[Interview] In Conversation with Hanisha Lalwani, Courtyard by Marriott, Pune On How the Hotel Executes its Social Media Strategy

1We interviewed, Hanisha Lalwani – Assistant Manager, Marketing & Communications who handles the social media vertical internally at Courtyard by Marriott Pune City Centre. She highlights how Courtyard better understands its customers & fosters brand loyalty through fresh content. She also throws light upon how customer queries & grievances are effectively addressed at the earliest.

What role does social media play in your marketing communications?  How important is it for a premier business brand like yours to be in the social space?

The emphasis on social media and the role it plays in our integrated marketing communications plan has become more pronounced, especially over the last year. Having a digital presence for the hotel is a quick, economical and real-time medium to connect with our target audience. Through social media, a hotel can drive its awareness, share news on offers, F&B promotions and events. It also helps build/change the perception of a hotel and foster brand loyalty through good content.

Guests today are digital-savvy and very proactive in sharing their hotel experiences on social media. Hence, it becomes very important that we use platforms like Facebook and Twitter as effective listening tools. We reply to online queries or address grievances posted by guests on social media at the earliest possible. A hotel’s activity on social media also helps drive bookings and increase its search engine visibility.

How do you plan your content strategy? Is it entirely driven by your sales objectives or do you need to keep in mind the overall brand proposition of your group and weave this around it?

The content strategy revolves around the brand voice and proposition. Our content has to be current, and property-and city-specific. The ultimate goal of using good content is to drive brand awareness, increase footfalls to the hotel and incite room and F&B reservations. Also, we can’t be self-obsessed on social media – in that, every post cannot be about us, nor can posts have a heavy sales pitch. It needs to connect with the customer; it needs to be high on EQ.

We share interesting behind-the-scene images of a shoot for instance or a video of the Hotel’s Independence Day celebrations for instance. But we don’t only talk about our hotel. We also share interesting information on local city events or trivia about local food or Pune’s culture – such content we have found becomes more engaging and helps break through the chatter.
 
What part of your marketing spends is allocated to social media and how do you measure the efficacy of your social media campaigns?
We believe in having a good mix between organic growth and paid advertising on social media. Both go hand-in-hand. So far, we have not heavily invested in social media spends for the hotel as we have been quite active in managing our platforms on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And there has been a fair amount of interactions generated through following the right people and interacting with the influencers.

Efficacy of social media initiatives is measured by the number of fans/likes (relative to competition), the number of active fans, the reach per post (likes, comments, shares and views), ‘Talking about this’ (Facebook) and referral traffic and revenue.

Courtyard by Marriott Pune City Centre has been focusing on a big social media push towards extended weekends. Can you outline your social media strategy for the same?

Extended weekends have a good scope for hotels especially in the Pune market. We have seen a trend wherein people from our nearest source market i.e. Mumbai plan to spend long weekends in Pune which is a mere 3 hour drive away. For instance, we extended special stay packages for Holi this year which fell on a weekend. We also design special room packages for the Christmas-New Year peak season. In such cases, in the past we have used a mix of Facebook’s targeted sponsored stories and stamp ads to reach out to our TG and gain eyeballs for our special rates to drive bookings. Last New Year, we also tied up with Food Blogger Association of India on Twitter where they hosted a contest for us and the winner received a 2 day stay voucher from us. This content helped create a lot of online buzz about the New Year festivities planned at our hotel.

Who manages your social media? Do you have a team in house that manages it or do you have an external agency?  Tell us about your work flow when it comes to execution of a social media strategy.

We manage our social platforms internally. It falls under the purview of the Marketing & Communications function. Managing social media internally has been a smooth and quick process. Content is always fresh and current and pictures are as desired. The execution is also quick and in real time as the urgency is best understood by the team internally as compared to an external agency.

Moreover, adherence to brand voice is assured when social media is handled at property level. Also sometimes the most interesting content is created when unplanned moments are captured at the property, such as behind-the-scenes. Such candid shots captured at the hotel are shared almost in real time and make for a great post on social media.

Presence in the social space especially twitter opens you up to receive feedback and criticisms from customers. How is your social media presence integrated with your CRM to manage this? Do you encourage bookings through social media?

While social media is a great medium to drive hotel awareness and build perception, it is also important that you use it as a listening tool. It is important to monitor what people are saying about your brand. It becomes a way to understand the hotel’s strengths and weaknesses and helps identify parameters on which we need to improve. We follow a mandate wherein responses to guest problems on social media are posted within 48 hours.

What is your plan of action in case of a crisis situation? Does your social media presence have a role to play when you have a company crisis?

Social media helps us identify customer comments that have the potential to go viral and become a PR concern. Immediate action is then taken to limit the adverse impact of that particular comment. A timely and responsible response to guests shows customers that we care about them. It offers a chance to turn dissatisfied guest into a satisfied customer. And yes, social media is very important during a crisis as it is the best and quickest way to communicate your statement to a large audience.
 
What are the three platforms on social that a hospitality brand like yours must most definitely be present?

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the platforms that a hotel should definitely be present on. Each platform has a reach potential of its own and strengths and limitations of its own. Facebook helps you build an online community of customers, and helps you drive hotel awareness. Instagram engages users with share-worthy photos and helps to build top of mind recall for the hotel. While Twitter as a microblog helps the hotel foster one-on-one communication with customers, share hotel news and speedy customer service. But with video content becoming more powerful
 
Do you engage with food bloggers often to tell them about your new F&B offerings? Could you tell us about the latest such engagement?

Yes, we engage with food bloggers on a regular basis to communicate our F&B offerings. Recently, we executed a Pune Fusion Food Festival at our all-day restaurant MoMo Café. The Festival focused on giving local flavours a global twist. Case in point, we made a Shrikhand Croissant.

We then shortlisted bloggers who besides maintaining a great blog with a following also have a strong connect with Pune and Pune’s local cuisine. Enter Krytie Saxena – Founder of Foodmantra, an ex-chef, a food consultant and well-versed with Maharashtrian cuisine, Siddhartha Joshi – a Pune-based travel photographer and lifestyle blogger, and Rupika Vas, FBAI Head Pune, food writer and consultant and a proud Punekar. Krytie captured our Chef preparing the Lasooni Chutney Pizza on video and uploaded it on her YouTube channel which received 44 views in 2 days. Siddhartha’s blog post which was a beautiful photo essay of the Festival received 86 shares. Rupika’s blog post generated a whole lot of noise on Twitter where people started tagging our hotel’s handle asking if the Festival was still running so they could try the Lasooni Chutney pizza and Shrikhand Croissant.
 
How important is TripAdvisor for a brand like yours? How does your presence there assist you in getting more guests to your property?

TripAdvisor has become a very important tool for hotels to leverage in order to drive additional demand. First and foremost, we ensure that all details on our hotel listing page on TripAdvisor is accurate. It is also very important that we respond to all guest reviews (positive, negative and/or neutral) within 48 hours of the review being posted. Positive reviews by guests help to drive sales for the hotel. Positive reviews by guests who have stayed with us help influence the guest’s stay decision and can entice him to make a booking at the hotel. Booking.com and Expedia are two other channels that we as a hotel heavily focus on and monitor.
 
Does it make it any easier for you to be on social media since popular topics here are food and travel?

Since popular topics are food and travel, the social media chatter and ‘noise’ on these two topics too is a lot. Hence it becomes a challenge then to stand out in this noise. Creative content and images become our biggest tools to break through the clutter to achieve hits on our posts. We do not undermine the importance of maximizing the 140 characters and using the right hashtags. These can go a long way in getting traction to content. Also, it is important to engage with influencers in the categories of food and travel – with thousands of followers, these influencers have a good reach and can help garner visibility to your posts if they interact with you.

Do you have an independent social media policy or is it in sync with your group hotels?

Marriott has social media guidelines clearly outlined for its brands. Priority social media channels, content type and tone/voice are pre-defined for us. Hotels then have to curate their social media plans in sync with these guidelines.

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