There are over 2.5 billion active social media users worldwide. The big four platforms make up the vast majority of these users consisting of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Considering their popularity, you have probably heard of at least one of them but if you are not a frequent user of each then there are numerous changes that have most likely occurred since the last time you logged in. These four social outlets have become a staple of everyday life so it is more important than ever that hoteliers familiarize themselves with these platforms to ensure that we continuously speak our guests' language. While they once individually filled niche roles in the social world, the features seen across each platform have begun to standardize; a trend we'll see continue into 2017. Let's take a look at how each platform has evolved this past year and what we can look forward to in 2017. We'll then explore some changes that will affect the entire social landscape.
The eldest of the featured platforms, Facebook has been known to make significant changes to their product year to year. This past year brought us Facebook Reactions, an expansion on the popular "like" function that allows users to be more expressive with five emojis. Clever marketers have used this function to create polls by assigning certain criteria to each emoji. This promotes engagement with your guests and allows another forum for them to express their opinions. Along with Reactions, Facebook Live was an extremely important evolution to the platform. Video will continue to be king in 2017, especially when it comes to live content. The function allows you to speak directly to your guests and creates a sense of urgency due to it being live. Engagement is key for a successful Live strategy, so create content that promotes your guests to comment as you go.
In an effort to keep up with Snapchat, Facebook acquired a company called Masquerade. Masquerade allows users to record videos and edit them similarly to Snapchat's filter function. This augmented reality technology has become a huge focus of Facebook alongside their virtual reality efforts. Look for lenses and filters to become an everyday application within Facebook in the near future, furthering the homogenization of the platforms. While virtual reality is still the future, the everyday application for consumers is just not convenient yet which is why it had minimal impact last year. As Facebook continues to develop the technology it will be important for hotels to stay ahead of the curve by being early adopters.
CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, recently shed some light on the future direction of the platform in a message to Twitter employees:
"Twitter is what's happening, and what everyone is talking about (literally!). News and talk. We're the people's news network. People choose us for news because we're the fastest. Fastest to get news, and fastest to share news with the whole world. Now let's strive to be the first. The first place people check to see what's happening…and the first place to break what's happening. In the moment LIVE, or a fast recap of what we know so far…what matters."
In essence, Twitter is becoming a news product. The platform has seen a decline over the past few years but that in no way means it is dead. While publicly looking for a buyer, Twitter is still constantly evolving. They are the original big four platform to embrace live streaming video (with their purchase of Periscope) and continue to push this trend by entering broadcast partnerships with organizations like the NFL.
Taking a cue from the hospitality industry, Twitter focused greatly on improving their customer service for users and businesses. It would make sense that this trend continues with improved business tools to help stabilize the platform. One theory behind the recent decline is that the novel concept of the 140 character limits has worn off. Consumers today are looking for more in-depth content which is hard to do within Twitter. An evolution of the platform could potentially allow businesses the ability to expand past the normal 140-character limit and provide bigger, slower content like Facebook or Instagram.
Facebook-owned Instagram continues to be one of the fastest evolving social media platforms with an exceedingly bright future. Instagram released its Stories feature this past year that appeared to be in direct response to Snapchat's success. The feature promotes content that will vanish in 24 hours. In another key move this past year, Instagram released Business Tools. This feature allows verified profiles access to analytics and the ability to create ads directly within the platform. These two features combined allow for adding "See More" links to Instagram Stories. This has simplified the process of driving traffic from Instagram that can be utilized for booking and other promotions for hotels.
As we look forward, it can be expected to see much more in depth business tools available for verified profiles. This has been an area of opportunity for the platform since inception so it only makes sense that it would be continually developed. In the theme of homogenization, we can also look to Instagram to enter the live video game realm and expand its direct messaging features. These two features are prevalent across all the major platforms and continue to be features looked for by users and businesses alike.
Snapchat is the most exciting of the big four platforms to watch. From the hotel side of things, it has been difficult to break into Snapchat with any meaningful impact (unless you have a very creative and dedicated marketing effort on property) but that will likely change as the young application continues to evolve. This past year brought about many exciting and innovative changes that have begun to open the door for businesses to actively participate. One of these was the release of sponsored geofilters. Geofilters allow any user to create a unique filter available within a targeted radius to anyone using Snapchat. While exciting for brands, the cost is still a bit steep for most to participate.
Spectacles marks Snap Inc's first venture into a physical product. They have done what other wearables have not by capturing the illusive "cool" factor. Spectacles are mainly targeted at Snapchat's teenage audience and have been marketed mostly by word of mouth as the product was not made available to media and is extremely hard to get. With the development of Spectacles, Snap Inc has pioneered 115-degree field of view video which is similar to that of the human eye. The importance of this technology is that it solves the age-old question of whether to film video landscape or portrait because the content will always fill a mobile screen. For reference, here is a demonstration of this technology: https://youtu.be/7-18SDeArE8
Across all of the big four social media platforms, there has been a notable decline in organic visibility of content. This has brought about a pay to play ad renaissance of sorts as social media ad spend is up 33.5 percent to nearly $24 billion dollars annually. This evolution will continue because as the platforms are continually trying to improve user experience, they will decrease the visibility of business created content. This will also increase the importance of social media influencers (users with a large fan base that become product advocates). For hoteliers, these social influencers are travel bloggers that have smartly expanded into social media.
Communications has always been important across social media but all of the big four platforms have been improving their messaging features. The continued research into artificial intelligence and chatbots looks to support these efforts and a combination of chatbot based ads is likely in the near future. Nothing beats real-time engagement though, especially as the technology is being developed. This trend of an increase in communications exchanged between brands and consumers leads to expanded customization of guest experiences and good customer service for hotels. In addition, Facebook has entered the professional communication game with Workplace by creating a centralized, internal hub for communication and productivity. It will be interesting to see if the other platforms try to follow suit.
Social media's evolution can be a lot to keep up with due to the speed at which change occurs but it does not have to be overwhelming. Hotels can benefit from all of the big four platforms but that does not mean they have to be on all of them. With homogenization prevalent there are no longer niche benefits to individual platforms. A focus should be placed on the platform that best speaks to your demographic to achieve continued success as the evolution of social media continues.
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R. A. Rauch & Associates, Inc.
11025 Vista Sorrento Parkway
San Diego, CA 92130
Robert A. Rauch, CHA
Robert Rauch, CHA, is a nationally recognized hotelier and President of R. A. Rauch & Associates, Inc., a leading hospitality management and consulting firm. Rauch has over 35 years of hospitality- related management experience in all facets of the industry. Widely recognized as the 'hotel guru', Mr. Rauch maintains a blog where he expounds upon insights and trends in the hospitality industry at www.hotelguru.com. Along with the blog, he also publishes Hospitality Innsights, an electronic newsletter that is distributed monthly. Mr. Rauch held nearly every position in the hotel business including General Manager of full-service Four Diamond hotels for Hilton and Embassy Suites. His education includes a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Administration from Western International University and a master’s degree in Tourism Administration from Arizona State University. He is a Certified Hotel Administrator and has served as chairman of numerous tourism organizations nationally and in the western U.S. He has been directly involved in developing several leading brand hotels, some of which the firm still owns and manages. R. A. Rauch & Associates, Inc. currently operates hotels in California, Arizona and Colorado with several under development.
Robert A. Rauch
R. A. Rauch & Associates, Inc.