It's difficult to deny that social media has become a part of our everyday experience, including travel. When you go on vacation, you tweet about your hotel, share your location on Facebook and upload photos to Instagram.
Travel brands -- hotels in particular -- have taken notice of consumers' social media habits and have started to offer deals that benefit travelers who share their experiences online. Not only does the social media interaction give travelers the opportunity to earn points and rewards (read: free stuff), but it also allows hotels and brands to engage with guests on a more personal level.
The best part about it? You're being rewarded for actions you might have done anyway. You'd likely post the photo of your family lounging by the hotel pool, so why not earn some points or perks in the process?
Hashtags and contests
The easiest way to start racking up hotel freebies is by following and liking your favorite hotel brands on different social media outlets. Instead of scouring discount travel websites, you can scope out deals on your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed. Many hotels publicize special events in their area and share seasonal promotions that can save you money on your next hotel booking. Brands like JW Marriott and Waldorf Astoria periodically advertise packages on their Facebook pages, making it easier for travelers to see what's on sale.
"We all have those brands that we love and recommend to our friends, and there can be a feeling of increased attachment through the brand [if you interact on social media]," said Nicholas Stafford, general manager of LivingSocial Escapes, the travel and hotel deals branch of the online marketplace.
Brands also run ongoing giveaway contests through their social media accounts, such as Best Western's weekly Travel Trivia Tuesday challenge, which rewards a $100 Best Western Travel Card to whoever solves the travel-related photo jigsaw puzzle. Recently, Hilton encouraged users to share images of their Hilton stays on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #HiltonStory for a chance to win a smartphone case or a free two-night stay.
Additionally, hotels promote impromptu contests or giveaways that mix topical or seasonal themes with a chance to win freebies, like Hotel Allegro Chicago - A Kimpton Hotel's No Shave November contest, #noshaveallegrochi, which invites people to post before and after photos of their facial hair for a chance to win an overnight stay. Or the Loews Philadelphia Hotel's recent Howl-O-Ween dog costume sweepstakes, where the winner received a free night for two guests and a pet.
While you play for the potential freebie, hotels use these contests and games to gauge customer experience, determining where they're succeeding and where they could improve. Some brands run promotions solely to increase engagement, such as Club Carlson which hosts a weekly Instagram challenge that invites users to post travel photos using the hashtag #ClubCarlsonChallenge.
If you're not staying at a major chain, it's worth asking if the hotel offers any incentives for guests to follow the property on Facebook or Twitter, or if the hotel ever runs specials on social media accounts.
Beyond contests and promotional hashtags, hotel loyalty programs are also beginning to offer perks and personalized recommendations to members who share their experiences online.
In its recently retooled rewards program, Kimpton offers vacationers personalized perks for tagging the brand in social media posts. Actions like checking in at a Kimpton hotel on Facebook and posting photos on Instagram while dining at the on-site restaurant can get you spa credits or a welcome amenity the next time you stay at that property. (Kimpton leaves it up to individual properties to decide which perks are appropriate.)
Marriott Rewards is beta testing a similar approach with its PlusPoints program. The program allows members to earn up to 100 points a day (up to 2,000 points per month) for following Marriott brand social media profiles and performing certain "qualifying social actions," such as using the hashtag #MRpoints, retweeting Marriott posts and checking in to Marriott hotels on Facebook. Instead of offering free points or stays, the SPG Social Traveler from Starwood offers travelers tailored recommendations for the brand's properties, plus itinerary suggestions based on a user's destination and what he or she already follows or likes. It also takes into account what a traveler's friends like or follow and allows the individual to share wish lists and check-ins with other loyalty members and friends.
Remember: To take advantage of these freebies and individualized recommendations, you have to link your social media accounts (usually Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to your existing travel rewards profile, so if privacy is a concern, read the fine print and understand how your shared information will be used.