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Social Media For Vacation Rentals? No Thank You.

LinkedIn account – Check!

Twitter handle – Check!

Facebook page where you post special discounts, property photos, and even hold the occasional contest – Check!

Any real measurable return on your time and money invested in social media? Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…

These days, lots of owners put time into their social media campaigns, but to me, many of these owners are participating in “marketing for marketing’s sake.”

In other words, they’re working on social media because they think, that’s what a responsible vacation rental marketer should do: this instead of verifying it’s ROI (or return on investment). Do you know precisely how much business is being generated from your time spent “working” on Facebook and Twitter?

Well here’s some news for you: I do, and because of that, I don’t dedicate much time to social media any more. Not Facebook or LinkedIn or even Twitter (in fact, read this article on my Lazy Man’s Twitter Tool).

Collectively, the time I’ve spent on social media for my rentals in the past 3 years is probably 3 hours.

Why?

Don’t get the idea that I’m just a negative Nancy. Realize that I’ve tested all these sites/techniques rigorously and found one thing to be true for my particular scenario: social media is a great tool for a number of niches, but generating new bookings at my rentals isn’t one of them.

Let me explain…

Most vacation rental owners have other, better things to do for a living. We have jobs, we have kids, we have families. Which is to say, when we do sit down to do some marketing for our rentals, we need to utilize that time wisely, dedicating it to only the most effective techniques that will pack a punch.

For mom and pop vacation rental owners, maintaining social media accounts represents one clear benefit and that is staying in touch with previous guests.

But if that’s what you’re looking to accomplish, why not use email marketing which is 100x more effective and measurable?

A recent EyeforTravel survey of major travel brands showed that despite 67% used social media initiatives, more than half admitted to confusion or inability to effectively measure (and rack) ROI.  In fact, my favorite respondent describes the dilemma faced by travel marketers as the following:

“For all its potential, social media keeps me up at night – it feels a little bit like jumping in at the deep-end without arm-bands and being expected to swim like Michael Phelps.”

This is such a great quote for so many reasons. Specifically for us vacation rental owners (itty, bitty, tiny fish in the travel industry as a whole) who don’t have the budgets to roll out elaborate social media campaigns. Sure, we should all have the basic presence, but spending regular time on your accounts…that’s like flapping your wings and hoping to fly.

Here’s the message folks: as vacation rental owners and managers, we’ve got limited resources, the most important of which is our time. If you have proven that investing (either time or money) in social media generates bookings (and you can show concrete proof of doing so on a consistent basis) then I’d like to hear from you.

Until then, however, focus your precious time on something else.

For those who do want to get a good primer on social media for VR owners, check out The Guide To VR Facebook Marketing from MyVR, these Pinterest Guide & Pinterest Video Guide articles from Alan at Rent More Weeks, or the Social Media blogreel from Rentallect by Curt.

[Note: I’ve since sort of reshaped my view about social media after about 2 years worth of testing and prodding. Here is an updated link Calling All Facebook Users]

About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • You are spot on that owners should be evaluating whether or not social media is working for them and quit if it’s not driving bookings. We do believe social media, especially Facebook, is a great way to stay in touch with past guests – not only for the sake of staying in touch – but as a way to generate repeat and referral business. But if that doesn’t work for your rental, your audience, or your own ability to commit the time needed, then you shouldn’t be doing it.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Erin, can you give us some specific examples of “best practices” in this theater? Are there any surefire ways to generate bookings apart from what’s available via email marketing?

      • Quite frankly, many owners just don’t “do social media’ very well, which is a contributing factor for it not driving referrals and bookings. They publish too many “rent my home” posts, don’t post enough photos (which have the highest engagement), either post too much (more than 1-2 times a day) or post too little (less than 1-2 times per week), and don’t have the right tools set up to measure the impact on their bookings.

        Commenting or reviewing local businesses on Facebook or Google+ as your vacation rental is a specific example. There’s also some really cool things you can do with Facebook custom segments – upload your email list and create an ad that targets those users specifically when they’re on Facebook.

        • loscuatrotulipanes

          Thanks for the tips Erin! For anyone who hasn’t already, pick up Erin’s Facebook guide via MyVR linked at the bottom of the article.

        • Jean

          So true Erin. Doing it right can make all the difference. And since the writer of this blog has used social media in 3 years it is a little bit out of date. A lot has change in that timeframe.

        • Vacation Rental Guru

          Spot on Erin. SMM requires social people not sales people. That’s the bottom line. There’s nothing more annoying when you’re trying to communicate with friends than a ‘Hey, come and book with me’ in your face posts. I block them every time. But if someone posts a stunning sunset, now I’m likely to share that.

    • Vacation Rental Guru

      Erin. Spot on. Social Marketing is about relationships not sales. If you’re adding ‘50% off this week’ posts you’re never, ever going to succeed at SMM. It’s a strategy not a quick win game.

  • Trent Blizzard

    I have to agree with you in most cases… When I look study the analytics of my clients who do social media I am largely unimpressed. Email marketing works so much better. Using social media to get enlarge an email marketing list seems to be its highest purpose. But… the fact that it is playing in increased role in SEO is driving much of the activity. Two things do stand out to me… Facebook Comments integrated into a website is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. See http://www.cabinsusa.com/cabins-usa-live-webcam.html for an example. Also, I am surprised at how much traffic Pinterest drives… but not so may bookings.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Great points as always Trent. Unlike big companies or property management agencies who can afford to dabble across all platforms, most individual property owners (well, the smart ones at least) have to partake in a very abbreviated version of vacation rental marketing. This means only doing what creates, pound-for-pound, the most bookings.

      • Vacation Rental Guru

        Matt, you seem to disregard your own skill. This blog IS social media marketing. So I fail to see how you can knock something when you’re so good at it. SMM is not an answer to VR owners. It’s part of the answer. While we see increasing marketing cost across the industry it is a route to market that, I admit, takes time and effort but it can and does increase visibility on Google (You MUST have a G+ account nowadays). If an owner is in the camp of list and leave marketing then your right, they’ll never succeed at SMM.

    • Vacation Rental Guru

      Trent, there is a key difference between email and social marketing. You already have engagement because you have the email. SO it’s obvious that is going to be more successful. What p[people fail to realise about SMM is that it is a tool to build reputation and contacts. NOT conversion per se. It’s a rounded marketing platform where you talk to guests that have been, those that are intending to go and those that just pop through and ‘may’ remember your name. Email is for those that have half converted already. Different stage of the buying process.

      • Antonia

        I agree completely. The main point of SMM is not to get bookings or inquiries. It’s about being present and building a brand. When a person checks-in at your place it is an invaluable marketing to all of their friends.

  • Chad Lio

    Matt, I will agree with you to the fact that using social media to generate new leads for a VR company is very difficult. When a potential customer decides to possibly rent a vacation rental, their first destination to seek out accomodations is not Facebook or Twitter, and even if they do come across it through one of these platforms, very unlikely they have credit card in hand to purchase. There may not be a return on investment, but there is definitely a return on influence.

    Managers should use social media as a means to help publish and reflect their efforts of content marketing. Whether it be blogging, videos, photos, infographics, etc., its a major influence in the purchasing funnel. It may not be a direct correlation, but a substantial part. I encourage any VR manager to begin creating content tailored to new customers; this is more likely to come across in search engine results with an effective keyword strategy and use the social media outlets to assist in visits to their website.

    In the words of Jay Baer, it’s not about being good at social media, it’s about becoming better as a social business.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      A lot of the feedback I’ve gotten seems to resonate with “billboard effect.” This was a study conducted by Chris Anderson Ph.D., assistant professor at Cornell University, on the impact of reservations for hotels with or without a presence on Expedia. Basically, having a presence on Expedia (not unlike, having your own billboard on the side of the road) was shown to improve direct hotel bookings (independent of Expedia itself) because travelers would see the name of the hotel and psychologically bookmark it for future use.

      Now, none of this is untrue. Today’s travelers tend to spend an average of 20 to 29 DAYS researching their trip before finally booking! The Billboard
      Effect has shown that a hotel’s brand presence on all of the various channels where your potential guest does their research can actually help drive those same travel researchers to actually book with your brand directly at your property’s site when they have decided on their plans.

      However, this is BIG business marketing. This is not direct, grassroots, guerrilla marketing that independent vacation rental owners (many of whom don’t want to be doing any marketing in the first place) can be realistically doing on a regular basis. Juliana (below) says it best…

  • loscuatrotulipanes

    So as you might imagine, I have received a lot of “hate mail” regarding this article from individuals backing the merits of social media as a viable marketing tool, yet no one is ready to offer up any specific success stories (go figure!!!)…

    So out of generosity, I’ve decided to come up with 4 ways social media CAN in fact benefit the small-time vacation rental owner (if you really, desperately want it to):

    1. Grow your email newsletter list: Use Facebook ads to target a specific demographic (age, gender, location…etc). Facebook is really good for this. Then, once you have their attention (and have added them to your mail provider) make catered/customized offers appealing to their type.
    2. Push last minute specials: Like Chad mentions below, most “travelers” don’t browse Facebook with a credit card in hand looking to book a vacation. But here you’re not targeting travelers. You’re targeting impromptu shoppers (social media is good for e-commerce). Identify individuals who live in complimentary locations (ie. towns or cities that may consider your destination a weekend jaunt) and offer
    them last minute specials at your rental.
    3. Sell tons of your own deals: http://www.vacationrentalmarketingblog.com/groupon_owners_offers/
    4. Get your clients to do the work: Get your clients take photos of your rental and share them with their circles. Social media is great when “sharing” means friends recommending lodging to one another. Word of mouth marketing is the best.

    OK naysayers, help me out here…

    • Chad Lio

      I would take some time and create a blog that highlights certain activities, sights and landmarks, or attractions. Write about what it offers and how it compares to surrounding similar interests. Then create a Facebook ad targeted to surrounding areas with specific targeting. Make sure to have a subscribe on your blog, so when you direct traffic there, its easy for them to sign up. The ad copy and photo needs some thought, along with multiple A/B testings to see what works best.

  • Juliana

    I agree with you 100%. The only conceivable social media strategy for a lone cash strapped owner with no time to spare like me is using automatic tools, like the tweeter thing you described. Posting takes time. Better focus on things that generate cash.

  • Mike

    It doesn’t bring in anything in the way of bookings, but as has already been stated, it does help validate the property and me as an owner. I also use it as a tool to inform past and upcoming guests about local area news. This future guest says it best, however, copied directly from my facebook page, “Counting down the days until our trip! Your post make us that much more excited :)”.
    That, I think, sums up the value of using facebook very well; at least for me.

  • Market Vision Partners, CEO

    I am sorry, but I own Rentellect, a provider of rental market information to housing authorities. There is a site that advertises vacation rentals, it is called Rentallect and is a different company. Your post should be corrected.

  • Mary Ann Everitt-Gutchigian

    I do get requests from social media, but no bookings yet. But, when I run into people and people that I’ve been introduced to in public they know me from FB and commend me on how well I promote the Island, my home and events and I feel I have gained their trust that I know my audience.

  • Marketing Guru

    When you have more than 6 units that you are marketing the landscape changes. Not an accurate assessment. Maybe different when you wrote this 2 years ago.