Our featured PLANOLEADER is making digital dreams come true. Enter Lauren Saxe, who is at the forefront of innovative hospitality content in her role as the Community and Social Media Manager for Dream Hotels NYC. Although she is a fairly recent addition to the company's small but mighty marketing team, Lauren has been able to call upon her past experiences in magazines to craft engaging narratives across the hotel's digital channels including the blog and social media platforms. This passion for storytelling has also transcended beyond the web into offline activations that engage Dream's dynamic community at each of its local properties. In fact, we recently joined Lauren at the iconic Dream Downtown in Manhattan for a firsthand glimpse into how she brings all of these initiatives to life. Discover more from our in-depth conversation with Lauren, which features her expansive career history, thoughts on the intersection of social and influencer marketing, and tips for creating hospitality/travel content that has a long-term impact.
Please introduce yourself!
Hi! I'm Lauren, the Community and Social Media Manager for Dream Hotels NYC. When I'm not planning our next social campaign or obsessing over the color scheme of our Instagram feed, you can find me around New York running through Central Park, looking for the city's best charcuterie board, or taking a trip to the nearest Michael's for a therapeutic craft session.
Before Dream Hotels, what were you up to professionally, what role did digital play in your job description, and what have been some notable moments throughout your career so far?
Before Dream, I was working at Health magazine as a social media assistant. This is where I got my feet wet with social, as I worked and interned primarily in print media — writing, researching, and fact-checking for magazines — beforehand. I worked almost exclusively on the digital side of Health. Every day the team would start the morning chatting about the news and potential pitches. Then I'd spend my day syndicating news articles, creating punchy captions for Facebook, scheduling posts, sourcing photos, and videos, creating original GIFs (one of my favorite parts of the job, TBH), analyzing the success and engagement of the day's previous posts, and occasionally writing articles for the site. My most notable moments:
- One thing that I've really loved doing is revamping the blog for Dream Hotels. Before, blog posts were more of an occasional thing, but now we publish a monthly series called Dream Insider, where we round up the best happenings in and around the hotel at each property. We've also featured fashion influencers, brides and grooms who have had their wedding here, Q&A sessions with artists and writers who have done events with us, and limited food-and-beverage specials. As a result, we've been garnering more and more readers each month.
- I was also really proud of my first on-site activation coming to life for National Novel Writing Month. We had a series of authors come in to host workshops throughout November. I got to oversee planning the participants, creating social flyers, creating a promo plan, prepping interview questions for our "Dream Sessions" series, and seeing a larger project through from start to finish. The best part is physically seeing our social fans come out and enjoy an in-person, on-site activation at the hotel. This month we're going to have a discussion panel on sustainable fashion, which we're really excited about!
- Related to my past experience in magazines, one of my highlights was an article I wrote for Rachael Ray Every Day. I had written for national titles online before that, but seeing my byline in print for the first time was a little surreal. My best friends and family all went out to buy a copy as soon as it came out. Despite my love for social and all things digital, I'll always have a soft spot for print.
- A personal favorite moment that's not necessarily a career "achievement," but has definitely been a highlight of my time at Dream was when we collaborated with Queer Eye's Antoni. He stayed with us for a couple of nights in the fall and tagged us on social, displaying the avocado shrine and embroidered pillowcase we created for his room. He even sent a thank you video to my boss and me, which I'm obviously keeping forever and still has me swooning.
We love Dream's Instagram bio description "Every stay has a story." Tell us more about this statement and how the Instagram content posted across the board (no matter which Dream Hotel location) is reflective of the hotel group's overall ethos?
When a guest stays at Dream, we want them to experience more than just a hotel room. Even though we have properties all over the country and internationally, each Dream property is unique and has its own story to tell, just like our guests. That's why we want to give them a one-of-a-kind experience during their trip that's tailored to their specific occasion, whether that's a business trip, a wedding, or a relaxing weekend away. We want them to leave their stay with a story, a memory, or a feeling they've never experienced before. We reflect this digitally across our social channels by first establishing what we as a brand encapsulate, and then showcasing specific details that make each property stand out while continuing to fall under our overarching brand ethos. We've launched individual property accounts over the last year to give our followers a more localized platform to experience what's going on in each specific market. For example, on Dream Nashville's Instagram, you can expect a lot of musical performances and food and beverage. It's our first Dream flagship in the south, and it's also in the heart of the Music City, so we want to highlight both of those items. Whereas a property like Hollywood is going to highlight more sunsets and landscapes, shots by the pool, and its rooftop views of Los Angeles. And we New Yorkers go gaga over any overhead shot of the city or scenic view of Central Park. What they all have in common is that we feature fresh design, innovative dining and nightlife venues, and unmatched accommodations, events, and services. Our brand account captures all of these things as well but serves as more of a mood board to let our followers know who we are. From there, they can branch out and explore our individual properties.
Walk us through your day. How do you plan and create content for Dream that is mindful of each location and local initiatives? Can you point to an example of a successful global Instagram campaign that you worked on that really embodies this holistic approach?
I get into the office around 9 a.m. each morning. I start by sifting through influencer requests and checking our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds to see how guests are engaging with content and if there are any requests or reviews to address. Community management is such an important tool, especially in hospitality. The ability to have a two-way conversation with our guests in real time gives us the opportunity to make their stays extra special and tend to any questions or concerns they may have while they're on the property. We can relay this information directly to the front office and guest services, who can then reach out directly to assist a guest or send them something special for a honeymoon, birthday, pet-friendly room, etc. I spend a lot of time sourcing user-generated photos, planning ideas for our own shoots and visual assets, creating promotional flyers, and mapping out a full schedule of our content calendar, which includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Instagram stories, and the blog. I currently manage four Instagram accounts, two Facebook pages, three Twitter handles, and most of the content on our blog, so it's important to have somewhere to keep it all in check. When I need a break from creating content calendars, I'll take some time to brainstorm larger campaigns and events for the coming months. We're currently working on a sustainable fashion panel at Dream Midtown in April for Earth Day, a Mother's Day dinner at Dream Downtown in May, and a huge blowout month in June for WorldPride, which we are official hotel partners for. I also occasionally dabble in on-site activations and brand partnerships for the Dream Downtown and Dream Midtown properties, which is a nice way to break up my day and step away from my devices for a little bit. Working with a variety of brands has led to great social partnerships, including Instagram giveaways, cross-promotional materials, and on-property activations that produce Instagrammable moments that feature our partnering brands and the hotel all at once. The best part about my job is that every day is different! For our Cyber Monday campaign, the marketing team got together months in advance and fleshed out a two-week plan, from a full breakdown of the posting schedule to photoshoot ideas to website and social copy to additional visual assets. Our creative studio made the visuals for the brand-wide campaign, and then we focused on a rollout plan for the brand as a whole and the individual accounts and deployed it to the rest of the marketing teams. This way, each property was unified, but could also have a little fun with how they messaged it for their specific hotel.
There are so many opportunities that come with creating social content in the hospitality space, and a big avenue, a lot of companies choose to take is integrating social and influencer marketing. What is Dream's position on influencer marketing, and how would you like to build upon the ways the company can work with influencers across channels?
For us, working with influencers is really a case-by-case process. It's all about finding organic ways to partner with them and tying in our influencers to upcoming campaigns that make sense. We don't ever want anything to feel forced or like an ad, and we want it to be mutually beneficial. As we move forward, we will continue to select our partnerships based on that model. For example, during New York Fashion Week in February, we partnered with Belle Bakst, popularly known on Instagram as Little Fashion Stylist. She had come to one of our events at the hotel the previous Fashion Week in September, so she was already familiar with the hotel and our brand, and she hit it off with our team from the get-go. When the time came to select an influencer for our Instagram takeover in February, it was a no-brainer. Following her takeover, we even had people responding to our stories saying how much they loved seeing her feature "A Day in the Life at New York Fashion Week" and were eager to see more. It was great because her followers were introduced to us, and our followers were introduced to her, bringing a new audience for both of us.
"Apps like StoriesEdit are lifesavers because they can provide clean, well-designed story templates in minutes."
Here at PLANOLY, we recently launched a new product called StoriesEdit, which provides customizable and thoughtfully-designed templates for your Instagram content. With that in mind, what would you say is Dream's approach to curating and creating consistent visuals for the company's Instagram? How do you hope to continue to build upon this in 2019?
It's really a mixed bag as to where we source our visuals. We have a creative studio at our corporate office that handles creative collateral and visual assets across the company and all of its properties. In terms of assets that are more specific to individual hotels, those are generally created by the marketing teams on the property. Some of our marketers have experience in graphic/digital design; however, for those who do not, apps like StoriesEdit are lifesavers because they can provide clean, well-designed story templates in minutes. So much of social media is posting on the fly, so having a template on hand and ready to go is extremely helpful. Although most of our Instagram story material is created in house or is content captured by our team, we also really love to feature user-generated content on our feed. It gives us a chance to mix things up and feature some of our followers and fans during their stay at our hotels. One of my personal plans for 2019 is to continue working on more personalized engagement. People can tell when something is automated, as opposed to a real person going in and commenting on photos or responding to a tagged story or answering questions someone has about the hotel. I love interacting with people on Instagram, whether that's giving them a shout-out and featuring one of their photos on our feed, or emoji cheers-ing in response to someone who came with their besties for a getaway weekend and tagged the hotel in their stories.
What are your top best practices or tips for those looking to create compelling social media content in the hospitality space?
1. Know your brand. Consistency (with creativity!) is key. If your brand is confident in who they are and what they stand for, your followers will have that same confidence and commitment to you.
2. Look at what people AREN'T doing. It's something my boss tells me now, and something my editors used to tell me back in my magazine days. Look to others for inspiration, but focus more on the opportunities or stories that haven't been told or used before. Originality shows.
3. Look at the bigger picture (especially in terms of your feed) and triple check your work. For me, any content loses credibility when it's spelled wrong or a photo is blurry, something is tagged incorrectly, has false information, etc. Do your homework and dot your I's and cross your T's! When it comes to the bigger picture, make sure your individual posts and campaigns are helping to create a larger story in the long run.