For those of us who have been a part of the business world long enough to remember life before the Internet, the new, connected world can sometimes be overwhelming. Connectivity has afforded us the opportunity to reach people whom we may have never interacted with previously, and as sales and marketing professionals, provides us a unique opportunity to harness technology to make real connections with potential customers.
By now, most of us have incorporated social media into our personal lives to keep in touch with family, reconnect with old friends, offer reviews of our favorite restaurants and get feedback from fellow commuters to assist us in navigating rush hour traffic. But when it comes to business and leveraging the power of digital connections to establish relationships with potential clients and customers, many more seasoned professionals draw a line between the online world and the physical workplace. In the hospitality arena, where guest experiences, vendor relationships and cooperative alliances are the lifeblood of the industry, erasing that line can generate tremendous benefit and enhance the connections that we work so hard to make in the physical world.
The truth is, the connected world is so much a part of where we are now, in all aspects of life, that there is no turning back at this stage of the game. We no longer write the overnight rate in a leather-bound ledger on the front desk, reach behind us to grab the room key from a wooden cubby-hole and have the guest sign the guest ledger before ushering them off to their room, while explaining which bath they will share other rooms. Things change, and today they change at breakneck speed. With that said, it certainly doesn’t mean that those of us who began our careers with card files and a Rolodex, pre-cell phone and pre-Internet, must sit back and turn over the reins to those who have grown up with technology. On the contrary, now is the time to step up to the challenge and learn to take advantage of the tools that are available to us in this new, connection-based economy, where value is created by the relationships we establish and maintain.
Whether it’s a sales manager trying to book a conference group; a revenue manager trying to make sure that room price maximizes demand while balancing perceived worth of a room; or a vendor, like me, trying to communicate the value of a product or service, it’s a time-tested truth that people prefer to do business with those who they know, like and trust. In days gone by, people preferred to trade with the shop owner down the street or dine at the local eatery, where everyone gathered to hear and share the latest town news. These same principles can be applied today in a virtual world, where technology broadens the net and enables a person to connect with nearly anyone in the world whom they choose. It’s all about using the tools, making the contacts and fostering these relationships with an honest, human approach.
There are many opportunities and platforms upon which to connect in today’s business world, which is one of the reasons why this topic becomes so overwhelming, even for the tech savvy. Let’s start with three of the top social networking platforms and take a brief look at how you can begin to build a presence and take advantage of the digital networking mixer that we have at our fingertips.
As the primary social media network for business, LinkedIn continues to see rapid growth, up over 37% from last year, with nearly 277 million members online. This tool, which offers both desktop and mobile app versions, offers a wealth of information about people with whom you may be meeting or seeking to connect with.
To make the biggest impact on LinkedIn, start with a comprehensive profile of yourself and your organization, and be sure to include a professional looking, headshot-style profile photo. By spending just a few minutes each day on the platform, reviewing profiles and establishing connections with people in industry circles, you can begin to make more contacts with individuals with whom you are seeking to connect. A few of the larger groups in our industry include Hotel Industry Travel Professionals Worldwide (a private group with over 197,000 members); Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Group (a private group with over 76,000 members); and Hospitality Group (another private group with nearly 70,000 members). Join and interact with groups that are appropriate forums to meet others in your industry, and if there is someone who you would like to meet who has a common connection with you, it never hurts to ask your connection for a virtual introduction!
As a word of advice, don’t get too crazy with a mass outpouring of invitations to connect, and only connect when the connection can deliver a true mutual value. If you send too many connection requests that are declined or the recipients say they don’t know you, you run the risk of being flagged by LinkedIn and having your account restricted. Take pride in the quality of your connections, not the quantity of your connections. Finally, take the time to draft a unique request to connect, instead of the generic one that LinkedIn generates.
Most of us are familiar with Facebook and its power in connecting friends and families. With over 1 billion users (and 874 million of those are on mobile devices, which should give you a hint as to how people are consuming this information), Facebook is a common virtual ground that the world has come to share. But many people do not know that Facebook can also serve as a powerful research tool to locate and learn more about potential customer contacts.
While this feature is currently only available on the desktop version of Facebook, you can take advantage of the Graph Search tool to research potential business contacts and customers you may be meeting with or seeking to establish a connection to. Up along the top blue menu bar, there is a box with a magnifying glass, where you can input queries like, “People who work for Marriott International who live in Baltimore, Maryland” and a list of people matching this request will come up. This is information that individuals have elected to share publicly, so don’t feel strange about researching it (because your competition is!).
In addition to personal pages, most businesses can be found on Facebook today, as well, creating a unique connection to the customer that did not exist prior to social media’s evolution. Exploring and researching potential business partners and competitive properties on their Facebook pages will provide you with a unique insight on how the business presents itself to its customers, and what its customers have to say about the business. The online world is very transparent, and if someone has experienced service (good or bad), they now have a platform to talk about it, and it’s there for the world to see. This is also an important point to drive home to your hotel teams, who are constantly striving for the perfect guest experience. Their interactions with guests are critical in today’s social world!
Twitter is a much “noisier” social media tool, with over 500 MILLION “tweets” sent each day. It is easy to become overwhelmed by this platform; however, one way in which it can be handy in the business world is at industry trade shows and conferences. Typically, event organizers will create a “hashtag” (a particular word, preceded by a #) that is promoted on pre-conference materials, encouraging participants to utilize and share. In essence, you can become your own broadcasting platform, sharing your experiences and discoveries over the event. By using the designated #hashtag at the end of each tweet, conference goers can discover your posts and potentially connect with you at the event, and vice versa. Categorizing your tweets with the designated hashmark also makes them searchable to followers or media who may not be attending the conference, but would like to follow an attendee’s experience at the event. Of all of the social platforms discussed, Twitter is probably the most labor intensive (tweeting hourly or more during peak event times is not unreasonable), but provides the ability for real-time connections and discussions around a single topic.
While social media was once thought by the business world to be a novelty, the truth is, it’s here to stay, and continues to change the way we see our world, inside the workplace and out.
These are some very basic tips to integrate today’s most popular social media tools into your communications strategy and your connections with guests, prospects and customers. As with most technologies today, things are rapidly changing with all of these platforms, and it takes an effort to keep up-to-date on the latest techniques and strategies. But with a little time each day in developing your online presence and connections, you will find many of these tactics second nature and will begin to enjoy the benefits that the online world has to offer.
This article was originally published in Hotel Executive Online. For a link to this article, visit Hotel Executive.