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Social Media Marketing and the Hotel Industry by Alan E. Young



With Social Media communities such as Facebook rapidly consuming the online environment, hoteliers should take notice of this trend and engage with their customers to help encourage communication about their brand.



There is a progressive wave in the travel industry taking hold of people’s imaginations. The wave is one of change that may be scary to the hotel/travel industry however, the wave must be ridden. Internet Social Media is becoming like the .dot com boom of the 21st century. According to a recent iProspect study , “social networking sites are visited at least on a monthly basis by about 25% of the U.S. adult online population.” Whether these sites are considered only as one way communication, or as truly a collaborative effort to search out individuals that have the same interests as you do, the travel industry must take hold of this widespread initiative and embrace it.



There has been a great deal of conversations regarding the differences and implications of social media within the online space. Whether it is user generated content, social media or now the true Internet community, one must understand the evolution of this phenomenon in order to use the new wave to its advantage.



The Web 2.0 space encompasses three distinct areas. These areas include user generated content sites, social media applications and true online communities. These areas are well defined by Wikipedia:



User-generated content (UGC), also known as Consumer Generated Media or User-created Content (UCC) [1], refers to various kinds of media content that are produced by end-users, (as opposed to traditional media producers such as professional writers, publishers, journalists, licensed broadcasters and production companies).



The term entered mainstream usage during 2005 after arising in web publishing and new media content production circles. It reflects the expansion of media production through new technologies that are accessible and affordable to the general public. These include digital video, blogging, podcasting, mobile phone photography and wikis. In addition to these technologies, user-generated content may also employ a combination of open source, free software, and flexible licensing or related agreements to further diminish the barriers to collaboration, skill-building and discovery.



Social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media themselves.



Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video. The social media sites typically use tools like message boards, forums, podcasts, bookmarks, communities, wikis, weblogs etc. A few prominent examples of social media applications are Wikipedia, Flicker, Second Life and Twitter.



A virtual community, e-community or online community is a group of people that primarily interact via some form of mechanism such as letters, telephone, email or Usenet rather than face to face. If the mechanism is a computer network, it is called an online community. Virtual and online communities have also become a supplemental form of communication between people who know each other primarily in real life. A computer-mediated community (CMC) uses social software to regulate the activities of participants. Significant socio-technical change has resulted from the proliferation of Internet-based social networks.



So why do the hotel and travel industries need to get involved in the process?



It is apparent that the wave of Internet social media sites is very well suited to the hospitality and travel industries as the travel community is focused around the experience and word of mouth testimonials of those experiences. Social media sites are just that – a continued conversation and connections based around experiences.



The evolution of hotel marketing has encompassed a number of offerings that become commoditized very quickly. Hotels have tried to entice their guests to return by offering better sleeping nights, better T.V’s, better Internet access, and oh yes, better lobbies. Unfortunately, all of these initiatives wane over time as the guests begin to expect them. Thus the differentiating factor is lost.



Personal experiences are the true way of differentiating one’s product over a competitor’s product. Engaging in the online community space ensures that, if a hotel companies truly exceeds the guest’s expectation on all levels, the guests experience may end up in an online community. It truly appears as if the most powerful form of advertising, “word of mouth” has a new influential tool using the online space as its engine. These new tools allow for a wider reach and easier access to information that uses every day language in order to convey ones experience and message.



It is through this simple form of communication, that social media is influencing people to buy!



If you believe that you must enter into this space, we suggest that you start simply and let the world grow from there. Begin with your own blog in order to convey interesting stories, messages and insight into what differentiates your hotel or Hotel Company. Make sure it focuses on those experiences and stories rather than the hard assets that overtime may lose their luster. Be sure to allow your guests to comment and interact so the online community can engage in your vision.



This effort takes time but it will be well worth the investment in a project that enables you and your company to engage a vast number of people on many levels. Start the conversation – your customers will handle the rest!



Alan E. Young is the President of Kuikene Inc. – an online media marketing company with divisions including A Couple of Chicks e-Marketing , Online Revealed Canada, and www.Chicksaway.com. Mr. Young has spent 24 years in the hospitality industry, working with Four Seasons Hotels Group and Weller Hotels, and most recently within hospitality technology and travel distribution space as Vice President of Supply Partners with Hotel Booking Solutions Incorporated. Mr. Young was the co-chair of the 2nd Annual Canadian tourism Online Marketing Conference – Online Revealed held in Toronto and currently holds the position of President of Kuikene Inc. , overseeing the development of new business initiatives. Alan sits on the board as Vice-Chair of the Open Travel Alliance and sits on the Advisory Board of Hotel Booking Solutions Incorporated. For more articles or information visit www.kuikene.com or Contact Alan at ayoung@kuikene.com

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