Last February, Best Western became one of the first major hotel chains to offer reservations directly from its Facebook page.
After a six-year presence in social media, Best Western is beginning to experiment with more targeted campaigns and seasonally-driven promotions to fill more than 300,000 hotel rooms spread across more than 100 countries and territories.
"Social permeates pretty much all of our marketing spaces today," said Dorothy Dowling, SVP of marketing and sales at the hotel chain. "I don't see social as being discreet, I see it as something across all of our marketing and frankly across all of our operations."
Last February, Best Western became one of the first major hotel chains to offer reservations directly from its Facebook page. It also funded a survey to determine the greatest problems facing business travelers, and built a campaign to help elevate the personal sacrifices they make while traveling. Best Western's "Be a Travel Hero" Facebook promotion encouraged loyalty members to enter for a chance at a dream vacation for their family and friends.
"It wasn't a business trip. It was a vacation-earning conquest," one of the promotional ads reads. "With Facebook we really wanted to amplify this whole opportunity and make these people heroes" by letting the most important people in their life plan a dream vacation, Dowling explained.
"For us, it's really understating that loyalty is an important metric in the hotel category. It is something that is very important to business travelers in particular to be rewarded for their behavior," she said.
During the campaign, Best Western's Facebook page added 256,000 new fans and experienced a 12-fold increase in engagement. It also generated a 20 percent increase in revenue during the spring promotion, but Dowling couldn't elaborate on how much of that growth could be attributed to Facebook. "It's considerable growth over what that performance would be, and with that Facebook pushed us to think very differently with the platform," she said. "I think everyone is trying to get their arms around what the most decisive elements in the mix was [sic]."
Dowling also declined to share how many rooms have been booked on Facebook to date, but said, "It's pretty small. Most of our volume is directly booked through BestWestern.com. We don't imagine that changing in the future."
Social media is changing how hotels and travelers connect and it's mostly happening outside the traditional points of service - check-in, checkout, for example - at the hotel. "Social media has definitely changed the business. I don't think it's exclusive to the marketing space," but rather the industry overall, Dowling told ClickZ in a phone interview. "When I look at social, I look at it transcending much more beyond the customer and the marketplace."
Whether they intend to or not, hotel customers are becoming less transparent with companies like Best Western as they share more personal information on social media. "Digital is such an important piece of our marketing mix…We have increased our spend overall over the last several years by about 25 percent, as opposed to shifting a mix," Dowling said. "My hope is that we're going to put more dollars into the digital/social space…We believe that this space affords us more effective cross-sale promotions than some of the intermediary spaces."
Matt Kapko has been writing about mobile since 2006, before it became cool. Based in Long Beach, CA, he has covered mobile entertainment, digital media, marketing, and advertising for several business media outlets. A former editor and reporter for RCR Wireless News, paidContent, and iMedia Connection, Matt is a regular freelance reporter for ClickZ. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattKapko or drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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