In todays edition of Hotel and Social Media interviews I talk to Barb Youchah, Sales Manager at Comfort Inn Middletown-Red Bank, NJ.

Q: How does a small Hotel like Comfort Inn manages Social Media on a day-to-day basis?

(*NOTE – notice all Social Touch Points here on Comfort Inn Middletown-Red Bank, NJ Website, and the very innovative toolbar they use. Hotel Friends – TAKE NOTES!!)

I have an action plan that I try to stick to, but if the nature of the hotel business gets in the way, so be it. I’ll try to make it up at another time. My weekly goals include 3 blog posts, 3 Facebook updates, checking in on Twitter a few times per day to see what’s going on and to make sure we have a seasonally appropriate foursquare check-in special. I look at Social Media as a complement to our marketing plan and it offers a much easier way to network and reach out to potential guests and referral sources.

Q: On a small Hotel you often end up operating as a ‘Jack Of All Tray’s’ – what are some of the challenges you have met so far related to Social Media?

All I can say is baby steps. I don’t let it control my day. As a “Jack of All Trades” I never really know what to expect day-to-day so I just go with the flow. Some days allow me to be more active than others. Blogging really proves to be the most challenging when it comes to time crunches. I don’t like to post anything that I don’t think is perfect. I’ve actually started preparing posts to leave on the side for when I am too busy to write. I’ve also found importing a simple YouTube video and writing a paragraph or two elicits a great response from my followers.

Q: With Social Media do you find that guest engage more with your Hotel;
a. before they made a decision to book your Hotel
b. after the made the decision, and then seek to learn more about your hotel
c. during their stay
d. after they left the Hotel

I’m going to have to say all of the above. I get the most guest engagement when I initiate the contact. Our business is very seasonal since we are located near the shore. During the summer our guests are much younger and active on these platforms and in the off season (for now) it’s quieter because our guest is older. My feeling is that it’s important to be out there. Not only for interacting with guests, but also the attractions, events, and demand generators to obtain leads.

Q: You utilize several Social Networks platforms like blogging, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. How important would you say it has been for your Hotel to start engage through these Social Media channels?

My situation was somewhat unique in coming to work for this hotel. I was completely new to the area and the state. I did not know anyone or about anything where I was now working. There was no history to work from or sales files. I had a fresh slate and needed to figure out rather quickly how to generate some business. I’ll try to keep it brief but in order or importance in regards to my use and reaping of benefit from social media;
1. Twitter
2. Blogging
3. Facebook
4. LinkedIn

Twitter is an easy platform on which to network much the same as you would face to face by attending an event, except you don’t have to physically go anywhere. Find people who are relevant to your field, area, and business and start chatting. In all honesty I started the blog because I hated our website. I wanted a place to be able to tie the hotel into what was happening in the area – the reason why people stay in hotels. The added perk was that everything was new to me and thus exciting. If it excites me, I figure it’s worth sharing with potential guests. I’ve also used it to help promote others which has gone a long way in winning referrals and business. Facebook has really been useful on a local level. There are a ton of networking groups that are active on Facebook and I’ve met many people through it but guest interaction has been pretty low. The same with Linked In. It has been very valuable for me personally as a more professional and business like version of Facebook.

Q: Many small Hotels fear some of the changes and ‘negative’ effects of Social Media. Can you give a brief description of how you have approached some of these challenges for your Hotel?

You are either in the game or you aren’t. I’ve been active on social media platforms for over a year now. I haven’t had one incidence of negative feedback. Granted we do offer great guest service at our hotel and are very proud of that. Part of offering great guest service is communication and having a relationship with the guest is another. An unsatisfied guest is going to say bad things about a hotel on social media whether or not you are there to listen. Personally, I’d rather have the opportunity to interact and rectify the situation than let it fester. Angry people can hold a grudge for years. Nip it in the bud with good communication, you may just make your angry guest into a brand ambassador. I look at social media as an opportunity not an obstacle.

Q: You have got some attention from other bloggers for your positive Social Media approach. How would describe your Hotels experience with Word (or rather World) of Mouth has been versus traditional marketing channels?

With a very limited marketing budget, word of mouth is about the best thing there is. World of mouth is exactly what social networking is. It brings the world to your computer, mobile device or whatever you use and your voice can be heard. That is, if you speak in a way that people want to listen to. That means being interesting, sharing your knowledge and giving back in my opinion. Keeping content light and friendly has worked best. Since starting at the hotel, I have trimmed out a lot of the costly print advertising namely AAA and the phone book. It is far more rewarding to have the interaction through social media than to assume people are seeing our print ads and then deciding to stay with us.

Q: If you would list some advices for other Small Hotels based on your experience – what are some of the best practices they could adapt to their situation?

  • Get started. That’s the hardest part. There are still so many hotels doing nothing on social media platforms.
  • Learn through listening. Listening is one of the keys to successful face to face networking and it works the same with social media and on-line efforts. Listening will help you get the feeling of how the conversations flow and etiquette nuances of the various platforms. Once you get it, keep listening.
  • I’ve worked my focus into talking about the reasons why people are staying in my hotel. They aren’t staying with us to see what the inside of our rooms look like. They are coming for a wedding, the beach, or an area event. I talk about those things, not the hotel. Besides it’s much more fun to talk about a race, an oyster fest, restaurant week, etc.
  • Be patient. Rome was not built in a day and your on-line “community” won’t be either. It takes some work, but is worth the effort. Think of quality over quantity. Who cares if you have 1,000,000 followers but they are all empty spaces not listening to what you’re saying. I’d rather have 100 people that enjoy the content I’m producing and then share it with their communities. That’s where the value is.
  • Figure out where your guests are most active as well as your community. Local folks are a great source of referrals. Spend the majority of your time on those networks. I find my blog and Twitter to be the platforms that work best for me, thus I spend the majority of my time focusing on those. Not every market is the same and some people excel at platforms that aren’t for other people. Keep an open mind and try them out.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed. We are all busy and working in a hotel is so unpredictable. Setting goals for the week can help keep you on track. Like everything else, keep them reasonable as to what fits into your schedule. There are some weeks I do a great job of being present on-line and sometimes the face-to-face nature of the hotel requires me to spend less time on-line. It’s a balancing act.
  • Social is not a marketing plan. It’s a complement to your current one. All it costs is time and effort. I’m a bit of a purist and think it should be done by the property, not an “expert”.
  • Attend seminars on SM and meet people in similar shoes as you and grow together. It makes it more fun to learn with someone else. Plus there’s immediately someone to talk to. I buddied up to a few businesses locally that I thought were doing social well. I followed/friended/liked them, picked their brains and they have turned into some of my greatest supporters.
  • Q: What has been most important for your Hotel;
    a. to be on the Social Networks like blog, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
    b. to participate in Social Networking and engage with our guest

    I don’t think it’s wise to be on Social Networks and not engage. That’s the whole point. I am at a small hotel and I am very easy to get in touch with. If there are needs or issues, I can rectify them very quickly. Accessibility creates a trust and I think people really like that.

Comfort Inn Middletown-Red Bank, NJ

Barb Youchah is the Sales Manager at Comfort Inn Middletown-Red Bank, NJ

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Make sure you connect with Barb and Comfort Inn Middletown-Red Bank, NJ and you will get some Social Proof in action