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Techniques to boost your hotel's Instagram followers
By feature writer Taylor Short
Instagram's explosion in popularity has attracted many businesses to its marketing and advertising potential. While the social network has long drawn individual users who share images of everyday life with their friends, its emphasis on visual messages is perfect for hoteliers seeking a unique way to highlight the amenities and perks their properties offer.
But, there's more to a hotelier's business strategy than simply posting pictures. Savvy hotels are experimenting with ways to share content and promote events to boost followers and get users to attend events in person (where they're further exposed to the hotel's brand). And, given that 71 percent of social media users are more likely to purchase from a brand they follow online, this strategically-crafted content may also be an effective way to draw new followers who are more likely to book a room.
We spoke to several hotel and social media marketing experts to discover unique ways hotels are using Instagram to publicize content that increases followers. Here, we highlight their best advice.
Host an 'instameet' to show off what you've got
Crafting a successful Instagram campaign for your hotel means you must be able to convey the value of a new feature, amenity or offer through a person's computer, phone or tablet. Quality photos and videos can go a long way toward successfully conveying that message.
But, what better way to prove the value of your offerings than to invite Instagrammers to visit your hotel, where they can experience them in person? Coordinating an Instameet is a great way for customers to engage with amenities while providing your hotel with promotion via social media. Using a site like Meetup.com, hotels can schedule an event and invite regular Instagram users, or even influential local media representatives and bloggers for greater exposure.
Megan Sterritt is an account executive with Hospitality Marketing, a company that provides advertising, public relations and social media services to hotels. Earlier this year, she served as an in-house marketer at the Four Seasons Hotel Miami. When she first launched the property's Instagram account, she started with crowd-pleasing photos of the hotel's food, artwork and sunny poolsides.
But when the hotel wanted to show off a new offering from its restaurant in July, Sterritt knew she needed to do more than just post a few static-if appealing-photos.
"At that time, we were just launching this new tableside ice cream cart where the chef would use liquid nitrogen to make the ice cream," she says. "We used Instagram as our primary channel of promotion because of Miami's strong community of food bloggers who use Instagram as their primary social channel of promotion."
Sterritt invited 14 influential attendees via email to the "The Summer of Ice Cream Love Instameet," including local food bloggers and reporters from publications such as Examiner.com and Miami New Times. They all gathered in the hotel's herb garden for a demonstration of the ice cream freezing process.
Adventures of the Foodaholic used the #icecreamlove and @fsmiami tags when posting a photo of the event on Instagram
To remind guests of the hotel's Instagram handle, @fsmiami, and the custom hashtag for the event, #IceCreamLove, Sterritt placed posters near the hotel restaurant entrance and on easels outside the hotel. The staff also handed guests cards with the hashtags as well as the hotel's WiFi password so they could easily get online. As a result, the campaign drew about 75 new followers for the account (and hundreds of "likes").
Instagram user Fatgirl Hedonist tagged Four Seasons Miami's Edge, Steak & Bar restaurant during the Ice Cream Love event
Generating positive social proof on Instagram-e.g. posts, shares and likes-from those who attend your meetup, as well as their own followers, can boost your hotel's visibility and show people how customers are engaging with your brand. This is key, as online consumers value the opinions of their peers more than any other kind of recommendation.
"Images and video have proven to increase conversions," says Jonathan Ellis, a senior Internet marketing analyst for Occupancy Marketing, which offers online marketing consulting to the hotel, tourism and travel industries. "Once you start on Instagram, your guests will get involved, creating far more content and showing everything about your hotel in a really stylish way."
Use a contest to attract a wider audience
Proactively getting your brand, promotions and hashtags in front of potential guests can be the difference between an Instagram campaign that gains new followers and one that fails to make an impact. When promoting on-premise amenities, it sometimes pays to take the campaign outside your hotel.
When Sterritt worked on a campaign for the Waldorf Astoria's Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida, she didn't just take it outside-she took it across the country. The "Play in Pink" campaign, launched in November 2013, was created to promote a new feature at the resort: a pink-hued ice-skating rink that was installed on the property's croquet lawn.
The campaign began with an Instagram contest that asked users to upload a photo of themselves and their children wearing pink clothing, tagged with @bocaresort and #pinkrink. Users who submitted entries by November 15th were entered for a chance to win a five night stay at the hotel, plus access to the Pink Rink.
The kickoff post for the Boca Raton Resort & Club's "Play in Pink" Instagram campaign
"We had over 50 submissions," Sterritt says. "It was very easy for us to do that, execute it and get people to think about us."
In addition, the campaign drummed up excitement for an event the hotel hosted in New York City to further promote the Pink Rink. The Boca Raton Resort rented a space in Bryant Park for an invite-only Surf & Skate event, where they replicated the Pink Rink for media, travel agents and meeting planners to experience.
Organizers also took a Pink Rink truck out for a spin around Manhattan to promote a "Snap the Truck" contest. Covered in Boca Raton Resort imagery, the truck stopped at several high-traffic locations-Rockefeller Center, Time Square, Columbus Circle, the Apple Store across from Central Park and the Upper West Side.
The truck's signage encouraged people to post an Instagram photo of the truck along with the campaign tags for a chance to win the five night trip.
Instagram photo of the posters used during the Pink Rink event in New York City
At each stop, Sterritt says the truck also passed out pink sunglasses to represent Boca Raton's South Florida sunshine that had the hashtags and Instagram handle printed on them.
Having several photographable elements involved in a campaign-in this case, the Pink Truck, posters and pink sunglasses-is a strategic way to use the compulsive photo-snapping allure of Instagram to promote your hotel, as interesting objects tend to attract more attention than people do.
"While it may seem intuitive to have a bunch of smiling faces in your Instagram photos, studies have shown that people tend to click on photos that have ‘objects of interest'," explains Brandon Dennis, technical marketing manager at buuteeq, a digital marketing system for hotels.
Instagram photo showing the Pink Rink truck a day before the event
All in all, the campaign was a major factor in nearly tripling the Boca Raton Resort's Instagram following. The account had just under 200 followers before the launch kicked off in November. By December, this number had reached almost 600.
Dovetail a promotion with an event that attracts a big crowd
Riding the popularity of a big event can be the perfect way to get your campaign and brand in front of many more potential followers.
Lydia Feliciano, director of marketing for the El Conquistador Resort in Puerto Rico, gained new followers for the @elconresort account by attaching an Instagram campaign to the 2013 Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
The resort had converted a small casino in the lobby into an "Ultra Lounge" with pool tables and large televisions. The goal was to showcase this new space by inviting guests to come watch the game and post Instagram photos of themselves enjoying the event. A winner was chosen at random to win a certificate to the resort's spa.
The campaign was promoted through Instagram with posts announcing the event. The hotel also placed "Connect With Us" cards in rooms that displayed the @elconresort handle and other associated tags, such as #ultralounge, #ravens and #49ers.
El Conquistador Resort's Instagram post announcing the Super Bowl party
Feliciano says this tactic "worked well and was a great way to get people talking about [the Ultra Lounge]." Several dozen guests arrived to enjoy the game and participate in the contest, and the campaign added about 100 new followers to the El Conquistador Resort's Instagram account.
Peter Fabricius, co-founder of Springnest-an online marketing solution for the tourism and hospitality industry-says using an event as a stage for your campaign also provides an opportunity to promote special offers or amenities when posting about it on Instagram. This can help drive additional customer engagement with your hotel.
For example, in addition to highlighting the Ultra Lounge, Feliciano used the campaign to promote a special Super Bowl-themed cocktail, the "Rum Raven," only available at the party. Offering this additional perk was just another way to encourage customers to attend, increase their exposure to the hotel and even drive revenue.
Instagram post promoting the "Rum Raven" drink and Don Q Rum for the Ultra Lounge Super Bowl party
Understand your audience to be genuine and unique
While the strategy behind all of these campaigns was carefully thought out and executed, none would have succeeded in attracting new followers without carefully-selected content that customers found both appealing and authentic.
As Fabricius says, "show something that is visually stimulating and unique from the content they are usually exposed to, and they are likely to engage with it."
About the author
Taylor Short has worked as a reporter and writer for six years, focusing on local coverage of city governments, businesses, schools and police. After earning a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of North Texas, he worked for newspapers in Denton, Dallas, Argyle, Cleburne, Killeen and Austin. Taylor freelanced for Reuters News Agency before joining Software Advice where he focuses on covering the hospitality and not for profit industries.
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