Social media has become ingrained in our lives with an estimated 3.2 billion people worldwide spending an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes on social media platforms every day. While it is a way to connect and inform us in our personal lives, social media has also become a useful professional tool, enabling individuals and businesses to share information, promote themselves to a wider audience and more.
To gain a clearer understanding of how social media is being used within the hospitality industry, Hospitality & Catering News’ new Getting social with… interview series delves into the social media habits of some of the industry’s most powerful and well-connected members.
In the first interview we speak to Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality. Nicholls, who was chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) before it merged with the British Hospitality Association to form UKHospitality in 2018, is a big fan of Twitter, where she has over 5,800 followers of her account @UKHospKate and uses it to catch up on the latest industry news as well as engage with members of the industry.
I try and keep work and personal separate when it comes to social media. I use Twitter for work, because that medium works best for news, comment and opinion. I am on Facebook, but I don’t use it for a work context. Instagram is great for the creative people in the industry, but not so great for news, so I’m not on it. I think if you’re working on social media you need to work out what your audience is looking for and find the right platform to reach them.
I came off Twitter for about two years because it attracted too many trolls. I was an early adopter in 2007 when I was head of communications at the ALMR, but then decided to stop using it in 2010. By the time I went back onto it in 2013 as chief executive of the ALMR I found that the platform had become more developed and sophisticated.
You get more engagement when you have a personal account. I felt it was important to have a personal tone of voice and approach and therefore it felt right to be making comments in my own name, rather than behind a trade association or company. UKHospitality also has an account, but I find that I can talk about more than what is happening with UKHospitality, which is why it helps to have an individual voice in parallel to the one we have for the trade body.
I do tend to post mainly about work-related matters, but that work is linked to politics, so I spend a lot of my time commenting on political developments as well as industry campaigns. Having my own account means that I can comment on things that I’m passionate about, like the cricket, or other sporting events, which obviously have a crossover with hospitality, but allow me to give a more personal point of view.
My 40-minute commute to and from work gives me time to scroll through Twitter at the start and end of the day. I also check between meetings in the day, as I will with emails to see if there’s anything urgent that needs doing. Twitter is a means of keeping me up-to-date on some of the big stories of the day and when I come out of a meeting I check it to see if there’s something I immediately need to engage in. It helps me to do my job. That’s my excuse anyway.
Social media can be a bit of a rabbit warren and you can get too caught up in looking at stuff that’s being posted by other people and responding to it. Fortunately I don’t have the driver that a lot of hospitality businesses do where people are expecting an immediate response. If you are a restaurant or a hotel and somebody is posting on social media and they are a potential customer they judge you and evaluate you on how quickly you can respond. The people who are following me are a little bit more forgiving than that and if they are interacting with me there’s a bit of an allowance that there will be a time-lap. They know I will only post when I have time.
Key social media influencers: Laura Kuenssberg’s (BBC News’ political editor) Twitter feed is my go-to for political developments. The person in the industry who I’m always amazed is on top of the information flow is Harry Murray, (managing director of Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa) especially knowing how busy he is. I always check to see what he’s commenting on because he always seems up-to-speed. He takes on board everything that’s been in the trade press and reposts with a relevant comment, so you get an instant view of what’s going on in the sector.
Social media was really effective in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris and at London Bridge. People were able to mark themselves safe on Facebook and get messages through to people. One of our hotel operators had guests who were missing and we were able to help them get information through to ensure they were safe.
I keep in touch with my sister via Twitter. She lives in Edinburgh where she’s a very busy doctor. Sometimes our two worlds collide when she posts about something that I can relate to hospitality, like mental health and well-being.
Twitter’s requirement to be brief by only allowing a limited number of characters to is helpful in really getting to the nub of what a story needs and distilling what it is you want to communicate.
Social media is a good touchstone for me. I can very quickly assess what the issues of the day are by reading what some of the chefs, the business owners and managers across the sector are posting about themselves. It’s a good way of eavesdropping on some of the conversations that are happening without necessarily engaging with a post. I’ve sometimes thrown questions out to people and have seen that hive mind coming back and you get the feel of how consumers are viewing things like casual dining, plastics, and CSR initiatives. You can see where those tipping points are emerging quite quickly.
There has been a tendency among hospitality professionals to think about social media as a marketing tool and for dealing with customer enquiries, but social media can be a very useful tool for communicating internally with teams and keeping them abreast of what’s going on as well as encouraging group interaction between employees. We have quite a high proportion of casual workforces in the industry and it can be difficult for people to feel that they have a sense of belonging. Social media can help them communicate with the business, as well as the community that’s outside.
It’s better to do one social media platform well, than to try and do all of them. Ask yourself why you’re using social media and who is the audience you’re trying to reach, then find the one best-suited to that need. A lot of hospitality businesses worry about not having a presence on a platform and end up putting the same content on everything. I think it’s better if you take the ‘less is more’ approach. If you only have time to do one, make sure you do it really well.
H&C News would like to thank Kate Nicholls for her time earlier this week and her insights into how she gets social.