Guest Post Author: Paul Hank, Director of Digital Marketing, InterCoastal Net Designs (ICND)

It’s easily the most common question I get when speaking with property managers.  “Should I be doing social media?” Notice how I Italicized the word “doing” in that question — not “should I be running social media ads?” or “do you feel I should start pursuing Instagram?”  It’s merely “doing social media”.

That’s an immediate trigger that social media is 

  1. Still one of those buzz-worthy topics that you hear about all the time
  2. Property managers have absolutely no idea where to start (or if they even should)…
  3. Also, have no idea to tell if it’s worth investing time/money in!

All of which is completely fine! Let me tell you that, social media is WORK.  To do it correctly, do it consistently, and do it get an ROI, it’s a good part-time job in itself. Of course, it doesn’t help that you can throw a rock and hit a new social media platform every couple of years that seems to explode out of nowhere.   Property managers, do you have time for that?  Nope! Especially since there are 5 major platform players, each with their own following, each with advertising options. That’s 10 small jobs of management and consistency someone needs to do each and every week.

Should you do it? Is it worth it? Yes, but there is a catch. It doesn’t work the way you think it should.

Social Media Doesn’t Make Bookings…Directly

To make any social media platform successful, you need to have a goal in mind. Before you say it, “make more bookings” is not a direct goal of any social media platform for vacation rentals.  Nobody sees an ad on Facebook for a $4000/week vacation home or sees a cool balcony photo on Instagram, and then immediately goes to book it. Yes, it happens, but more often than not the timing isn’t right since the potential guest isn’t in “booking” mode — they are in play mode. No matter the social media platform, your potential audience is scrolling through that platform to have fun, not to research vacation rentals (there is an exception to this rule though, more on that below). 

Actual social media goals include:

  • Building an audience of fans and followers (to get them to book later)
  • Alert travelers who are interested in your area about your rentals
  • To get them to your website to gain interest (and you can remarket to them later, or capture their email address)
  • Strengthening the relationship with your previous guests to keep your brand active
  • Network with local businesses to trade favors
  • Educate renters about #bookdirect

Each of those goals above will expand your current reach to a whole new audience and help you find a new set of guests who will book with you! However, those bookings take time to cultivate. It’s not a direct process, which is the reason why it’s so hard to actually see ROI the way we’re normally accustomed.

Why ROI Is So Hard to Track from Social Media?

The chart above shows social media as a “touchpoint” for bookings or inquiries. Each one of those scenarios you see above is one guest returning to the site multiple times, from multiple sources, one of which is a social platform. Google Analytics, which is what we all use for our main reporting tool for website traffic, by default GA shows you a single source receiving the conversion, and that source is the last visit to your website.  It’s not only until you dig into Assisted Conversions and Multi-Channel Funnels, that you start seeing that social actually DID play a role in that conversion.

Furthermore, most social media is by default on mobile. That’s where most of your traffic comes from when you advertise or post on any social media.  However, we still know that most people still book on a desktop computer.  That “relationship” between your personal iPhone, and your work computer is difficult for Google Analytics to connect those dots. It doesn’t know you are the same person! So even though you are investing time in social media to capture a new audience, capturing that all the way down to the booking is very tough.

Let’s make this worse, shall we? The biggest audience that visits our websites is iPhone IOS users.  Well, the new IOS update is now giving users the option to block apps from tracking them, front and center. While this doesn’t affect Google Analytics (much), this does affect Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms and your ability to remarket to and narrow down an audience. So if you wanted to run remarketing ads on Facebook for brand recognition, you are now limited.

What Social Media Platforms Should I Invest In Then?

That is really going to be up to your budget, your staffing, your business size, and growth, however, we can provide you some info that will help you down that path to decide which you should pursue. Let’s look at some stats. 

Facebook

  • Number of monthly active users: 2.7 billion
  • Largest age group: 25-34
  • Gender: 44% female, 56% male
  • Great Because: Huge reach, ability to target travelers, affordable for remarketing
  • Bad Because: Targeting options have fizzled over the last 5 years, meaning finding a new qualified audience is tough. It’s like fishing the Atlantic with a single pole.

Instagram

  • Number of monthly active users: 1 billion
  • Largest age group: 25-34 
  • Gender: 57% female, 43% male
  • Great Because: It’s part of Facebook’s advertising platform, so ads can appear on Facebook and Instagram. It can actually be used to research destinations, attractions, hotels, lodging due to the hashtag nature of the platform
  • Bad Because: It still caters to the younger generation, however, as that generation grows, they will soon be the target renters. It is harder to drive traffic to your website due to the inability to add links to your posts.

Pinterest 

  • Number of monthly active users: 400+ million
  • Largest age group: 30-49
  • Gender: 78% female, 22% male
  • Great Because: You can specifically target people interested in travel. There are over 2 billion travel-related searches per month on this platform, meaning Pinterest is used to research travel and destinations.  Easy to maintain since there are no timelines.
  • Bad Because: Pins need to have good catchy graphics on your blog posts. Pins must link to content that someone would be interested in, not just property photos. (Which means, you need to create content.)

TikTok

  • Number of daily active users: 689 million
  • Largest age group: 18-24
  • Gender: 59% female, 41% male
  • Great Because: Very visual platform, video only. Your videos need to go somewhat viral before you get followers or reap benefits.
  • Bad Because: You need a brand ambassador to create videos for you on a regular basis, which is time-consuming. Much like Instagram, direct links to the website don’t exist. Links are in bios, and then when you click them, you are forced to use the TikTok browser.  The target audience isn’t in the Vacation Rental niche.

YouTube

  • Number of monthly active users: 2 billion
  • Largest age group: 15-25
  • Gender: 72% of all female internet users and 72% of all male internet users
  • Great Because: Videos and interests probably exist for your destination, so you capitalize on the popularity.
  • Bad Because: You need a brand ambassador to create videos for you, which is time-consuming. Videos must get likes, comments, shares to gain popularity and be seen in the algorithms. 

Statistics Source: source: https://sproutsocial.com/insights/new-social-media-demographics/

Is Pinterest the New “It”?

Notice anything that stands out?  The age and gender profiles for most vacation renters we cater to are 35-45 years old and predominantly women do the bookings.  There is only one social media channel that has those stats, and it’s Pinterest. Furthermore, Pinterest has over 2 billion travel-related searches per month, so it is used for researching destinations.   

Organic Pinterest

One of the best parts about Pinterest is its lack of “timelines”.   Pins (posts you make) that are 6 months old can get as much traction as something fresh. This means, in order to create a Pinterest board and manage the account, you can devote time to it in spurts, such as spending 1 or 2 hours a couple of times a month on it.

Keep in mind, with any social media, you have to provide interesting content about your area, and it doesn’t HAVE to be just links to your website.  Keep it fresh and fun with blog posts, videos, topics your potential guests may be interested in — from ANY source. If you bring them to your website with a pin to one of your blog posts, make sure you have a call to action for them to check out your rentals or capture their email addresses.

Paid Pinterest

Pinterest is the only social media network that has made strides for advertisers in the travel space. In early 2021, they released Travel Personas that you can specifically target with the click of a button. There are 8 of them, and ICND goes into detail about targeting these personas in a recent webinar.

  • Weekend Travelers
  • Foodie Traveler
  • Bucket Listers
  • Digital Nomads
  • Culture Chasers
  • Outdoor Junkie
  • Memory Makers
  • Rural Tourist

Basically, their algorithms are able to see what types of pins their users are interacting with and place those users into those above buckets, giving advertisers ways to specifically target those.  Couple that with layering on geographic, gender and demographic profiles of your guests, you can serve some targeted ads that bring in bookings!

The ICDN client below had a small investment over the course of 6 months and got an ROI of 1052% from Pinterest ads.

1/1/2021 – 6/30/2021 –
Total Ad Spend: $1,841
Revenue Attributed to Pinterest Interactions: $51,068.95

As previously mentioned, social media doesn’t make bookings directly, this is a perfect example.  The Assisted Conversion Value far exceeds the Direct Conversion Value, meaning Pinterested influenced their decision to book! 

Overall

No matter what social media platform you choose to use, make sure your content is genuine. Whether you are posting on Facebook or creating pins on Pinterest, users can tell when the content is just sales-driven. Is there a return on social media, yes! The easiest way to figure out where you should start with social media is by determining how much time you can dedicate. 

To Summarize

  • Facebook is great for brand recognition, gathering reviews, and staying in front of previous guests. The audience is the largest so chances are you’ll be able to hit more previous guests on this platform.
  • With Pinterest’s new travel personas, you have the potential for a measurable ROI with Pinterest.
  • Creating content that gets likes and shares is tough on any platform, let alone sharing it on a schedule, so the barrier to entry is tough without a person (or agency) dedicated to it
  • Pick a platform you are most comfortable with to start with and dive in (or, outsource it to a vacation rental marketing agency)
  • It’s hard to get a direct conversion from social media (even ads), so don’t be discouraged if you see low numbers, but be sure to check out Assisted Conversions and MultiChannel Funnels in Google Analytics to compare the impact before and after you were active on a social media platform

Thank you to guest post author and friend of Rented, Paul Hanak! Paul is the Director of Digital Marketing at InterCoastal Net Designs. ICND is an award-winning web development and digital marketing team that specializes in vacation rentals.



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