Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mobile + Social = GeoSocial Strategies for Hotels

With Facebook’s recent release of its Places features and the growing enthusiasm of Foursquare in particular, mobile enabled Social Media, or GeoSocial, is coming into the mainstream. I’ve seen great articles lately regarding the power of mobile marketing vs traditional web, and I’d like to add to the discussion with a particular focus on hotels. In general, I see two broad GeoSocial strategies for hotels: Internal Strategies are most ideal for large resorts that have a variety of amenities and services onsite. External Strategies are more suitable for limited service hotels, especially those that belong to a brand with multiple sites.

Internal Strategies focus on being sure that the major GeoSocial platforms (Facebook Places, Foursquare…) have listed all of the possible locations where guests might congregate at your hotel or resort. This includes all restaurants, bars, golf, spa, rooftop areas, and more. Because many venues/places are user generated, you’ll usually find that most of your venues are already covered. An important first step is to claim each of these venues/places. And be sure to check for misspellings or other rogue venues that reference your hotel, but might not be “official” and therefore create unfocused traffic. As the GeoSocial services themselves become more sophisticated, you will be able to engage in dialog with your guests on more focused topics, like golf for example. At the same time, your guests (and their friends) will be better able to share, provide feedback, and more.

Connecting with your guests on these various fronts should drive social acquisition, which supports a variety of objectives (see here for a few ideas). First efforts in this area do not require a specific mobile application or website updates. However, as hotels evolve to more sophisticated strategies, mobile applications and websites will become a necessity.

External Strategies for GeoSocial seek to leverage a hotel’s role as a defined destination and an ambassador to a particular neighborhood, town, or city. For example, your guests will still need/want restaurants, bars, and business services, even if your hotel does not offer them itself. Your external strategy should seek to extend the concierge concept for guests who need help. The challenge here is that this strategy seeks to insert itself between the guest and the existing GeoSocial platforms and Review platforms like Yelp, Google, and others. This means that a mobile website or mobile app is almost certainly a necessity, which creates a higher barrier to entry for smaller or individual hotels. The payoff, especially for chains, however, is that guests will have a ubiquitous application to help them navigate from city to city, using the hotels as a base of operations – perfect for business travelers and road trips.

When thinking through mobile application development, consider functionality that will be most useful for the guest (hint: it’s probably not creating another reservation). Think through, too, how the application can leverage existing platforms – it is unlikely that anyone will get value out of a brand-specific platform for rating restaurants, for example – let the existing services like Yelp handle that for you. For a great example, see the WehoKey mobile app put out by the West Hollywood Visitors Bureau.

Also, note that internal and external strategies are not mutually exclusive. As an example, a resort can ensure that all of its onsite bars, restaurants, and services are represented while also including (perhaps for a price) local tour operators or other specialty service providers who don’t compete with the hotel directly. In fact, enabling local business to advertise on your mobile application could become a new revenue stream. And, as platforms continue to evolve, coupon options enabled by mobile could support per-person tracking of traffic driven from a hotel to local restaurants.

If that last example seems too far-out for you, consider where we were two years ago in regards to Facebook and mobile adoption. The pace of user adoption of these technologies, and the pace of the technological evolution itself, continues to quicken. It is essential to begin thinking now about these new opportunities if hotels are going to have any hope of gaining a competitive edge in the near future.