The best marketing your hotel can receive comes from word of mouth generated by your promoters and advocates.

A joint study between Ogilvy, Google and TNS found that 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision. However, developing a relationship over social media with your guests can seem time-consuming and overwhelming, and as a result may only be carried out in an ad-hoc fashion. The right strategy can help you efficiently focus your efforts so that you can maximise word of mouth and not miss valuable opportunities.

1. Develop your digital presence

It is easier to develop your guests into brand advocates if your social presence is inspiring for guests. To create a compelling social presence, post regularly on your channels and include images that are visually appealing and relevant to your location. Look at the trends in posts receiving the most engagement and optimise for what’s resonating.

Consider the brand personality of your hotel. Are design and style important to who you are as a brand? Or perhaps you have a strong association with the arts, or an award-winning restaurant? Make sure that the photos you post reflect your brand’s personality and the features that best distinguish your property.

As another item, think about the balance of subjects in your Instagram photos. If there are too many photos of empty rooms and spaces, your account will lack personality. Consider the balance between elements like  food and drink, scenic views, closeups of one or two people, group shots, candid shots versus posed shots, as well as informational/text images and regrams. Be conscious of the emotional aspect of each image – do the group shots show people laughing, enjoying themselves?

To find the right balance of subjects for your hotel, you’ll need to test the performance of your posts. Pay attention to the amount of engagement each post generates and how many followers are lost/gained.

2. Find and cultivate your advocates

It’s likely that many of your social media followers are also your biggest promoters. Even those who aren’t yet promoters have the potential to be, since these people have already taken the first step towards engaging with you. There are a number of tools available that can help you to find relevant influencers. Tools like Klout calculate individual scores for people on social media to determine someone’s level of influence, while BuzzSumo is an example of a tool that allows you to search for influencers based on subject keywords.

Now, what about the guests in your hotel who are not currently following you? A location-based social listening tool can help you connect with the people who are posting on social media from your property. Anyone who is sharing positive content is already exhibiting the behavior  of an advocate, and with location-based alerts you can build on that relationship without missing a beat.

3. Make them feel special

People tend to like when a brand acknowledges their social media post, so long as it is a relevant response. By reaching out to them individually, you are showing they are worthy of personalised attention. Compliment them on their photo and if relevant, suggest other areas of the hotel they might visit or other experiences to take part in. You might also thank them for their post with a small gift. Small gifts with no strings attached are sure to surprise and delight – particularly on special occasions – and amenities delivered to their room with a note might even prompt another mention on social media.

Leverage the best user-generated content from your guests by asking those who post particularly good photos or videos if you can share their content on your website and social channels.

If you discover that an influencer will be staying with you, you may even want to extend an offer for a takeover, which is when a brand invites someone to temporarily take over all publishing of a brand’s content on a social platform. Instagram takeovers typically run for a day and provide  an opportunity to have fresh content outside of what you would normally publish. One of the main benefits, however, is that your brand gains exposure to the influencer’s following. Before the takeover, the influencer announces the takeover on their channel and invites their followers to follow your brand channel. Alternatively, you might ask all guests to compete for a one-day takeover opportunity by posting with a campaign hashtag.

4. Be helpful and inspire quality content

A quick look at a guest’s Instagram account should give you an idea as to the type of activities they are interested in. Leveraging that information, you can comment on their posts or respond to them on Twitter with tailored suggestions for things they might do during their stay. Research has shown that 77% of brand conversations on social media are people looking for advice, information, or help.

Encourage UGC by setting up campaigns that challenge guests photography skills. Think about the areas of your property (and times of day) that are the most Instagram-worthy and asks guests to post their best shot. Alternatively, you might want to explore new angles or views by asking guests to share their favourite spot within your property. These photos can form a unique UGC gallery on your website, helping to attract and inspire new customers.

5. Be photo-shoot ready

Posts on Instagram have a longer shelf life than posts on other platforms, and Instagram’s algorithm prioritises the quality of content in how posts rank in users’  feeds. Make sure that your hotel is visually inspiring for guests and create points of interest in common areas such as the hotel lobby, restaurant, rest areas on each level etc. Depending on the psychographic of your audience, the interest point could be a glamorous piece of furniture or statement lighting; an abstract and eye-catching sculpture; or even a strong design-aesthetic that inspires guests to take photos.  If you see friends or couples enjoying themselves, have a staff member offer to take a photo of them. Finally, you can enable during-stay posts by offering a fast and free wifi connection.

6. Keep the relationship going

Don’t let the relationship end when the guest checks out. If the experience has been positive, the guest will likely post content after they leave as well. Ask guests to leave you a review on TripAdvisor, still the main source of travel reviews.

Think about opening the door for return visits, and ways in which you could personalise a guest’s subsequent visit. The report ‘Hotel 2020: The Personalization Paradox’ published by IBM Global Business Services, goes so far to suggest that personalisation of guest experience may the single most important feature for hotels to stay competitive. By engaging personally with your guests on social media, you stand a far greater chance of being top of mind next time they book.