The hotel and bed and breakfast industry has long been one of tradition. Marketing was done with brochures before radio and television came along, and then email was invented and hoteliers had a whole arsenal of people to contact with special offers and other materials. However, the advancements don’t stop there and the way in which hoteliers communicate with consumers is beginning to change.

The catalyst is social media. Previously only thought of as part and parcel of a young person’s lifestyle, platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and more are now being used to grow hoteliers’ business opportunities. Why? Just look at the figures…

People the world over now use the internet to research products and services, with 85% using it to find a business that suits their needs. With an additional 81% of all adults active on social media it’s plain to see that your target audience is waiting out there somewhere. Just take a look at your competition, chances are they’re utilising social media and are even receiving enquiries from it.

But why exactly are so many consumers now turning to social platforms? Firstly, because it opens up such great channels for communication.

In a way, the success of the hotel industry leans on customer service. It’s very rare that a guest will return after a particularly bad experience with staff and many people won’t actually air their complaints in person, instead turning to online methods like Facebook and Twitter. However, social media networks – especially if manned by a dedicated member of staff – are one of the quickest and easiest ways to deal with any qualms that don’t come in over the phone.

You could even use social networks to keep strong customer relationships even stronger. Something as simple as sending them a message to say that you hope they enjoyed their room or got home okay will go a long way in forging a lasting allegiance.

Social media isn’t just great for keeping current guests happy though, it’s also an ideal way to attract potential new guests that might not otherwise have come across your website. While customer service practiced in the way mentioned above won’t just be seen by the person you’re dealing with, but by the rest of the social media sphere as well, coupling it with a strategically planned growth campaign makes the likelihood of attracting more business leads even stronger.

Targeted adverts are a great way to start, attracting the followers that are most likely to be interested in your hospitality business. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all offer adverts with great targeting capabilities, while Twitter has a little added search feature called hashtags.

Hashtags are used by Twitter members to create discussions about popular things like #BigBrother and #JamieOliver, but hashtags like #bedandbreakfast, #guesthouse and even #needaholiday are also used by a surprising number of both people and businesses. Typing them into the search bar reveals a timeline of all tweets incorporating those hashtags and, potentially, a whole load more new business.

However, it’s after an establishment finds a consumer they want to target that things start to go wrong. You see, social media isn’t about bombarding people with sales patter, it’s a great environment to nurture their interest by establishing yourself as an industry authority.

Achieving this is simpler than you might think – if you’re really serious about your business and maintaining your website then you’ll already have plenty of social media fodder in the form of hospitality related blog posts, and maybe even ebooks that know what they’re talking about. Informative pieces of content like the ‘Top 5 budget hotels in Wales’ will not only pique the interest of visitors to your site, but when shared via social media updates will reach a much wider audience. Depending on what you write about and who your target customers are, this technique could even attract more corporate guests looking for conference venues or even wedding parties.

While we’re on the subject of social media updates, don’t try to go in too hard with a sales pitch. Mixing up messages about rooms and prices with pictures of your premises and surrounding area, and updates about things to do where you are will prove really useful and engaging to your followers.

Now, I understand that time constraints – especially in smaller establishments like B&Bs – mean you might not always be around to monitor what’s being said on your social media sites, so designating a passionate member of staff to do the job with the help of social media management tools like Hootsuite will do a whole lot more good to your online reputation. Then there’s the rest of the internet.

There are millions of corners of the internet where new word about your premises could be hiding, corners that can be uncovered with a monitoring tool like Google Alerts that tracks what people are saying about you.

There’s always the chance that a guest could have mentioned their experience at your establishment in a blog post or on a website that you wouldn’t otherwise have found, so receiving alerts like these straight to your email inbox is a great way of keeping on top of opportunities to provide great customer service or thank a past guest for their kind words.

As you can see, once you really delve deeply into social media it isn’t hard to see how greatly it can benefit the hotel industry. I will admit, it does take a while to get the ball rolling and, every once in a while, the updates of even the most popular hotels still slip under the radar. All it takes is a little dedication and, if you do it right, overtime you’ll begin to see your number of followers, interaction from these followers and ultimately room enquiries increase.

If you work in the hotel industry, please feel free to share your experiences on how you use social media to your advantage in the comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts.