Love it or hate it, social media is a cornerstone of modern digital marketing. If the goal is to get guests where they are… well, social media is where they are, for about 2.5 hours a day on average.
But what about social media for the vacation rental industry, specifically? Does social media really lead to more direct bookings? And if so, what types of content will push potential guests across the divide from “lookers” to “bookers”?
Let’s dive in.
Social Media and Direct Bookings: The Real Scoop
For vacation rentalists trying to get more direct bookings—i.e. reservations made on their own biz website, rather than a third-party booking platform like Airbnb or Vrbo—there are some obvious first steps to take.
Create a great, intuitive, content-rich website. Fill it with content that accurately captures the highlights and unique selling points of your rental(s). Install a well-functioning reservations manager. Build in an SEO strategy that helps people find you.
Then, once you have the infrastructure in place to take direct bookings, it’s time to start casting your net to reel in guests.
What percent of direct bookings are made via social media?
We’ll give it to you straight: the numbers on social media and direct bookings are not all that encouraging. According to a 2021 study of data from over 13,000 direct bookings, just 2% were last-click referred via social media. That is to say, only 2% went from browsing to booking directly from social media.
In contrast, Google was the referral source 62% of the time someone made a direct booking on a vacation rental website.
Intuitively, it makes sense that social media users would be unlikely to go from idly scrolling through their feed to booking a vacation that can cost multiple thousands of dollars. Vacations take planning, consulting with travel companions, nailing down dates, etc. It’s not quite the same impulse buy as, say, that pair of shoes that keep showing up on your social feeds.
Of course, the above study doesn’t account for those who find a property through social media, take a couple days, come back, and then book. But there’s another important thing to keep in mind about social media: our attention spans are short. Unless the social media user has specific plans to travel to your destination, or your rental is really unique or eye-catching (more on that in a minute!) your property may just be another shiny thing to look at… and promptly forget.
So, are we saying you should abandon the idea of social media marketing altogether? Nope! Just use it strategically—and manage your expectations.
Use Social Media Smartly (and Efficiently)
Though it may be a bit of a dud for direct conversions, social media can play an important role in brand-building and generating interest. So that when your potential guest is ready to book a vacation, they remember your rental and find their way back to it.
The catch, of course, is that guests must remember your rental and find it again. As we mentioned, that’s difficult when your guests are faced with an ocean of content on social media. So, for success on social media, it’s important to have a differentiating factor; some “special something” that sets you apart.
Build your brand
A key way to nudge conversions is to have a truly unique property or brand identity that stands out in the social ocean.
[Need ideas? Check out Guest Hook’s “10 Unique Vacation Rentals to Inspire Your 2022 Getaway (or Your Next Investment)”]
The goal here is to be “sticky”—which means both engaging enough that people will go ahead and follow you right away, and/or easy to recall later, when they start actively planning to take a trip.
The important thing to note here is that you have to really have something special on offer. If your property is similar to others in your area—even if it’s the best looking one!—it may be more difficult to reach people.
To learn a bit about how the pros are using social media to help lead to more bookings by creating brand buzz, Guest Hook spoke with Sam Hirst at Loma Homes. After going viral some time ago on Facebook and TikTok, Loma Homes is still garnering direct bookings following that exposure. And their overall social media strategy is on-point!
Here’s their story:
“Social media has really been a key driver in getting direct bookings off the ground with our themed properties,” Sam said. “When we released our first Orlando themed homes, Wizard’s Way and Twelve Parsecs, to Facebook and Tiktok they went viral and garnered millions of views.”
Sam continued: “After that initial virality we had publications and influencers on Youtube and IG reach out to us for collaboration, and those eventually went semi-viral to viral themselves as well (huge blessing!). We still get a major portion of website traffic and direct bookings from those videos and articles that still circulate. With that initial virality we gained a decent amount of followers as well on FB, IG, and TikTok and are trying to nurture and grow those relationships.”
Of course, Loma Homes has the benefit of offering some truly one-of-a-kind properties. But hope is not lost if your property doesn’t exactly stand out in a lineup. You can still grab guests’ attention by having a sense of brand identity.
What does that mean, exactly? Basically, it’s by creating a holistic feel for your business. That includes posting on social media about your team, your latest rental, and even yourself. Here are some content ideas to get you started:
- Before and After. As mentioned, guests love a good renno story, complete with the before and afters! If you do intend to remodel all or part of a property, be sure to document the “Before” so you can share!
- Neighborhood gems. Call attention to the restaurants, nightlife, shops, and other attractions in your area that you love most. Make sure to tag them so they can reshare to their own audience and give you a little boost, too.
- Big news and events. Buying a new property? Decorating for the holidays? Prepping for a big festival in your area? Or even personal-life news, like having a baby? Create content around these to help people get to know you and your property. We love @SouthBoundStays on Instagram—the owner, Megan, nails the balance between property posts (including before & afters!) and peeks into her family’s life behind the scenes.
Use it to keep in touch with past guests
You can also utilize social media to stay top-of-mind with past guests—similar to how you might use your email list for newsletter content.
In this case, you’re not paying for ad placement and hoping for the best. Rather, you are garnering a foundation of qualified leads that already know and love your offering and, ideally, will continue to engage.
Some ways to encourage guests to follow you:
- Include a line in your first post-booking email about following you on social for tips, recommendations, and other content to help them plan their trip.
- Include your social accounts in the signature line of your email.
- Place a physical card at your property with a list of all of your social accounts.
- Install a photogenic feature at your rental that could be used as a backdrop for social media photos (a mural, a grass wall, a neon sign, etc.). Include a placard with your social accounts so guests can tag you in their photos.
What about paid ads on social media?
There are a couple of ways to utilize social media. One is organic marketing, which is a big part of what we discussed above. That means creating your social profiles, collecting follows from past/potential guests, and putting out engaging content that your followers may share to get you more exposure. No $$$ required.
Paid ads, on the other hand, expose a wider range of people to your brand. Essentially, the number of people you reach is proportional to your ad spend. When it comes to casting your net to get more guests, paid ads have a performance advantage: you won’t be relying as much on “going viral” or other elements you don’t have much control over, in the end.
Also, we’re seeing a trend of paid ads getting better and better at targeting the exact right guests, which leads to greater engagement. The downside, of course, is that you have to shell out for it. And direct bookings still aren’t guaranteed—as the less-than-stellar numbers suggest—so ROI may not be as immediate as you might hope.
A solid social media incorporates both organic content and paid ads. And regardless of whether you pay for the exposure or not, you want to be sure that your content is equally engaging, share-worthy, and memorable.
In short? Contrary to popular belief, social media is not the “first step” towards getting more direct bookings. Instead, it’s one of the last steps you can take to get more direct bookings—after you have a sense of your brand and something unique to showcase on social media.
This post was first published at https://guesthook.com/social-media-marketing-direct-bookings/
Alan has been working in the vacation rental sector since 2004, when he first created a listing site for his property management company. He has been helping short-term rental owners and managers to stand out in an over-saturated marketplace for over 12 years and has written thousands of articles in that time.
He has written books on vacation rental photography and was the first in the industry to create online marketing courses for hosts.
He has given keynote presentations across various subjects at The Vacation Rental World Summit, VRMA, VRMintel, Host, and The Book Direct Summit.