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Facebook Is 20 Years Old: Here’s How Hotel Marketing Has Been Forever Changed by Social Media

I had an audible chuckle today as Facebook (sorry, Meta, you know what I mean) showed me something I posted from 12 years ago while locked out of my San Francisco apartment with my dog. All three (yes, three) of my roommates were unavailable to let me in. That was 12 years ago, but my journey with Facebook started 20 years ago, as a freshman in college, when my roommate talked me into joining.


Whitney Reynolds Somewhere Fun Social

Fast forward to the present, and Meta is celebrating their 20th anniversary. Little did I know back then how massive a role “The Facebook” would play in my hospitality career. I’ve been a director of social media strategy for 10+ years across IHG Hotels & Resorts brands like Kimpton Hotels, InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza. Now, I own my own social media & creative firm for hospitality businesses. Social marketing across industries has changed so much since Facebook’s early days; just look at all the channels marketers have opportunity on: TikTok, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, X, YouTube… the landscape has swelled and the platforms have, too. There are other seismic shifts that have happened as social media has grown up, and they’re important for hospitality marketers everywhere to consider as we reflect on this anniversary. Why? Because they’re beacons about what we should be doing now to stand out from our increasingly saturated competitive sets, how we can best build trust with our customers, and how we should spend our precious marketing dollars. 


Here’s how social media has fundamentally changed marketing and the consumer experience forever.


Distinct Brand Personality is Not Only Expected, It’s Performance-Driving


The backbone of “social” media is connection, so brands and businesses have more opportunity than ever to interact with potential customers. This new relationship between brand (not a person) and customer (a person) has birthed a widespread consumer expectation that brands exhibit human-like personalities. It’s hard to genuinely connect with an entity (person or business) that’s cold and faceless, and it’s certainly not memorable to do so. Consequently, one of the most interesting byproducts of social media has been the need for brands to establish and demonstrate distinct brand personalities and tone of voice. Today, big brands to small businesses define tone of voice with human personality attributes: warm and friendly, trustworthy and steadfast, sarcastic and unhinged. I, for one, love it. Evidently, so do others, because it’s table stakes now - consumers (and algorithms) demand brand personality. What’s yours? Is it consistent across all of your social channels? Is it serving you (and your guests)?


Public Displays of Empathy and Accountability are Required (Or You’ll Lose Business)


Social media gave consumers a proverbial microphone for expressing their voice and opinions about a particular brand or business. Standard practice now is to monitor mentions of your business and respond to them. You’d better be careful how you respond, too. Thanks to social, there’s a fully public and long-lasting record of your interactions with your consumers. Don’t provide the support or level of understanding they expect, and you can quickly find yourself on blast. This accountability has forced businesses to focus on [and invest in] customer care like never before. Not only do they need to have the mechanics like response time, crisis support and customer service protocols down, they need to have the empathy factor down, too. A response that brushes off the guest’s issue or that solves it but in a way that feels cold or slightly resentful could become amplified and put you at risk of losing business. 


We’re No Longer the Exclusive Owners of Our Own Brand Perception


Brands and businesses used to use marketing to broadcast their differentiators and their key messages. Now, smart brands are inviting consumers into the process of shaping these things. Frankly, even if you aren’t open to having your customers help shape your brand perception, it happens anyway. They’re posting their thoughts, photos and videos about your guest experience every day. They’re sharing stories about your product and their experience with it. Now that consumers have a channel in which their perspectives are amplified to new audiences, ownership of brand perception is mutually in the hands of the business and its customers, probably forever. 


Whitney Reynolds Somewhere Fun Social Media Hotels
Somewhere Fun Helps Leverage Social Media

Event and Experiential Marketing Now Gives us More Bang for our Buck


The value of investing in brand activations and experiential marketing (i.e. pop-ups, event sponsorships, press trips) used to be limited to the people who showed up to your IRL event. Now, the people showing up (and your own marketing team members) are also capturing and posting videos, photos, and perspectives about your in-person activation that live on far longer than the day of the event. If you’re smart, they also live on your own digital marketing channels like your hotel’s Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and in your email newsletter. Think about something like Lollapalooza: brands like IHG Hotels & Resorts have invested in sponsoring this event because of the massive number of online impressions and engagements they get across social media. The ROI is not based solely on attendees who stopped by, it’s now based on the followers of anyone who posted about your brand activation. That’s a difference of tens or even hundreds of thousands of eyeballs. Event sponsorships and activations are expensive. Thanks to social, we get so much more from our investment in them.


It’s About Quality, and Also Quantity


Quality marketing content will always matter because it’s tied to brand and value perception. Quantity also really matters now. Why? Two words (dun dun dun): the algorithms. Social platform algorithms (think Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok – but, really, all of them) place a value on cadence of content posted. Brands and businesses who post more frequently get their content seen by more people, to simplify things. A hotel that posts once a month will have lower reach than a hotel that posts 4 times a week. So, quick turns on content and whipping up posts like the head pastry chef at a hot patisserie is the name of the game now. Social teams think of content production and publication in terms of days, or even hours, versus months or seasons, like so many marketers used to. Social media management is a taxing job – if you’re reading this, don’t forget to hug (and fairly compensate) your SMM.


Marketing in Real Time


Pre-Social, marketing was almost all planned out. Real-time feeds have gifted marketers with real-time opportunity – to jump in on cultural conversations and get their message seen by many. The most famous example many social marketers will reference dates back to 2013, during Super Bowl XLVII, when a sudden power outage plunged the stadium into darkness for about 34 minutes. As everyone was opening their apps to check the status and the conversation about this big deal anomaly, Oreo tweeted, “You can still dunk in the dark.” They paired the tweet with a picture of an Oreo being dunked into milk. Chills. Marketers have the opportunity every day to jump in on the zeitgeist of cultural and current conversation, and if they say something meaningful or clever that resonates with people, their post could go viral. The tricky part is actually saying the right thing versus saying something cringey. If you jump on X or Instagram during a big event like the Oscars, the Grammys, a movie premier or an album release, you’ll see brands and business all over the world trying their hand at real-time marketing.


There you have them: some of the ways social media has changed marketing for hoteliers – and for all businesses – forever. Which of these opportunities are you seizing? How else do you think social media has forever changed the way we do business with our customers? Love to hear.


Whitney Reynolds is the founder & strategy director of Somewhere Fun Social, LLC, a social + creative consulting firm for hotels and restaurants. Previously, she was Senior Director of Social Media, Content + Partnerships at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and Director of Global Social Marketing at IHG Hotels & Resorts. She’s a Brand Innovators Top 40 under 40 Marketer, Skiftie Award winner and top voice on LinkedIn. Visit her website at somewherefunsocial.com


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