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Facebook - Frenzy or Flop?

So you're thinking about a Facebook page for your hotel. Here's what your competition is already doing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Caryn Eve Murray
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The day a rainbow curved across part of the Tacoma, WA, sky and rested one end of its arched bands of color squarely on the roof of the Hotel Murano, the Provenance Hotel property knew the pot of gold could not be far.

The dramatic image, captured in mid-March in a photograph taken from across the nearby Foss Waterway, immediately greeted visitors who stopped by the hotel’s home page, or “wall” on Facebook.

The photo became part of the online photo album that also gave a look at the hotel’s equally dramatic interior: the rooms, the colorful lobby, and some of the corridors. And it became part of an overall Facebook environment that thrives on interaction when visitors stop by to post comments, photos, videos or links to blogs and other relevant web sites. And the hotel updates its own information by adding links to newspaper articles, reviews or activities going on in their home city.

The Murano is one of five Provenance Hotels that wants to make friends – and is doing just that – on the popular free social networking site that connects classmates, relatives, friends, co-workers, performers, artists, fans and now, increasingly, hotels and inns with guests and would-be guests. It’s an interactive environment that seems to be making some of the right connections as increasing numbers of hotels sign on as part of their own expanded marketing strategies.

“Why Facebook? That is kind of like asking why would a business have a storefront in a mall other than their main one downtown,” said Kent Lewis, president of Anvil Media, which manages the Provenance Hotels’ online presence.

“You have to be where people go. And people spend more time on Facebook than the rest of the web. We have to go where they hang out. We have to create a community with relevant and hooks and conversations that are relevant to the mindset of the people that are on Facebook,” he said.

In Portland, Oregon, dozens of the more than 80 fans of the Hotel deLuxe, another Provenance property, have posted their photos and with them, their allegiance to the stylish downtown site. This is the kind of interactive experience that a traditional web site, with its one-way communication, could never offer.
“A Facebook presence,” he said, “is all about a two-way conversation.”

Lewis said another popular site, MySpace, did not offer the kind of demographic Provenance is targeting, so the group’s marketing strategy concentrated on Facebook instead. “We want a progressive urban affluent business traveler type open to social media,” he said. “That is consistent with the brand and consistent with the [Facebook] audience.”

Facebook has been a powerful force for the five Provenance properties, he said, because he has been able to use it in cross-syndication with other online offerings: Some of the Provenance properties also have blogs that are fed directly to the Facebook pages. And all rely on Twitter, a separate more time-sensitive micro-blogging site that directs visitors to a particular hotel’s Facebook page for more detailed information.

“We have a standard methodology for developing a social media strategy for our clients,” Lewis said. It starts with an audit of our clients’ social media presence, benchmarked against their competitors. If all of their competitors in the urban chic hotel market are doing it a certain way, we do it a different way. We do a plan based on the output of our audit.”

Lewis said, best of all, the cost of maintaining this kind of presence is “virtually nothing.” Setup and day-to-day maintenance is minimal. And to ensure visitors don’t miss out, the hotels’ web sites are marked with a small Facebook icon “f” at the bottom, with the directive “follow us on….”

“Why Facebook? Why Twitter? Why blog?” said Lewis. “Because people have different tastes. Everyone likes ice cream but everyone also has their different favorite flavor and we have to make sure we appear to as many flavors as possible.”

Starwood Hotels launched on Facebook in the spring of 2008 in order to ramp up guest interaction before and after the guests arrive, said Dave Godsman, vice president of Global Web for the brand.

“We view the engagement opportunity and viral capabilities of Facebook
to be more conducive to what we are trying to achieve with guest interactions via social networks,” he said. “In addition, Facebook Connect [an option that allows users to pass information on by sharing] opens up a plethora of opportunities for how we might engage consumers on our sites and leverage them as ambassadors for our brands.”

Godsman considers the kind of communication channels offered by social media/networking a “critical component” in the brand’s overall web strategy, which also includes blogs elsewhere on the web: theLobby.com, Aloftagogo.com and findrenewal.com.

On Facebook, however, the Aloft Dulles North Hotel, outside Washington, D.C., announced its own grand opening. Aloft Chicago O’Hare splashes videos and photos of recent parties and other events across its main page. And the Aloft Charlotte Uptown at the EpiCentre, in North Carolina, announced the creation of its Facebook page by posting it, in early December 2008, on its blog.

Godsman said the individual brand Facebook.com pages are among “our most notable initiatives” because the pages also enable the hotels to build a visible fan base, putting a face on people’s loyalty to the brand.

“We believe there remains a great opportunity to create a number of new Facebook-centric vehicles to drive greater brand awareness among potential customers while providing real benefit to the avid traveler,” he said.

In Manhattan, the Empire Hotel launched its Facebook page in early January, inviting guests, friends and friends of friends to view it and hear more about the relatively new hotel’s features and scheduled events, said publicist Rachel Harrison.

“It serves as a tool to provide these people who are interested with information about specific events going on at the hotel and specific deals directly targeted toward these Facebook users,” she said. In fact, the Facebook presence was originally launched to promote a night of Brazilian cocktails and jazz in the hotel’s Lobby Bar on Thursday nights. “We felt the clientele that would be interested in coming for these nights every Thursday would be best reached through Facebook,” she said.

That gentle little reminder has now grown: Whether the guests are jazz fans or seeking out concerts at nearby Lincoln Center, Harrison said the online environment has become versatile enough to accommodate the broad demographic the hotel targets.

“We are looking to use any tools possible to make sure that the people who want to hear about the Empire Hotel are able to get that information,” she said. “Again it is a demographic thing. Some people are more comfortable going to a web site or calling the hotel directly And some people love checking their Facebook 10 times a day to see what is new and happening.”

The investment, so far, has paid off, she said. It costs only time, but that commitment isn’t one that the five-member team in charge of the Facebook presence takes lightly.

“I think it is really important to make sure you are constantly on it and checking and updating and making sure it is used as a tool. It is not just a page that is put up there and left to its own devices.”
Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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RE: Facebook - Frenzy or Flop? article link
On the surface, social media networking/promotion/etc. seems like a good idea. I guess I wonder if anyone has taken this to the next level and that is ... for the time spent managing the content and feedback ... is there an ROI that says "Yes! This is time well spent!"

RE: Facebook - Frenzy or Flop? article link
Great article - A large portion of next week's Idaho Conference on Tourism & Recreation will focus on social media marketing. www.visitIdaho.org already interfaces with Twitter and LinkedIn.
Posted by: Ms. Frances Conklin
Email: frances@dogbarkparkinn.com

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