Chris Brogan recently found himself exploring Oslo, Norway after a conference. He wanted to buy some gifts for his children back home, but didn’t know where to shop. So he spent much of the afternoon walking by store after store, not sure where to find the perfect item (and spend his money). Finally, one shopkeeper came out of her boutique, began talking with him, and introduced some of the things she made and was selling. That store got his business.
Become that shopkeeper
That story opened a recent strategy session with Chris Brogan and the team at the Roger Smith Hotel that I had the opportunity to participate in. The lesson is clear: we as marketers must become the “shopkeepers” of our own business.
Rather than just building a website and hoping people will come, we must go out where people are and earn the business. Look for those conversations happening around the web, and take part in them. That approach leads to the most visibility for your brand.
And that is the principle behind social networking for business.
Social media is really social hospitality
Social hospitality is all about making people feel welcomed and part of a community.
Word-of-mouth has always worked. It has nothing to do with technology, but everything to do with relationships. (When making decisions and discussing social media, it can be helpful to replace the word “social media” with “phone,” says Brogan. “It’s used the same way.”)
Increasingly, people are asking each other for advice and suggestions through social networks. Social media, when it meets e-commerce, is like shopping with 3,000 of your friends. You get instant insight and feedback from the wisdom of the crowds.
The Roger Smith Hotel achieves success by being an early adopter
This mentality of social hospitality is how Chris Brogan found the Roger Smith Hotel in the beginning. When Twitter was still new, Brogan – an early adopter – tweeted asking for recommendations for a New York hotel. The first and second people that responded were influential social media personalities, and both recommended the Roger Smith Hotel. The Roger Smith Hotel was the third to respond, with an invitation to stay at their property. (Brogan accepted, and then did what every marketing director dreams of – created a video about how happy he was with the hotel.)
The Roger Smith Hotel firmly established their brand in new media circles by being an early adopter–using networks that the most influential social media people were experimenting with–and then using it to deliver extraordinary service. (Brogan believes today that opportunity exists with Google Plus. Get in early for high-quality communications. “The early bird gets the worm.”)
Social media gives hotels, especially smaller, independent properties – an opportunity for visibility that used to be exclusively the domain of large brands. It levels the playing field.
View your hotel as a media company
What type of content should you publish to promote your hotel online? The reality is that people don’t want to be sold, they just want information to help them make better buying decisions. Even more, they want to justify their purchase.
Adopt the mindset of a media company to meet these needs for your guests and future customers. (Something the Roger Smith Hotel does so well with Panman Productions.)
On a personal level, match the type of media you produce to your own personality. If you’re shy, you may focus on written content. If you really like talking to people, you might produce more video.
Look outside your walls
For the audiences that you want to reach, the most interesting content you could publish is probably found outside your hotel. Travelers want to picture themselves in an environment – and also look for ways to cultivate their interests with an experience.
“Be a hotel in New York selling the idea of New York. More specifically, sell a version of New York that appeals to a very specific audience,” said Brogan.
For example, describe and sell a “creative person’s New York City”. Or even better, “New York City for charcoal artists.” Or host photo walks to attract photographers. (This is a huge opportunity to reach a specific audience – and also create more content on the social web.)
The more specific you can be in your publishing and content creation, the more effective it is.
Curate interesting content
If you don’t have time to create original material for the web, curating interesting content from others is also a good way to build an audience.
The key to doing this is finding interesting, quirky content that others have not noticed. If you retweet Mashable (for example), they already have 3 million people passing along their content. It won’t really stand out. So look for the obscure and valuable information that others have not seen.
Look for quirky, fascinating people. Get them to tell their story. Ask them what made them take this route–how they got into it. (“How do artists make it in New York City?” for example.) Look for stories out of the mainstream.
Give special attention to your best customers
Loyalty is critical for social hospitality. Do special things to reward your loyal customers. Spend time and money on people who already love you – even the ones who are not (yet) active in social media.
Ask these loyal fans what they appreciate most about your property–because this will become very important for guiding the ways you communicate and reach out to other similar customers. Your best customers know the “secret sauce” of your hotel – and that may be something that even you are not completely aware of.
So ask them, then listen carefully.