You can barely turn around these days without someone shouting about social media and the uses of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and all manner of similar new websites to reach customers.
There can be no denying that the online landscape has changed immeasurably over the past few years. The meteoric rise of Facebook since its launch in 2004 simply cannot be ignored - 500 million active users and a recent Hollywood movie starring Justin Timberlake is testament to the power that social networks can have on the general population and it's no surprise that brands are jostling to get on board.
But the key question for hoteliers is how to effectively target, harness and maximise this huge audience to help drive business and increase bookings.
Guests are tending to shop around online more and more prior to booking room nights, ensuring they find the best deal, location, brand and property to suits their needs. It's during this research phase that a hotel needs to grab attention and stand head and shoulders above the crowd. This can be achieved through engaging content and an innovative social media strategy.
Improving relationships with customers through a two-way dialogue between your business and customers should be your primary goal - this should, in turn, lead to those customers spending more with your business. If you're just selling with no more added value than an advertisement, then you're unlikely to yield any benefit.
At Radisson Edwardian and the May Fair hotel, we use a combination of hotel blogs, Twitter and interactive content to encourage users to participate in and develop a stronger relationship with our brands. Our May Fair hotel blog, for example, includes guest blogging slots and celebrity sightings as well as video interviews with the likes of Paris Hilton.
We are continually developing customer relationships and strategies to ensure that new trends are identified and adopted early - maximising our online presence.
Social media users are a force to be reckoned with and the changes will continue to steamroller on. Some will stick their heads in the sand and continue to operate in much the same way they always have, but the savvier businesses will adapt to this evolving environment to offer customers a better quality of service and depth of relationship than ever before.
Lisa Smith, director of finance and distribution, Radisson Edwardian Hotel Group
five key steps to social media success
1 Intelligent targeting Before embarking on your social media journey, ensure you have researched and fully understand the target audience. The interactive nature of social media means that your users will become the key opinion formers of your campaign - their posts and activity will play a part in shaping the ultimate messages you deliver through your online presence.
2 Channels It's easy to become tangled up in an over-complicated strategy that branches across all possible social channels but it's important to remember that the simplest ideas are often the best ones. Focus on one or two channels that are key to your target audience - keeping plans simple initially will make them easier to implement.
3 Develop presence People join social networks for two main reasons, enjoyment and value. Develop your presence by making sure that all content and information shared is relevant, useful and interesting to your audience. Always do your research and keep on top of all the latest trends. Posting content that is neither fun nor providing value will only turn people off.
4Engage users Once your presence has been established and the community is active it's time to engage them - be interactive and encourage discussion among users. Think of social media as an extension of your customer services function, used as a forum for customers to pose questions - all queries should be answered promptly and honestly.
5Optimisation Linking through is important. Ensure all activities act as direct traffic drivers by including links to your main site and booking pages to maximise click through and sales. Each social media platform utilised should work to cross promote all your others.