Five star thinking

Discover the hotels brand building on social


As well as being big business, holidays are a big deal. We spend hours poring over locations, setting budgets, daydreaming. Expectations are always high. Your hotel experience can make or break your holiday – and social media provides the perfect opportunity to share the good, the bad and the faulty aircon. In response, hotels have had to evolve sophisticated customer service strategies. But the real trailblazers are the brands who have harnessed the potential of social shareability to tell their stories.

We look at how their brand building on social media expertly shifts the conversation away from the everyday and into the aspirational.

Getting closer to your getaways

In the days before we could compare multiple locations at a tap, hotel chains seduced us with sun-kissed tv ads and glossy brochures. Today many hotel brands are making the bold decision to move away from traditional advertising channels and adopting a social-first strategy: doing their brand building on social media.

At first glance, this might seem odd. Why take the risk of having your brand’s messaging spoilt by complaints about cold soup? In fact, it makes perfect sense.

Something worth sharing

If you can handle the customer service side of social effectively, what you are left with is the ideal platform to show a diverse, global audience what your brand’s about. The visual nature of social is a great fit for hotels too. Images of azure skies. Infinity pools. Sundowners on the balcony. We simply can’t resist.

Holidays trigger something emotional in all of us; a promise of freedom, fun and adventure. And of course, while we’re there, we can’t resist bragging to everyone back home about it too. Social shareability is a very valuable currency in the travel industry. A recent study[1] found 40.1% of millennials choose their holiday destinations based on how ‘Instagrammable’ it will be.

Here are two very different hotel brands who use social not purely to extend their reach but to enrichen their brand.

Social status

With over a million followers across Instagram and Twitter, the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai is a social media darling. It has high customer expectations to meet; the cheapest room will set you back a cool £1000 a night. Of course, most of us will never go there. But hundreds of thousands of us would really, really like to. And Burj Al Arab knows it.

The ‘Sail’s’ positioning is about “pushing the boundaries of what you expect when you visit”. Prestige, opulence and luxury oozes through everything they do. So no surprise that their brand building on social media centres around delivering the ‘wow’ factor. This is a hotel that doesn’t sell rooms. It sells a lifestyle.

And it works. The fact that a tiny percentage of its followers will ever stay there only fuels its desirability amongst the chosen few who can. Their guestbook is a who’s who of the rich, famous and powerful, and all of them share their experiences of their stay. This symbiotic relationship reinforces the status of both parties, generates more interest and attracts even more followers. So on and on it goes.

Desirability at its heart

On Instagram where visual content is king, the world’s most luxurious hotel has found its natural home. It’s not a complex social strategy, but what makes it outstanding is the quality of the execution – as you’d expect, their photography is breathtaking, but it’s also original and full of character. Hotel location shots are transformed into pieces of art, each one perfectly pitched to their wealthy clientele, and to the rest of us who live in hope of a lottery win. Within hours of posting, each image has racked up thousands of likes.

User-related content is still an important part of the mix, and Burj Al Arab goes to considerable effort to invite former guests and avid social media users to follow and create content for its accounts. When it became the most followed hotel on social media in March 2017, they celebrated with a ‘Thank you’ campaign on Instagram and Facebook with exquisitely composed images featuring high-status visitors and artists in the hotel.

Ok, so we don’t all have a seven-star budget to play with, but the takeaway is universal. What Burj Al Arab has done really well is play to social’s strengths and created a cohesive brand story that’s custom-made for Instragram. And it’s pure class.


Thank you @muradosmann for celebrating an icon and making #BurjAlArab the world’s most followed hotel #BAA500K

A post shared by Burj Al Arab (@burjalarab) on


Thank you @marko_edge for stepping inside #BurjAlArab and making it the world’s most followed hotel #BAA500K

A post shared by Burj Al Arab (@burjalarab) on


All points lead to peace of mind @BurjAlArab #TaliseSpa #InfinityPool #Dubai Thank you @izkiz

A post shared by Burj Al Arab (@burjalarab) on

Social citizens

In contrast, boutique hotel chain Citizen M doesn’t sell luxury. It sells an attitude. An attitude that’s driven by their decidedly hipster locations and standout design. And when it comes to delivering this attitude, it’s social all the way. It’s on Instagram and Twitter that Citizen M really comes alive.

Part of why they are successful at brand building on social media is knowing exactly who they are and who they want to appeal to. Their founder Michael Levie defined it: “The traveler of today travels in jeans, a cheap t-shirt, an expensive watch, drinks champagne, and takes public transport”.

A hipster halo

Citizen M uses both their off-beat locations and calendar of edgy cultural events to create a halo effect. On social, Citizen M is the life and soul of the city. They get involved, seek out the new, curious and unusual, and always stays one step ahead of the latest thing. Just take their digital magazine, citizenMag for example. It combines user-generated features from contributors living in cities across the globe to create drop-dead cool ‘what’s on’ guides for its visitors.

Relatively few posts are about the hotels themselves, and when they do feature, they retain the playful tone and blend right into the mix. They offer a bit of everything, video, live tweets from events, beautiful location shots. It seems Citizen M seems are more interested in being at the forefront of what’s happening than making a sales pitch. Which is exactly what makes them so attractive.

All killer, no filler

For both of these hotel chains, brand building on social media has enabled their individuality to bloom. While one hotel tells the story of perfection in paradise, the other takes you into the city and shows you what’s what. It’s the confidence both brands exude that makes this approach so successful. 

Pitching the content correctly is key here. They never rely on generic ‘filler’ content like #Fridayfeeling or piggyback on trends. If they did, they wouldn’t have an audience. Instead they create original content, get people talking about it, then invite people to talk about them. Each takes a slightly different tactic but both achieve the same goal – a connection between brand and customer.

The power of a thought-through brand is huge. If you don’t believe us just marvel at the aspirational x-factor that lets a skyscraper in the desert sell bedspace for thousands of pounds a night. But because we’re all about the city vibes, we’d be just as happy at Citizen M. Honest.


[1] Independent: ‘Instagrammability’: Most important factor for millennials on choosing holiday destination

Also published on Medium.

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