The incredible rise in popularity of social media over the past decade has been one of the biggest stories in technology this century. The numbers are breathtaking, with over 500 million active users worldwide on Facebook, while more than 170 million tweets are sent from Twitter daily across the globe.
For hospitality operators looking to promote their products and services, these people represent a large captive audience. However, in this brave new world, many of the normal rules of marketing have been tweaked.
According to Daniel Tyte, a director at Working Word, a communications firm that has advised hospitality companies on social media strategies, businesses can no longer rely on traditional broadcast advertising in this rapidly evolving online space. "They must be prepared to enter into a conversation with their users and fans," he says. "It must be a two-way thing where companies are prepared to listen and not just talk."
While, in a lot of ways, this is an exciting development, offering companies who get it right the opportunity to get close to potential customers, it also carries its risks. Get the tone wrong, neglect to keep your sites fresh and up to date, or take too much of an informal approach and have inconsistent messaging across your various social media "touch points", and you risk damaging your brand, says James Leavesley, co-founder of social media management company CrowdControlHQ.
friday's facebook fans
TGI Friday's launched its Facebook page in July 2010 and has introduced a number of initiatives to offer added value to fans. Ultimate Fans - as Friday's has named its most active fans - are given vouchers to try new menu items and are invited as VIP guests to Friday's special events.
In addition, Facebook was used to introduce an innovative "Cocktail Genius" app, which allows fans to enter personality traits of their friends to discover the perfect cocktail match from Friday's extensive list.
"The key has been making our fans feel special and being attentive to their questions and requests," says Alison Dilley, TGI Friday's UK marketing manager. "This in turn creates a page fans genuinely enjoy visiting and increases positive sentiment and engagement towards the brand, which was our ultimate goal." www.facebook.com/TGIFridays](http://www.facebook.com/TGIFridays)
be proactive, innovate and resource accordingly
Clara Saffer, sales and marketing director, K West hotel & Spa
If you are serious about making a real impact through your social media marketing, then you must be proactive, innovative and put adequate resources behind the venture. At K West we have a very forward-thinking mentality and are proud to say we were the first hotel in London to employ an online marketing executive.
Over the past 18 months, they have developed a series of platforms to maximise interaction with our guests including website, eâ'mail marketing and social media. But it's not enough to simply set up Facebook and Twitter pages and think you have a social media strategy. If you don't devote time to networking with your fan base, plus continually strive to create a fresh buzz about your sites, they will soon look tired and stagnant - exactly what you don't want.
Our online marketing executive dedicates at least half his time to developing our social media relations. We aim to post a reply to everyone who leaves a comment, while our Twitter and Facebook pages are constantly refreshed with information about promotions, links to good reviews and events going on near the hotel. As a result, we now have a thriving Facebook page with more than 1,000 "likes".
Another key area is feedback from user-generated content websites, like TripAdvisor and blogs. Our general manager strongly believes in creating a transparent online feedback system so all good and bad reviews are read. We get back to customers who may not be wholly satisfied with their experience and use the information internally to constantly improve our product and service. [www.k-west.co.uk](http://www.k-west.co.uk)
five tips on getting the most from your social media marketing
1. Have a plan, so you have adequate resources to answer queries and a number of creative ideas that will create a buzz around your sites.
2. Understand what your competitors are doing. Then, decide if you want to copy, improve or go in a different direction.
3. Make sure your tone is right. If you are targeting young people write in a conversational style. Don't broadcast your message.
4. Know the risks. Your brand can also be damaged by managing your social media marketing poorly or leaving the office junior to handle all enquiries.
5. Ensure you track and evaluate what is being said about you by using the growing number of social search tools.
technology that will aid your social media presence
There are a growing number of social media search and analysis tools available that aggregate user-generated content from across the internet into a single stream of information.
Dip your toe in by trying Social Mention, free software that allows you to track what people are saying about you, your company, a new product, or any topic across the web's social media landscape in real-time.
Social Mention monitors more than 100 social media properties directly, including Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg and Google. You can also set it up to receive free daily eâ'mail alerts of your brand and marketing campaign. [www.socialmention.com](http://www.socialmention.com)
Crowd Control HQ
With so many social media sites and a lot of people within an organisation keen to get involved, ensuring a consistent marketing message is put out in line with other activities can be problematic.
Enter CrowdControlHQ, a web-based social media management platform that has been used by bar and nightclub group Luminar to manage its social media strategy across its various brands.
The software helps, among other things, co-ordinate social media activity throughout an organisation, plan and execute social media strategies from one central location and manage user access to company sites. [www.crowdcontrolhq.com
stephensons' facebook store
Catering equipment supplier Stephensons has taken social media marketing to its ultimate conclusion to become one of the first companies within the food service industry to launch its own Facebook store, allowing its customers to purchase products directly from the site (www.facebook.com/cateringequipmentsuppliers).
The social networking shop has been established to support new product releases, enabling customers to browse through and order the latest equipment as soon as it becomes available.
Marketing director Henry Stephenson explains: "Following the success of our eâ'commerce website we believe that social networking sites offer great retail potential. The Facebook store will provide our customers with an easily accessible buying platform featuring our ‘just-in' products."
maldron's cardiff twitter craic
Opening this month, the 216-bedroom Maldron hotel Cardiff employed agency Working Word to launch a Twitter campaign designed to give visitors an insider's view of Cardiff but also introduce the property to the local market.
Through Twitter they contacted people from Cardiff and received a hundred suggestions of places to visit and things to do, many of which only a local would know about. A walking route around the city has been devised, taking in many of these suggestions and has been named the Cardiff Craic, after the fact the Maldron is an Irish chain. www.maldronhotels.com/hotel-cardiff-U