Why you should be using social media as an extension of hospitality
Most business leaders understand that in this day and age their organization must have some kind of a social media presence. However, many are confused as to what platforms they should engage in, what type of content should be shared and how often posts should be made.
Before a social media journey is undertaken, a clear business objective needs to be defined. Just as when an additional new product or service is being considered, a precise “why” will help craft a strategy that is focused and alignment with the objective. There are many ways to establish an objective: sales goals, webpage visits, email open rates. There is another objective that might be less intimidating for some organizations who are new to social media, an objective that is relatively easy to commit to and execute: social media as an extension of hospitality.
Hospitality is “the activity or business of providing services to guests in hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.” Though hospitality is usually associated with the tourism and food service industries, there are at least 3 tenets of hospitality that can (and should) be applied to any organization’s social media strategy. But first, a brief and painful story about a missed social media opportunity.
A Brief and Painful Missed Social Media Opportunity
I was dining at a new, hip fish taco restaurant with a group of my friends chatting over delightful margaritas about our busy week of work. The restaurant was beautiful: the ambiance, decor, the staff–we all were impressed. When our food arrived, it looked incredible! The food was elegantly plated and was obviously Instagram worthy! My friends and I took photos of the gorgeous food and we were ready to post our photos, but when we went to tag the restaurant we couldn’t find the restaurant’s social media handle. We looked at the menu, around the restaurant, looked up the website and still could not find the social media handle. I suppose we could have flagged down our waiter to ask–but in the 30 seconds to 1 minute we spent trying the find their social media handles, we quickly grew tired and wanted to dig into our tacos!
On my way home thoroughly satisfied with the hilarious conversation and scrumptious food, I thought of the restaurant’s missed opportunity. It could have had happy and satisfied customers promote their business in all likelihood to their target market (people who love tacos and who want a hip and fun atmosphere to dine with friends). Not having their social media handles readily available to customers was not only a loss of free marketing but of the unbelievably valuable personal recommendation. In all honesty, my friends and I are not Instagram influencers (or any kind of influencers) with hundreds of thousands of followers that sell product review posts for thousands of dollars. However, we are paying customers, each with an individual network of friends and associates that would be interested in a personally recommended, cute and delicious taco joint.
What the restaurant got right in traditional hospitality: ambiance, decor, service, and food should have been extended to their social media strategy. Why? Because social media is an amplifier of hospitality and customer service that businesses cannot afford to overlook or engage in a passive or half-hearted manner.
The 3 Tenants of Social Media as Hospitality
1st Tenant: Greet Visitors with a Warm and Sincere Welcome
When my friends and I arrived at the taco restaurant we were greeted warmly by the hostess and as we waited for our table to be ready, she engaged us in friendly chit-chat. She told us that the restaurant was new and the owner created the restaurant because she felt there wasn’t a cool, delicious taco place for her and her friends to hang out and enjoy good food. Though the interaction was brief (probably 5 minutes max), it was authentically friendly and informative. Since I was there with my friends I could instantly relate to the impetus of the restaurant (and now I had a memorable tidbit that I could relay unprompted when I talk about the restaurant). Social media as an invitation and a warm welcome to your business is necessary because most people use social media to research new places, products, and services. Your social media presence should tell your story and invite prospective and actual customers to get to know your business better. If the taco restaurant had their social media handles placed appropriately at their entrance, on their menu and even if they had their staff mention it to my friends and me, we would have checked out their pages and would have posted our pictures to our networks. We might have even been enticed to order different food and drinks by just pursuing their social media pages.
1st Benefit: Engaged Customer
An informed or curious customer is an engaged customer. Once you have your audience’s attention it then becomes your job to direct that attention, by showcasing all of your products or services as a solution to their expressed or unexpressed problems.
2nd Tenet: Anticipate Customer Needs & Respond to Expressed and Unexpressed Needs
When my friends and I are were seated and happily sipping on margaritas, our waiter asked if we were ready to place our food orders. Since we were busy chatting, we hadn’t looked at the menu yet. The waiter graciously agreed to give us a few more minutes, but before he left he told us about their specials, their vegan options and their entrees that were especially spicy. Not only was he patient with us, but he anticipated some of the questions that we might have had once we actually looked at the menu. We were a group with a variety of dietary restrictions, so this anticipatory response to an unexpressed need was appreciated and impressed us all. Most organizations intuitively try to anticipate customer needs or questions by providing operating hours, a price list, and an FAQ section. However, with social media companies can engage followers by engaging directly with a follower with a question by responding in real time which informs other followers who might have had a similar question and demonstrates your responsiveness–that you are ready, willing, and available to answer any queries.
2nd Benefit: Reveals Weaknesses in your Process or Confusion in your Communication
My friends nor I could not find the restaurant’s social media handles they weren’t simple or intuitive–which means the restaurant should have definitely made a point to inform customers where and how to find them on social media. This exemplifies a lack of communication on their part. For example, if you find that followers are asking similar questions repeatedly–”What are your hours on Saturdays?” or “How do I use this product?” there is a clearly a breakdown in communication. You either have not provided sufficient information or the information you have provided is confusing or ill-placed and you need to put this information in a more prominent place on your website and social media platforms.
3rd Tenet: Build Relationships
As we finished dinner, our waiter returned to entice us with their dessert options. After the usual hemming and hawing that comes with group decisions, we decided not to get dessert. The restaurant could have possibly changed our minds if there was an incentive for us to order dessert. For example, if the restaurant wanted to increase its social media followers they would display their handles on the menu and an offer of 20% off their deserts if you follow and post or leave a review about the restaurant during your visit. Everyone loves a discount and though not all of us would have ordered, the call to action is clear and tempting. If we did follow the taco restaurant, it would have then gained the ability to build a relationship with us and possibly become our go-to taco place. Social media done right allows you to engage customers and receive honest feedback that may give you a different perspective. Your customers explaining what their benefits, motives, different/unintended ways of using your product, or unsuspected friction in use can give you a wealth of information from actual customers for free (or negligible cost compared to hiring a business consultant to give the same answers). You begin to build a relationship with your customers, not merely just a transactional experience by displaying that you are an organization that is always actively listening to your customers and exhibiting tangible ways of trying to improve your customer’s experience. Building a relationship is the secret sauce to creating repeat customers.
3rd Benefit: Convert Customers into Fans
When customers feel like they matter, when customers feel their interaction with a business is more than transactional (warm, educational and friendly) they transform from (hopefully) satisfied customer to a raving fan. Fans (unlike customers) become evangelists for your product or service, spreading the most valuable of marketing– personal recommendation aka word of mouth.
Where the taco restaurant excelled in traditional aspects of hospitality, it could have featured that excellence exponentially by being more social media savvy. Utilizing social media as a platform to display what your organization is doing right and using the feedback to improve upon the things that might be barriers to followers becoming customers and customers becoming fans. Social media is vital and is an opportunity to engage with your audience that is becoming a more expensive missed opportunity every day.
Remember using social media to tell a business’ story invites potential customers to get to know the brand better and an informed customer is an engaged customer. Responding to expressed and unexpressed customer queries via social media allows businesses to demonstrate their responsiveness to customers and reveals communication breakdowns in their marketing.
Using social media as a strategy to generate and maintain repeat customers gives businesses the opportunity to listen and understand why customers choose their product or service over a competitor. When customers feel that they are important, not merely transactions, they become fans of the business and drive more business through personal recommendation. Keeping hospitality at the forefront of a social media strategy ensures that interactions with customers are sincere, responsive and builds a long-lasting mutually beneficial relationship.