Guest blog post by Daniel Weisman
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter can be great tools to cost-effectively increase your vacation rental bookings. These services are free to use but difficult to use effectively, so many people give up before they give social networks enough time to yield results.
Yet investing time and effort in developing a “social presence” can be extremely rewarding because you can use these channels to advertise for free to a highly targeted audience. Facebook boasts 500,000,000+ users, and your guests – past, present and future – are among them. Here are some tips for reaching the right audience and converting “fans” and “followers” into bookings.
1. Your guests already like you… you just have to remind them
Word-of-mouth has long been the best marketing tool for vacation rentals. If I loved my cottage rental on Martha’s Vineyard last summer, then I would be happy to recommend that cottage to my friends who are going there next summer.
Social media makes it easy to interact with a network of supporters who will promote your rental on their networks. If you haven’t already done so, start by creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account for your rental. Next, invite your past guests to “like” your Facebook page and “follow” you on Twitter. Make it easy for your friends and customers to “like” you by including links to your social profiles in emails and on your website.
Once you build up your fan base, you will have the chance to engage with your customers regularly. Every time they see your content, they will remember the great time they had in your rental.
A great example of a property owner with an awesome word of mouth network is La Casetta del Borgo (@CasettaDelBorgo). This Tuscan villa has nearly 2,000 Twitter followers and receives new bookings constantly.
2. Be more than a landlord… be an expert and a person
Once you’ve started to build your network, you should make yourself a valuable friend. Don’t spam your followers with advertisements – focus on providing value instead. For example, you’re probably a local expert on great things to do, restaurants, and hidden gems in your destination so why not share those on your Facebook & Twitter pages?
Creating valuable content that your audience not only reads, but passes on to their friends increases your credibility. Ruth Shipley, of Social Media Examiner explains,
“if [your audience] gets to know you, like you and trust you, they might just become your customer for life.”
Let people in on local secrets like the best place to buy lobsters in Maine or the location of an amazing hidden beach, and your customers will think of you before looking anywhere else to find a rental.
Check out Cottage Guru Heather Bayer (@cottageguru) for her expert advice on property management, travel and marketing. Her 4,000 followers keep up with her and share her advice, and she rarely advertises her properties directly.
3. Sharing is caring… show that you care
Social media experts will tell you that these marketing channels are all about engagement. So how do you engage your network? Ask them to participate. The easiest way to get someone to share a message or Tweet is to ask explicitly: “share this” or “leave your thoughts in the comments.”
Participation is where you get real value from your social networks. Direct value comes from the network itself: when one of your Facebook friends comments on your wall or shares your content, that action will appear in their friends’ news feeds. Similarly, when someone replies to one of your Tweets, that response is visible to all of their followers. In other words, your shared posts reach your audience plus all of the sharers’ audiences – that’s pretty good reach for free advertising.
Indirectly, shared content can impact your search engine rankings. A recent blog post by the experts at seomoz.org showed significant correlation between Facebook shares and high Google search rankings. Getting fans to share your content could help you move up in the Search engine results!
4. Network… it’s also a verb
It’s often easy to get carried away by the “social” aspect of social networks and forget about networking. In addition to reaching out to past guests and friends, you should also be using Facebook and Twitter to connect with your peers. You can learn a lot from keeping up with folks in related businesses, and you can even engage these compatriots in productive discussion.
How do you find your peers? Start with simple searches. If you rent an apartment in Chicago, then you’re definitely going to have to make restaurant recommendations. Search Facebook and Twitter for “Chicago Restaurants,” then start making friends. Now, if you recommend one of the restaurants that follows you to a guest, that restaurant will know… they’ll also know what vacation rental to recommend when a patron from out of town asks about a great place to stay.
If you want to get more advanced in your networking, then I recommend checking out Twibes. This site helps form twitter groups based on common interests. It’s a quick way to search Twitter for like-minded friends.
Facebook and Twitter are not going to replace conventional online vacation rental marketing. You should also list your rental property on leading vacation rental sites like FlipKey.com to attract new guests. However, with an increasing number of travelers taking advice from friends online, and with search engines using social information to generate results, Facebook and Twitter are great channels to develop relationships and find new guests through word-of-mouth. Most importantly, it’s completely free to start using social media, so you will get nothing but positive returns once you get online and spend some time getting social.
About the author: Daniel Weisman is a Social Media Specialist at FlipKey.com, which features more than 100,000 vacation rental properties around the world. You can read more of his writing on The FlipKey Blog and connect with him on Twitter @flipkey.