Without a doubt, social media was a breakthrough. But is it an effective tool for hostel marketing?
Social media has made possible an unprecedented level of connectedness. It has never been easier to keep in touch with so many people with little to no effort.
However, there’s still an enormous hype surrounding social media and many self-proclaimed social media gurus want you to believe it’s the holy grail of marketing. Is it true?
Let’s explore what social media really is and how you can use it to your advantage.
What Is Social Media?
Understanding what social media actually is helps to put things into perspective.
“Social media”, by definition, is:
- a) Social: People use it to interact and share information
- b) Media: An instrument of communication, aka distribution channel
Especially the latter is what most people get wrong. A form of media is not THE strategy; it’s PART of an overall plan.
The goal of your marketing is to achieve the highest possible occupancy rate. But how you get there and which distribution channels you use, well, that’s completely up to you.
The most commonly used platforms of hostel visitors are:
Especially with topics that generate so much hype, it’s important to keep your entrepreneurial glasses on and view things from a business perspective.
Therefore, let’s have a look at what strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats social media comes with.
Advantages Of Social Media
In this part, we’re going to discuss the possible advantages of social media when used correctly. More on that later.
Branding is a part of your overall marketing strategy that aims to attract as many ideal guests as possible and makes you recognizable. You can think of your brand as the personality of your hostel. Your brand tells what you stand for.
Example: You have a cute hostel puppy and share pictures of it on your social media profile. People who love dogs – like me – see this as a strong benefit of staying at your hostel. After all, who doesn’t want to cuddle with this cutie that wags its tail, spreads unconditional love and puts a smile on everyone’s faces?
By engaging in social media, you have another channel to “get your name out there”. This is especially potent when playing your #1 WILD CARD of being a hostel owner: the social aspect.
Think about it.
Many other accommodation forms compete with you in pricing (e.g. Airbnb). And there is hardly a difference to be noticed in safety, service, facilities, etc., but there is one thing that does make a significant difference.
One thing that gets bone-deep and remains memorable for decades: a pervasive and high vibe culture.
Your branding allows you to be personal and show pictures of yourself and your hostel. You humanize your hostel and get away from the image of a faceless corporation. It’s your chance to start one of the most powerful virtuous cycle when it comes to hostel marketing: word of mouth.
Word of mouth advertising means people are verbally sharing their breath-taking experience at your place with the rest of the world.
However, it’s important to note that branding and its cousin word of mouth can work FOR or AGAINST you and both don’t happen overnight. It takes a reasonable amount of time to get to the point where people want to be part of it.
While branding does indeed strengthen your relationship with your guests and can build loyalty, it’s questionable how important it really is for hostels. Many travelers do not want to visit the same place ever again – no matter how good their stay is.
#2 Social Proof
Social proof is the psychological phenomenon that we assume what most other people do must be the “right thing”.
Example: The Chicago Freehand Hostel has more than 16.000 likes on Facebook. Hostel One Míru is “only” limping around at 140 likes. Hence, you jump to the conclusion that the former is the better choice. I mean, it must be better when several thousand people hit the like button, right?
Social proof is incredibly powerful if you know how you can use it to your advantage. Amazon has recognized that potential early on and has become a master in it. It’s the reason why you find an average of 43% of an Amazon page to be reviews and recommendations of other people.
Social proof comes in many forms:
- Number of shares
- Number of comments
- Trust symbols and certificates (e.g. Hoscars)
- Reviews and testimonials: “Jenny, Backpacker from Sydney said: …”
Or through attention grabbers like:
- “As shown in the New York Times, Travel Channel, USA Today, etc.”
- “Join 20.000 other travelers and subscribe to our weekly newsletter”
- “Others who’ve bought X were also interested in Y.”
Robert Cialdini is the pioneer mind behind this topic. Before Cialdini, social proof was unheard-of. It was when he published his famous book “Influence – The Psychology Of Persuasion” including all his learnings from hundreds of studies that the term became publicly known.
If I had to recommend only one single book on how to improve your offer and write a more compelling hostel description, it’s this one. When I came across his book in June 2017, it was a page-turner from day one.
I remember that I couldn’t put it down as soon as I started reading. It even got to the point that I annoyed my sister because I shared so many incredible studies from it.
The principles you’ll learn in this book are timeless, proven and can help you gain several thousand more a year – no joke. I paid around 40 bucks in 2017 on Amazon, but I think it’s way cheaper now. Just have a look yourself.
Recruitment: Social media can be a great way to post job offers since they can easily be shared and multiplied.
Traffic Generation: Some social media platforms allow adding links to your website and hence can improve your overall traffic. Furthermore, a popular social media channel can improve your Google ranking (SEO).
Direct bookings: Depending on the platform there are options to include a Call To Action (CTA) button (e.g. “Book Now” on Facebook). However, I’ve personally never met a traveler who booked a hostel based on their social media presence.
Surveys: Social media can be a great way to conduct surveys. E.g. you’re thinking about purchasing a pool table for your hostel but you’re unsure if your targeted guests will love it as much as you do. So, why not get a second opinion by asking them?
Market Research: If you’re new to the industry and only have a vague picture of your target market just yet, social media can give you valuable insights into your guest’s needs.
If you want to learn more about that, make sure to check out my article about 7 ways how you can find out what your guests secretly desire most.
I’ve personally experienced it over and over: hostel owners who are convinced to know their target market inside and out. But when they did a little research, they were stunned by how little they actually knew!
Access To Ads: Since people typically share lots of personal information on social media, there’s the option to run specific ads for people that fit the definition of your target market (e.g. solo females between 25-30 who liked the facebook page “Backpackers Australia”).
As awesome as this option might sound, I haven’t found any hostel yet that has successfully run ads in 2019. If you know someone, please let me know in the comment section below! I’m eager to learn more about it.
Feedback: Since some social media channels allow people to publish reviews, it’s another chance to get valuable insights about your target market. However, since you’re probably also listed across many online travel agencies (e.g. Hostelworld, Booking.com) and meta-search engines (e.g. Google, TripAdvisor) you already get a ton of feedback that way.
Fun & Entertainment: Last but not least, social media is an opportunity for you to be entertained and to express yourself. I know many people who love taking pictures, editing videos or just like scrolling the newsfeed while having lunch or dinner.
All the aspects above can support you on your mission to get as many bookings as possible.
Now that we’ve covered the bright side, let’s explore together what potential traps social media entails.
Disadvantages Of Social Media
#1 No Control
Probably the biggest drawback of social media is that you’re not the one who’s pulling all the strings. No matter how much time and money you’ve invested in your page, it belongs to the social media platform – not you.
You’re basically renovating the house of your landlord. Sure, you enjoy the newly painted walls for a while, but he can kick you out at any time.
They make the rules and there’s nothing – Z E R O – you can do about it.
- Your post reaches only around 10% of your followers? – Swallow the pill
- You’re suddenly asked to pay to add a link to your website? – Bite the bullet
I’ve personally experienced this downside the hard way: As I traveled through Australia, I connected with many new people on Facebook. Then one day, my account got disabled because Facebook thought a stranger is using my account. That seemed logical since I’ve been living in Germany for many years before and now I was in Australia.
I had to send in a picture of my ID and 3 days later I was able to use it again. I then added 11 people that I’ve met in the meantime and shortly after, my account was disabled again.
At that point, I was already slightly pissed by having to send in my ID again. 3 days later… nothing. 4 days… nothing. After 7 days I send in my ID again. 10 days later I started to binge-read all forums that I could find on the topic since there’s no customer service or whatsoever that will help you.
I was surprised by how many other people experienced a similar situation and were stuck with me.
End result: My private Facebook account is gone along with all the contacts, pictures, posts, everything. But what really hit me was that there was no way that I could have gotten access to my facebook business page again since I didn’t give allowance to anyone else.
Ugh. That hurt.
Believe me when I say that I’ve tried everything, but there’s nothing that I can do to get it back. I even created a new Facebook account because I wanted to create a new business page and connect with the few people whose names I remembered.
Result: 12 hours later it got permanently disabled because Facebook’s policy forbids a “second account” and they seem to track your IP.
I am now able to write about it without feeling irritable anymore… well, at least not so much. But the lesson I learned is incredibly valuable:
Whenever you spend money, time or effort on social media,
you’re renovating another person’s house. Period.
Vikki Matsis, manager of the NotSo Hostel in Charleston, USA, and author of “Inside an American Hostel” (recommended read) nailed it when she said:
“It is a small part-time job keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, […] and other social media services.”
If you have a social media account, you gotta take care of it. Otherwise, chances are high that it can even work against you.
This is an example of what happens if you have a passive website:
I know the owner personally and he’s stopped using Facebook in 2017. Since I know that he’s a highly ethical online marketer that has only good intentions in mind, I know that he’s made sure that she got what he promised. But still, this comment remains unanswered on his Facebook page (with 34.000 followers).
A classic example of how social media can work against you if you don’t take good care of it. The bottom line: You have to invest time on your social media profile if you have one. There’s no way around it.
While some enjoy designing and taking pictures, it’s a huge time killer. Even if you use tools like Buffer that allow you to schedule your posts on various social media platforms, it still takes a lot of time to prepare and upload every single post, write descriptions, and answer comments and messages.
An option you can consider is to hire a freelancer who takes care of your social media presence for a few bucks. That said, be aware that you’re basically running a marketing campaign by investing actual money on it.
Social media is a trend – it comes and goes. The question is not IF your content turns and becomes worthless, it’s about HOW SOON it will happen.
While I personally don’t think that Twitter and Facebook will disappear in the next couple of years, many experts thought the same about Myspace and Google+, and look where they are today!
“But isn’t everything online fast-changing?” – I hear you say. Well, that’s partly true.
However, two media are set up to exist for a very long time: your website and your email list. These two aspects play such a vital role in the world wide web that it would take a completely new system to make them obsolete.
And even if such a system will be developed by some 14-year-old tech geek who lives on energy drinks and sleeps on his or her keyboard, this change won’t happen overnight. You as a hostel owner will have plenty of time to adapt once a change is required.
#4 Poor Effectiveness For Bookings
Truth be told, there are more promising alternatives to increase bookings than social media. This is due to two reasons:
- 1) Not Ideal Selling Environment
If you open up an encyclopedia and look for the definition of social media, you’ll find something like that:
“Social media are websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.” 
Do you read anything about selling? Nope.
I like to think of social media as a garden party: You’re surrounded by family members, your best buds and some friends of them. People come together to have fun, to be entertained and to share what’s happening in their life.
By trying to sell on social media, you’re like the old friend who hasn’t talked to you in years but got bitten by the multi-level marketing bug and now bothers everyone about the latest super pills that turn you into a superhero… instantly, of course… that goes without saying.
It makes everyone uncomfortable because it’s just not the right environment to get sold. Don’t be that guy. Social media is a network, not a directory or search engine.
That said, once upon a time when social media was on the rise, many people got rich just by selling on social media. But as with all market opportunities, it got old pretty quickly. Which brings me to the second reason…
- 2) Times Have Changed
As I looked through several forums to read about first-hand experiences with social media from other small businesses, I was surprised by how fundamentally the opinions have changed over the last 10 years.
At the very beginning, social media was THE thing, THE future of everything and even considered a marketing cure-all. Then 2 major changes occurred among many other smaller issues.
First change: Too many people jumped on the sales part of the train which decreased the effectiveness
Second change: Social media platforms became more and more Scrooge-like with traffic + people got burned too many times by unethical marketers
If I had to draw my impressions on a chart, it’d look something like this.
As soon as the operators saw what huge impact social media can have on the traffic of a business, they wanted to have their piece of the cake. That was when the first updates came out that limited the amount of people you can reach with your posts (unless you pay for the privilege to get in front of your whole audience).
At that point, millions of businesses had already spent a lot of money on building followers or getting “likes”. And within a day, their traffic from social media was reduced to a fraction.
At the same time, we’ve developed into ninjas when it comes to scrolling over ads. I mean, seriously. Even though they aim to make ads look like regular posts, we still recognize it within a split-second and have already scrolled past it, right?
If you’re still in doubt, let’s look at two examples of highly successful online marketers:
First of all, Neil Patel. In case you’re not familiar with this name, let me introduce you to the #1 SEO guru worldwide. Neil gets more than 4 million page views every single month and has built up a net worth of approximately 30 million dollars. In short, this guy knows what he’s doing.
Last week, I received this email from him:
Even though he’s super active on social media and offers incredibly helpful content, he only gets around 2 monthly page views for every 100 followers (2%) – and it’s a declining trend.
Another great example is the online marketing genius Jim Harmer from Income School who gets millions of monthly page views across various websites that he’s built. In his first and biggest business, he jumped on the social media trend and build a facebook page with 600.000 followers.
Since 2017 he completely stopped being active on this account despite the huge amount of followers. The reason? Being active on these platforms brought him less than 2% of the overall monthly traffic. The effectiveness got so low that he doesn’t even outsource this task to a freelancer because he says it’s not worth it.
Ever since he’s concentrating on what he has control over: His website and his email list.
#5 High Opportunity Costs
Reading forums for hostel owners, I hear people say that they use social media because it’s “free”. That, my friend, is a sure sign that someone has room for improvement in the way he or she perceives business. No worries, that’s the part where the online resource TheHostelHelper will help you out.
Opportunity costs are the costs incurred by not enjoying the benefit associated with an alternative choice.  In other words, you lose your chance to run another effective marketing gig instead of spending your time and effort on social media.
When I decided to use social media as a marketing tool for TheHostelHelper, I measured the time it took to create and upload an average post: 17 min.
Here are three of the examples I made:
Since I knew I would have to actively spend time on social media, I planned to have daily posts. 17 minutes per post x 7 days per week = 119min. That’s about 2 hours per week without keeping the page itself up-to-date (e.g. new profile picture) and answering messages, comments, and reviews.
The alternative would have been to invest my time on blogs like this. Pursuing this choice would have allowed for an additional blog per month.
Result: Being active on social media can lead to a slight increase in traffic shortly after posting. Since posting needs to be an ongoing process, one post is not going to do it. You’re pretty much back to square one until you publish your next post.
When I instead decide to go for the blog post alternative, things look different.
Creating one valuable blog post might lead to the same amount of traffic over the period of a month, but it will generate traffic for YEARS to come. Not just once, but month after month. Furthermore, I’m in full control and don’t have to fear new updates that decrease my effectiveness.
I encourage you to do the math for yourself and compare your available options.
Hardly measurable: I guess you’re tired of hearing the old saying “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, but it’s just too true to neglect. You’ll never really know how effective your social media efforts are because there’s no reliable way to accurately measure it. Hence, you never really know when or if you achieve a return on investment (ROI).
Negative social proof: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” – These are the wise words of investment legend Warren Buffet. Be aware of the fact that social media can indeed work against you if you’re passive or your feed is filled with nonsense.
Using trendy hashtags without properly understanding their meaning has been a faux pas for many. DiGiorno, the American pizza manufacturer learned this the hard way.
Sounds funny, right? Well, this twitter post went viral in a matter of days and has been talked about for years after its deletion.
The hashtag “WhyIStayed” was used as a way to organize a conversation for men and women who stayed in abusive relationships. DiGiorno clearly didn’t look into the context before tweeting. But still, this was reason enough to set off a shitstorm avalanche of people who thought DiGiorno intentionally misused their hashtag to advertise their pizza.
Before we come to a conclusion, here’s my view on things.
TheHostelHelper’s Opinion About Social Media
Given that you’ve read everything until here, you might wonder how I personally use social media and what I’d recommend you to do.
To make it short: I deleted all my social media accounts in September 2019. The opportunity costs of being active were not in line with the vision and goals that I pursue. I prefer to be in control and build something that can last a long time.
That said, it was a struggle to finally delete my profiles. As logical as it might seem by comparing the advantages and disadvantages, it took me several weeks to follow through.
Why was it so hard for me? In short: social expectations and their underlying pressure.
I feel like everyone else expects you to have social media accounts and be active. And when I tell people about it, many give me a feeling of having to justify myself as if there’s a right or wrong – there isn’t! After all, the first thing many entrepreneurs do is to create their Facebook page, right?
However, as you know by now, social media is not the strategy, it’s just a distribution channel. Therefore, don’t let yourself get influenced by all this hype surrounding the topic.
Another criteria for me is that I prefer to live and experience the real world instead of creating a virtual fake reality of my life and my business. Especially when I traveled through regions with no signal, I learned to appreciate what it really means to be present and live in the here and now.
And let me tell you how LIBERATED I felt after deleting my social media accounts (5x business accounts, 2x personal). I didn’t realize how social media kept my mind constantly busy until I’ve finally quit. Since then, there has not been a single day of regret.
Surely, I miss out on the opportunity for branding and social proof for TheHostelHelper. That’s why I’ve decided to focus all my effort to engage with you on this website by answering every single comment and email that I receive personally. I prefer having 100 people on my email list over 10.000 likes on my (non-existent) Facebook page.
Now does that mean I advocate you delete your social media presence, too? – NO!
At TheHostelHelper, I believe in copying successful concepts rather than reinventing the wheel. Therefore, let’s take a closer look together on what the most successful hostels do.
Statistics Across The Top 41 Hostels Worldwide
I’ve analyzed the top hostels worldwide regarding their social media presence and put all my learnings into this infographic for you.
Facebook: 90% of the top 41 hostels use Facebook and predominantly post several times a week. They also have the highest number of followers on Facebook compared to all other social media channels.
Instagram: This platform ranks second place with 63% of the top 41 hostels that use it. Most hostels post several times a week and seem to reach similar numbers of followers just like on Facebook.
Twitter: Only 34% of the top 41 hostels use twitter and the ones that use it are rather passive and have way fewer followers than on Facebook and Instagram.
Not shown but also analyzed:
- YouTube: None of the hostels operates an active YouTube channel, but some have an account and uploaded some marketing videos (but not regularly).
- Snapchat: None of the hostels uses Snapchat as a media channel.
- Pinterest: None of the hostels has an active Pinterest account.
Okay, now let’s bring it all together to come to a conclusion.
Recommendations For Your Hostel
Before I tell you what I recommend you do, let me set the record straight: There’s no right or wrong. There’s only the solution that fits you and your hostel.
How many social media accounts should you use?
If you decide to use social media as a distribution channel, I recommend you stick to fewer channels that you actively manage instead of having many passive accounts.
Which social media platform is best?
Since the top 41 hostels don’t really seem to have success on twitter, I’d skip that one and focus on Facebook and/or Instagram instead.
How active should you be?
According to the top 41 hostels, the ideal zone is to post at least several times a month or at best several times a week. You don’t have to be active daily. Also, make sure to engage with guests by answering their comments and reviews.
Most importantly, make sure that you’re answering messages as soon as possible because most people expect a faster answer on social media platforms compared to emails. Your speed on this can be the difference between a booking at your hostel or the one across the street.
What content should you post?
Since social media is a network for sharing and entertainment, make sure that you do exactly that: Be entertaining and valuable. At a hostel conference I heard a speaker say that 80% of your posts should be informative and 20% advertising.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach. However, I personally would limit your advertising posts to a maximum of 10% and rather focus on branding, engaging and building social proof.
Make sure to see social media for what it is and have no expectations for increased bookings. Otherwise, you’ll only be disappointed. Rather use it with the intention to build a brand and build a relationship with your followers.
If you haven’t done yet, get your pen and paper and do the math to calculate your opportunity costs. This will help you enormously to invest – not spend – your time more wisely without getting trapped in social media.
Lastly, if you don’t have a website or a blog yet, I highly recommend you change that. This is something that pays dividends for years compared to short-lived social media.
It has never been easier to build a professional-looking website in a matter of hours with NO previous experience. Nowadays, you can get a complete website for less than a hundred bucks without having to pay expensive web developers. Seriously.
Before you leave: Answer this quick question and help our community.
Which social media channel has been most effective for your hostel and why?
Share your opinion in the comment section below!