When I started researching honeymoon options, I knew I wanted two things: cheap and tropical. I waded through what must have been thousands of emails in my inbox that alluded to promises of affordable, exotic getaways, hoping that one would stand out with a golden glow and angel vocals.
Groupon Getaways. CheapCaribbean.com. LivingSocial Escapes. SniqueAway.com.
My head was spinning. Five days at an all-inclusive resort in Belize or four days in a secluded villa in St. Maarten? A jungle adventure through Costa Rica or a scuba-diving experience in Honduras? How was I supposed to pick one? I started by weeding them out by price. Anything that didn't fall within my predetermined price range was out.
Next, I moved onto reviews, because mamma always taught me to never judge a book by its cover. And some of those resort sites sure had drool-worthy covers. I scrolled through review after review on TripAdvisor, Oyster, and Expedia, which helped narrow my list of potential honeymoon hotspots to one page. But there was something about the reviews that didn't quite satisfy my research appetite. Something was missing.
I wanted to know what was happening right then and there. I wanted to see real pictures of guests experiencing the resort in real time. What were the guests talking about? How was the weather? Was anyone else there on their honeymoon who could report back and let me know if it was romantic and swoon-worthy or if I should search elsewhere?
That's when I turned to Facebook and Twitter. And that's where one resort stood out, complete with a golden glow and the sound of angels singing. Or maybe that was me singing, but in my head it sounded like angels. Not only did Sabor Resort in Cozumel have a Facebook and Twitterpage, but they also had the most hardcore online community of superfans I'd ever seen. Their fans didn't just 'like' Sabor; they loved Sabor. Here's a small sampling of what I saw when I landed on the Facebook page:
I made a mental note to meet this Tomas/Thomas character.
Aside from raving reviews, the Facebook fans were using the resort's page to ask for tips, offer advice and organize group excursions.
After scrolling through the resort's most recent posts and posts by fans, every single one of my questions had been answered. The fans answered questions I didn't even know I had. In that second to last screenshot above, you'll see that I responded to the post about the sailing trip. I didn't end up joining that group, but I did go on a sailboat sunset cruise with Emily Yeager (see the last screenshot), her husband and another couple they were travelling with. I built a relationship with the resort and other guests before I even stepped foot on the property.
There are two very common excuses hotels give for not engaging in social media.
1. We don't have time to manage the page.
2. We don't see the return on investment.
My rebuttle for the first one, is 'you don't have to manage the page. You have to monitor the page.' The first thing I noticed when I landed on Sabor's page is that the fans run the page. Over the past month, the resort posted a total of 99 updates and post comments. Their fans? 321 updates and post comments. Only 13 percent of the resort's wall posts promoted specials or calls to action to visit the resort (a common mistake we see hotel marketers make is posting nothing but specials and overly promoting the hotel or resort). On the flip side, 70 percent of the fans' wall posts practically screamed, "This place is paradise. You have to check it out!" And considering the fact that 92% of people said they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from their friends and family above all other forms of communication, a fan's wall post carries much more weight than a resort's.
The only way to build an engaged, loyal online community like the one Sabor has is to provide a positive, unforgettable experience to guests offline. Invest your time in making the offline experience amazing, and your fans will invest their time in sharing that experience with thousands of people online with your social networks and theirs. This also stands true for a negative experience, whether the resort has a Facebook page or not.
Now here comes the eye-opening lesson in social media ROI.
I can honestly say that if not for Sabor's Facebook page and the tips and advice I gathered from the fans, I wouldn't have booked my honeymoon there. Why? Because there were similar resorts on my list that were in the same price range, but cheaper. Or they came with a spa credit. Or they guaranteed a room with an ocean view.
While I'm not sure how much Sabor is spending on their online marketing, it's no secret that setting up a Facebook page is free. I know that they're not paying their fans to post on the page because I'm now one of those loyal superfans, and I receive no monetary benefit for posting my vacation photos on their page.
The return on that free Facebook page and free fan engagement?
- 7-night stay at the all-inclusive resort = $799
- Sunset cruise booked through the hotel = $80
- Jet Ski Rental for two = $120
- 2 Inflatable rafts from gift shop = $18
- Tips = $200
- Two photos by the resort's professional photographer = $24
- Positive blog coverage in an international-award winning relationship blog (my personal blog)
- Positive coverage to my social network of 3,000+
- A new superfan to help manage the Facebook page = Priceless
And that's just from me. How many other people made the same purchasing decision based on what they found online?
There's no telling.