Facebook Strategy for Small Hospitality

 
Facebook (FB) is a social media with millions of users who have made a profile page, but not all are active on a regular basis. FB power users are like a community within the population. They understand the features, settings, protocols and use it to communicate with friends about personal stuff.  Regular users come to trust Facebook and share with friends and communicate with the world in that realm.

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FB Trust
But FB users who TRUST are a smaller sub-set of the target audience—less reach in the whole market compared search engines and email (which every adult uses). It is questionable whether commercial messages are useful and appropriate in the social media space. Using social media to sell stuff is a bit like going to a wedding, and handing out business cards to sell life insurance. Notice that most FB ads include a photo of a pretty girl, pile of money, or other eye catching icons. Face ads do best on Facebook. Users are not thinking business, they’re thinking “… hey, what’s up?”

Good Sam club is somewhat similar to FB in that it’s a limited community of people who share similar interests, want to share their lives with the community, and have trust in a logo/brand. Good Sam is tiny compared to Facebook.

Good Sam Club's new logo for 2013

Good Sam Club’s new logo for 2013

Metrics
Google analytics includes metrics for web page visits from social media; the numbers are generally small compared to search engines, direct visits, and referrals from other web sites. It takes a fair devotion of resources to create an improvement in FB stats.

Using the FB ad planning tool allows you to estimate an audience for a given geographic area and selected interest groups. If we run through the FB ad calculator, narrowing the target to a state and targeting interest groups, we find that the potential reach of Facebook advertising is limited. Interesting to note that FB age demographic groupings show the top age at 64 years. My experience shows that young people are mostly using FB, middle aged demographic has partial use, and old folks less likely to make the effort to learn FB.

The jury is still out on whether FB will become a main stream advertising channel, but major brands are executing successful promotions, brand extensions, and buzz. Minor brands and small business probably do not have the resources to do much with FB or easily document a profit from a few hundred (or thousand) likes.

Management Tool, Management Task
Facebook may be free but there is a cost element in creating and maintaining a FB presence. Some estimate 4-5 hours per week in staff time. Tasks include choosing what to post, taking the photos, collecting relevant information, and actual posting. Also, to have an effective result the property MUST interact with the users who comment, like and post. It’s expected that the FB page will ‘like’ comments and photos from fans, and respond to tags. FB comments need to be moderated to prevent flaming posts, handle guest relations, and encourage customers to stay connected. Infrequent posting or inconsistent interaction is perceived negatively.

Right Approach for Small Hospitality
Facebook pages do have a valuable place in hospitality marketing. Think of Facebook posting as digital word-of-mouth advertising. Hospitality marketers know that word-of-mouth is the best kind of advertising because it is 1) free  2) perceived as credible 3) viral. A previous guest who talks up your property to their friends is helping sew seeds of future business. You trust your friend’s opinion and that trust penetrates the natural skepticism we’ve all developed towards commercial messages.  The FB page should be mentioned in other advertising media, and on the web pages. This offers Facebookers a place to connect with the property in an environment that is familiar and trusted. In general Facebook should drive traffic to your web site, not the reverse.

Social media does offer an opportunity for small business to develop a community of devoted fans who want to interact via FB and in doing so extend your marketing messages to their friends. Ideally friends of past customers will be exposed to your brand and begin a relationship with your company (visiting the web site, becoming a customer). The holy grail of a FB page is to ‘go viral’ with some cute, interesting, or shocking photo which gets shared across the web. Shocking may sound scary but news stations have shown us that the shocking or the cute are the most interesting.

My recommendation is to ensure a property has created an appropriately professional appearance on FB with good image quality and consistent brand messaging. FB pages should look like the web page and use core tag lines, consistent images, and positioning statements. It does not take a lot of work to set up a core business page, possibly a place page, and to populate it with a few photo albums. The page should experience regular posts on a weekly or bi-weekly frequency. Posts can be multi media, including photos, links to local sites, or videos on YouTube.

Staffing
Staffing for a FB presence should set a specific job position to be responsible for the continuity on FB posting. Since staff come and go, it’s important to create the business FB page based on a personal profile that belongs to the company, rather than an individual. The person should regularly visit the page, post something including photos, share image-serving local event links, and respond to customers and posters. It’s helpful if the Social Media person understands FB features, and works to speak with ‘a voice’ of the company. Some of the most successful FB pages I’ve seen have grown because the FB staffer is also an avid FB user. In general it’s better to have an on-site staff person be responsible for observing ‘post-able’ things that will resonate with the community of customers for that property.

In a perfect FB world your page becomes ‘the grapevine’ where your customers interact with each other and staff to improve their experience and promote repeat usership. Your FB community members can become brand advocates and might even respond to negative posts in your defence.

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