Famously Hot Topics: Social Media Through the Hospitality Industry’s Eyes

Riley Communications had the chance to participate in a panel at Hospitality Hotspotter’s Social Media Training on September 15, dishing out some social media tips from a PR perspective and learning just as much about how the hospitality industry uses social media as a selling tool. Because the hotel and tourism sector depends on constant gains in event planning, room reservations and other targets, leveraging social media to achieve these goals is paramount.

Despite the reservations — concerns, not bookings! — some members had about hashtags, analytics and other web 2.0 jargon, social media tactics all link back to age-old sales adages, according to South Carolina Hospitality Association Director of Operations Douglas OFlaherty. While he also focused on the overarching characteristics of social media as collaborative (helping back with friend suggestions, groups, etc.) and light-touch (overt advertising kicks you out of the club), here are his selling staples made new:

1)   People do business with people they know, like and trust. Don’t know how to translate solid selling tactics into technological terms? Social media actually grew out of the most successful part of the Internet in the 1990’s — business web pages. So if you have one of those, you’ve already got the foundation that started the movement. Now you have the opportunity to bring your business proposition to a social environment, at the least in a format that allows two-way communication with consumers and at the most on a person-to-person level with prospective clients.

2)   Too big to fail. Even middle school kids know this phrase, probably just as well as they know YouTube. Douglas pointed out how Google gobbled up this FREE service in a multi-billion dollar deal, simply so it could have ownership of the world’s largest video uploading site before anyone else could.  It just goes to show — even though its biggest players started and still function with little revenue structure, social media is here to stay. Get with it or get left behind.

3) Personal is also business. Douglas good-naturedly made an example of his hospitality colleague Twila Jones after she outed herself as Twitter-less and happy about it. He convinced her that if a prospective client surreptitiously stumbled upon her personal Twitter and saw that she followed a famous Atlanta evangelist, her role as Columbia Convention Center Senior Sales Manager specializing in religious and multi-cultural markets might be that much more efficient.  

Social media’s remarkable reach is consistently farther than other communications, but it remains difficult to quantify to the “unbelievers.”
“Come to the light, Twila,” Douglas urged. “A church is a social network. But not everyone can come to that church. Social media gets you beyond just one group.”

On the flip side, you can get too personal. While millions of people use social media solely to post about their dog, their kids or their day, it’s smartest for you as a business entity (individually or collectively) to strike a balance between corporate fluff and oversharing. If used correctly, social media affords the opportunity to find common threads with clients, look at how close the competition is to them and discover how to promote your strengths in creative ways.

4)   If you keep looking at a closed door, you may never see an open one. Just as the door-to-door salesman of past decades will tell you—so will today’s social media strategists. Sales are all about opening the door with clients and keeping it open. “Social media cracks that door,” Douglas says. “Allow them to dictate the pace of the relationship. Earn the right to be in their network.”

Thanks again to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau for letting us mix some pearls of social media PR with your sales smarts!