WITH 2.8 BILLION social media users active worldwide, the platforms that engage these users and become ever more part of their day-to-day interactions have also become indispensable marketing channels for brands around the globe. There was a 22 percent increase in worldwide social media use from 2016 to 2017, with a total global penetration of 37 percent, which means that a significant portion of a resort property’s customer base is on one or more social media platforms every day. In the United States alone, nearly 70 percent of the population uses some type of social media, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2017 Social Media Fact Sheet. Demographics show that social media use is broad and growing across all age groups. For example, 80 percent of all 30- to 49-year-olds use at least one social media site, as do 64 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds. In the hospitality industry, there is increasing use of these channels for marketing, publicizing and booking, and it is imperative that resort and hotel properties understand the scope and best practices for them.
Social media marketing is both a two-way communication tool and a revenue booster; its use is on the rise, and it has become an essential part of a hotel or resort’s overall marketing strategy. The 2017 AIF State of the Vacation Timeshare Industry report shows that 52 percent of resorts are using social media to publicize timeshare rentals, an increase from 40 percent in 2015 and ranking just behind a resort’s own website and online travel agencies. The marketing channels that resorts utilize for communication flow one way, but social media allows for two-way communication between property and customer—a direct way to make a good impression. “With the increase of social media usage and adoption, especially while traveling and on vacation, it’s the perfect medium for the timeshare industry to engage and increase brand awareness, says Adrienne Callandrello, director of social media for RCI. “Years ago, social media may have been seen as a nice-to-have in the marketing mix, but now it is a must-have, no question.”
Start with a strategy
When it comes to bang for your buck, social media is a top choice for lower marketing budgets. “Social is a small barrier of entry where you can create custom audiences,” Callandrello says. “If Google paid search doesn’t align with your budget, you can create a custom audience on Facebook and even create a look-alike audience to connect with owners and potential leads.” But regardless of budget, the first step for every resort, hotelier or timeshare operator is to come up with a targeted social media strategy and actionable goals. Determine what each social media platform should accomplish, such as drive-to-book, raise brand awareness or encourage engagement with the content. It’s important to include a social media manager on the sales and marketing team or at least have a dedicated member or members of that team who work on the three core tasks of social media: customer service/engagement, managing feedback from the online community and creating great content. “Ensure that someone is owning your social media presence, someone who is accountable, seeing what works and creating reports,” Callandrello says. “It can’t be an afterthought.”
It’s also important to understand the tools and actions that work best for each social media platform. Whether using Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, resorts need to target what to post or solicit, from great imagery to reviews to hashtags to user-generated content (UGC). Putting up the same content on each page will show the consumer that the resort isn’t engaged in communicating with them or about creating a personal connection, as will social media that only promotes deals or sales. “The relationship between customers and brands is based on trust and commitment,” says Juhee Kang, assistant professor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida. “Making the platform engaging and useful to potential customers is key for successful social media that can lead those members or visitors to eventually book.” Social media as direct marketing can best be achieved by creating community and personal interaction. “There are typically two types of users: active posters and passive readers. Both are important for a successful community,” Kang adds.
A social media plan with a thorough understanding of which social media platform to use and how to use it will achieve the most effective results, including building brand loyalty and encouraging guest engagement. “The key is to fish where the fish are,” Callandrello says. “Where are your members the most active? What platform is your demographic using?” Different types of content work better on each platform, but the top three for resorts are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
FACEBOOK: With two billion monthly active users worldwide, Facebook is the king of social media platforms. In the U.S., 68 percent of adults use it, more than double the number of adults who use Twitter or Instagram, including 79 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds. The average amount of time spent daily on social media is 1.7 hours, and according to Forrester Research, adult smartphone owners access Facebook an average of eight times a day. Facebook is the core social media platform for the timeshare demographic, according to Callandrello. The social media team has the ability to post multiple times a day, share different types of stories and try out new types of content. “It’s a great place to weave in deals and promotions along with engaging content about your property or location. Think of it as a jab, jab, jab, hook approach,” Callandrello says. “Don’t just post sale messages or else you’ll lose your community and engagement.” Encourage followers to start conversations and share stories about their stays, tag one another, ask questions—there’s more of a communal feel on Facebook than any of the other platforms. And because the algorithm changes what people see, posts fall off the feed, and resorts can try out different types of posts.
INSTAGRAM: While 90 percent of Instagram users are 35 or younger, 31 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds are on the photo-sharing platform. Globally, it has 700 million unique monthly users, and 80 percent of them follow various brands. Instagram is where resorts share what they are all about, what’s new and exciting and what the property offers. “The demographic is a bit older now, and resorts need to appeal to the right audience,” Callandrello says. “They need to use the right hashtag and also create the overall look, tone and feel.” Resorts should drill down on the aesthetic they are trying to convey. Home away from home? Relaxation and tranquility? Adventure? This means managing the photographs, whether they’re stock, pro or UGC, and making sure they all have the same level of quality. Don’t create a mishmash of quality professional photos and poorly lit UGC. The feed needs to be structured so that it looks like a clearly defined brand, from the colors to the subjects to Stories or live video.
TWITTER: While Twitter’s growth has plateaued at around 330 million active monthly users, it is still the platform that customers use for instant communication, complaints and questions, with more male users than female, unlike Facebook and Instagram. This is the top spot for customer care, Callandrello says— it’s the first place people go to complain. Resorts should have a staffing plan in place to respond immediately—a couple hours’ delay in answering a complaint isn’t acceptable anymore—including nights and weekends. Resorts should set up alerts and notifications and have staff check the Twitter feed numerous times a day. Pay attention to using trending or popular hashtags and include links to your website. Also ensure that the location of your property is in your bio; otherwise, your resort won’t come up in Twitter searches for hotels in a particular destination.
OTHER PLATFORMS: If a resort has abundant quality video, consider a YouTube channel, which is great for users searching for content already. Snapchat pioneered Stories and is a travel-friendly platform. Pinterest is a great fit for brands in the travel and hospitality industry if they have the staff to build out boards around the activities, food, landscape and amenities. While it takes resources to do, Pinterest doesn’t have the short shelf life of other social media platforms. People searching, planning and dreaming about their trips can find pins from six months ago.
Resort staff is an undeniable asset when it comes to social media. Showcasing them makes employees and guests feel good. For example, if the front-desk person has been there for a long time, the resort can create a feature about why they love helping their timeshare owners year after year. Also have staff take over the social channels and have them show off the destination with a local flair. Of course, staff should follow the owners and members on social media so that they can see the feedback loop and know what types of conversations are going on.
When it comes to influencers, a local one makes the most sense for showing the benefits of timeshare. “Spending a lot of money on a global influencer may not prove a positive ROI,” Callandrello says. “Find a local influencer who can stay at the resort for a week, show what it’s like to stay there and create a lot of content you can use on your feeds.” If it goes well, you can create an ongoing relationship with them.
Social media is an opportunity to cultivate a special targeted community of timeshare owners, renters and potential guests. Resorts publicizing timeshare rentals can drive people from a Facebook promotion to a landing page where they can fill out a form and put in their address, which can then be used to create a private list or custom audience of future renters. On Twitter or Facebook, resorts can introduce special offers that reward guests with an in-room gift if they book and post or tweet about it. Capture those guests and create a list of people who can be directly marketed to in the future. But most important, you can create a space where guests and owners communicate freely as well as share their experiences and their own content, such as photos, reviews and tips. “If you enhance the value of information on the platform, such as publicizing exclusive offers, or make it a place where users share their personal experiences without expecting rewards or compensation, you create a relationship of trust,” Kang says. “This creates a brand community that helps members and potential guests and can lead to bookings.”
Image credit: illustration by Ryan Garcia