Hotels could do much more to create the loyalty of customers through clearly targeted campaigns via social media, according to a panel at the Annual Hotel Conference 2014 in Manchester.
However, the use of social media should be about engagement and loyalty, not about direct selling.
"Shouting into the dark may not generate sales," warned Jo Upward, managing director of digital design company Platform Group, during a session on social media marketing.
Fellow panellist Imran Hussain, editor-in-chief of Hotel Culture, agreed. "I may be cynical, but the hotel that puts out the message ‘Book now and get 75% off your room rate if you book before 30 September' sounds like a desperate attempt to boost sales before the end of the financial quarter," he said.
Upward said the hotel sector can learn from the retail industry, which seems to understand the needs of its customers better. "Clever, well targeted campaigns on social media, like those operated by the fashion brand Urban Outfitters, can create obsessive fans."
The boutique budget brand Citizen M is one hotel group that the panel praised for successfully grasping how to engage with customers in a positive way via social media.
"For the recent opening of its New York hotel, it sent an open letter to Donald Trump, which it published on Twitter, saying that in order to give its guests a good night's sleep, it would like to stuff its pillows with his hair," explained Hussain. "It was a clever way of raising the profile of the property by amusing followers."
Michael Kessler, vice president, sales of online reputation company ReviewPro, also applauded Citizen M for taking the guest experience seriously.
"Through social media, the company shows that it is keen to find out that guests have had a good time before they leave," he said. "If there has been a problem, then it will try to get to the bottom of it."
Upward advised hoteliers to take a more holistic approach to social media, rather than using it as a response mechanism.
"With 50% of Generation Y booking hotels via a mobile device, hotels - whether they are in the budget or luxury sector - need to map the journey through social media to ensure customers are seeing what they want them to see.
"Know your USP and invest in social media as a proper tool in telling your story," she added. "Stock responses are not good enough."
Hussain agreed, saying social media should be used to create a fan base for your business, maybe by highlighting a great piece of lobby art or a random act of kindness.
He said we should no longer be having a conversation about finding the time to use social media, as in today's world social media should be an essential part of a hotel's business.