interests and hobbies? Zero in on individuals and the 'digital conversations' they are taking part in.
- Understand your commercial priorities What is it you want out of social media? Engagement? Followers?
- Know the user profile of each social media platform This will help you identify which platforms would work best for your brand. Would your brand work well on an image-led platform like Instagram or would it do better to build relationships with customers on Twitter?
- Know your competition What do they do on social media, how do they market themselves, and what works for them? What are your strengths and opportunities, and threats and weaknesses in comparison?
- Plan ahead Think about themes and imagery as well as timescale.
- Create experiences Ensure they are the sort your target audience will engage with.