Search engine optimisation expert Chris Angus tells hoteliers why they should embrace social media...
Given that the travel industry has gone through a series of significant changes in recent decades, the communication of messages has rarely been more important.
Consumers are increasingly informed, and want to build relationships with the organisations they buy travel services from, rather than just making bookings.
Travel has always been one of the most talked-about subjects online. Now social media websites have become essential tools for building the brand and reputation of an organisation.
Used well, these websites have the potential to boost business by generating hundreds of extra room nights. You only have to look at the statistics to see their importance.
Facebook alone has 400 million active users, half of whom visit the site daily. How many of these users can be reached through traditional advertising channels?
It is a common misconception that social media is just for young people. Most Facebookers are not university students, and more than half of YouTube users are over 25.
At the same time, blogging has become just as crucial, since guest loyalty and word of mouth referrals have never been more valuable. Research has shown people trust blogs more than information from some other sources, and blogs can be a great way of spreading hotel recommendations and the like. Some 175,000 new blogs are created each day.
Perhaps more than other industries, travel relies on word of mouth. Using social media develops online customer advocates who can dramatically affect how your business is perceived, boost referrals, and create new business. You only have to realise that most visitors to Facebook have 120 ëfriendsí to get an idea of how it works.
Social media platforms spread awareness of products, can announce the launch of new products, provide customer support, answer customer queries and receive customer feedback. Sites such as Twitter can also update customers on fresh promotional campaigns and events and let customers really engage with their brand on a level never seen before.
Social media allows businesses to spread industry knowledge and transmit time-sensitive information. The recent ban on flying because of the ash cloud is just one example of a situation in which critical facts could be got to customers quickly and effectively online.
It also presents an opportunity to know your customers better by presenting a forum for their comments. Given the relatively intimate nature of most social media communications, customers are arguably more likely to give their views freely and frankly.
Using social media creatively, you can promote your hotels and other products by building up an image of a unique, individually tailored destination which people want to make reservations for.
Of course, it helps to use more than one social media channel as a Facebook fan page alone could make a huge difference if created and maintained correctly, consider combining a strong Twitter following with some YouTube videos and some good-looking property shots on the photo sharing site Flickr.
Smaller, independent providers may benefit more quickly from social media marketing strategies than large chains which may found themselves laden down with corporate policy guidelines. For these organisations, return on investment is particularly important, and social media marketing is extremely cost-effective.
It's important to monitor which social websites are most helpful. You can do this by integrating tracking software into your website and reservations software which track reservations from Twitter, Facebook and similar sources.
Equally, your social media marketing must be consistent, and tightly targeted at the people you want to reach, with quality prioritised over quantity. And donít forget there are potential pitfalls. You need to understand the power of social media and how it works, or it can backfire badly.
*Christopher Angus is an SEO expert who runs a bespoke Digital Marketing Agency in the Cotswolds, United Kingdom. In addition to his extensive SEO knowledge, Christopher specialises in Social Media marketing, Viral Marketing, Pay Per Click Management and Website Design. Rated the 26th Most Influential Marketer in the World in 2009, Christopherís portfolio includes a range of high-profile companies within the travel, finance and gaming industries.