It’s a logical question from busy hospitality professionals….

How in the world are they supposed to do all this “social media stuff” while also, you know, running a hotel or resort?!

Andy Hayes investigates Cancun resorts (courtesy A Pair of Panties & Boxers on Facebook)

I asked this question of Andy Hayes, a tourism marketing expert, travel enthusiast, writer, speaker and all-around swell guy. With his typical humor and direct approach, he gave me some terrific answers, so I thought I’d publish the results of our email back-and-forth here, as a Q&A session.

1)  Let’s imagine that the busy operator of a hotel comes to Becky and me at Tourism Currents and says, “Tell me the first 3-5 things I need to do in the next month, in order to begin to establish a better online presence.” What would you suggest?

First thing is to remind yourself:  who are your Dream Customers and what are they looking for from you? If you get clear on that, you’ll have a good idea about the websites, platforms and types of content you’ll want to deliver online.

For example, if you’re a romantic hotel for couples, I’m guessing that photos and romantic stories will be a highlight and maybe a juicy email newsletter with tips for keeping that spark in the relationship. Family hotel? Videos of kids splashing in the pool and fun contests on Facebook might be up your alley.

Think less about “I’m a hotel” and more about “I’m an expert on hospitality and _______________.”

Secondly, get clear on what medium is your strength. If you consider yourself the next Oprah, then get yourself a camera and start doing snappy video. A talker, but not interested in being on screen? Podcasting might be for you. Maybe you’re a photographer – or a writer. It doesn’t matter, but get clear on your strengths and how that meshes with your customer’s desires – if you do the things you’re good at, you’ll keep doing it, and your customers will love it in the process.

Now, with those two pieces of information, experiment. Talk to people. Try things – coupons, discounts, special wacky promotions, interviews, lots and lots of storytelling. I believe the saying is “throw it on the wall and see what sticks.” Now, I know you’re timestrapped, but the magic is in watching carefully and deciding whether you need to keep trying or whether you need to try something else. (Hint: keep those conversations with your favorite, bestest customers going. They’ll give you invaluable advice.)

2)  A hotel operator says, “I can’t sit trapped at a computer all day, but I do have a smartphone. How can it help me listen to and respond to customers ‘on the fly’ as I go through my day?”

It’s all about flow – a lot of the things you do already every day you can incorporate into monitoring and promoting your social media presence.

Let’s take it step by step:

a. Get your toolbelt in place. There are a million and one phone apps out there, so decide on which things you’re going to use….something for images? Video? A Facebook app?  That means testing things out. That means being frustrated and time-stretched for a couple of weeks. (You might remember this feeling when you opened your hotel. Welcome back to the future.)

b. Get your habits in place. Start getting into some habits – they’re good for you, and they’re good for your customers. Maybe you do a room walkthrough at 1PM everyday – use that opportunity to always tweet a picture of something interesting. Maybe you get into the office an hour before anybody else – spare 15 minutes to flip through TripAdvisor and other review sites to ensure there isn’t anything you need to address or respond to. Check your Tweets and Facebook to answer questions at least a couple of times a day. Do these things every day until you don’t notice you’re doing them.

Andy Hayes nose to nose with a story in Asia (courtesy Andy Hayes on Facebook)

c. Get in the mindset of being a reporter. Start to be mindful of when a “story” is developing in front of you. Maybe a guest has a story. Maybe one of your staff has a story. Maybe you just saw something that’s been there for ages and thought, “Oh – that would be a fab blog post!” Well, write it down, or heck, type it up quick on your phone with those snazzy tools you put in your toolbelt. You’re in charge, so tell that story – you do it so well, ya know.

3)  How can my business keep our online content fresh and interesting? There are only so many times that we can talk about our rooms or our pool or our business center, right?

Let me share with you two fallacies that you may be under the influence of, my dear hotelier:

One, what is boring and not interesting to you may be very interesting to your customer. Why did you call your hotel the Big Green Dream Machine? Why did you even open a hotel? Why did you hire that one kid whose left foot is bigger than the right?

(Tip: the opposite can also be true. You know that press release you sent out to the media about your swimming pool being re-caulked in time for summer? Er, that wasn’t news.)

Two, there is no rule to say that if there is nothing interesting going on, you can’t create a diversion. And the story doesn’t always have to be about you! If there is a big parade in town, bake some specialty cupcakes and tell your Twitter followers to stop in for one (then ask them to tweet about it). Try a new color of paint in a room and ask folks to vote on their fave. Ask the new restaurant in town to give you a few bottles of champagne for guest bookings in exchange for a bit of a Q&A interview on your blog.

Fresh and interesting? The possibilities are ENDLESS. I repeat. ENDLESS. Have fun, let loose (but stay professional). Get creative. If you don’t, your competition will.

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