Kris Carlson, General Manager at The Wink, is building a new boutique hotel brand from scratch. He started on the project just a month before the hotel opened—bringing fresh ideas, fun features, and a quirky nature to the Washington D.C. hotel scene. His deep understanding of social media has made The Wink’s Instagram successful in sharing the personality of the hotel and engaging with the hotel’s guests.
In under a year of operations, The Wink is already making waves in the area with a dog-friendly atmosphere, a focus on local fun, and packages for every type of visitor.
In this edition of the Sojern Sit Down, we speak with our client, Kris Carlson, about building a unique brand in the hospitality industry.
Here’s what Kris had to say:
[Sojern]: With years in the hospitality industry, what do you love most about your job?
[Carlson]: The best part of my job is working with people—seeing the satisfaction of guests, and sometimes even more so, the satisfaction of our staff. The Wink is a great location with a diverse workforce, so it’s very fun and exciting. I learn so much from travelers and staff.
[Sojern]: When launching the boutique hotel what process did you go through to build brand awareness?
[Carlson]: I joined the project to launch The Wink in December, and it launched in January. We really only had a month and a week to build awareness. I knew we had to build out our website and digital media right away. We looked at brand identity first—working on the name and colors/visuals. We needed a shoppable marketplace that could come to life in operation.
There is always a shifting plan, but the most important aspect is brand identity and how our associates identify with it. It all comes back to the DNA of the brand. We really liked the vision for the visuals and verbiage since we wanted our associates and guests to relate to the brand.
[Sojern]: What challenges did you face with launching The Wink?
[Carlson]: A real challenge we had to overcome was taking over a hotel building that had been owned by a consistent and safe hotel chain, and transforming it into a fun boutique hotel space. Our upcoming renovation of the hotel will bring about the brand presence so much more, and should change the whole atmosphere.
We also had to devote a lot of time to getting buy in. Trying to get people to understand the brand is hard when everyone has seen every type of brand out there. We had to fight through preconceived notions of what the brand should be.
Using Social Media to Showcase a Hotel’s Personality
[Sojern]: How did you translate The Wink brand through Instagram when launching the hotel?
[Carlson]: Instagram is great for showcasing personality. Successful accounts know that advertising is not the key to engaging followers. The personality is displayed, and then in the personality there are things that can be marketed—which is happening with The Wink, and it’s what we’ve wanted from the beginning. Our energy, and what feels like a fun experience, is on display. We wanted to put in things that we’d want to do as a culture in the hotel, and hopefully guests would want to do those things and be inspired by them as well.
[Sojern]: How did you approach paid vs organic social media?
[Carlson]: There are of course, big differences in how we approach organic versus paid social. For us, organic is not advertising, it’s all personality. I like to think that something I see just when walking down the street can inspire posts—making it truly organic. Paid social is more strategic, deciding where and when to focus budget.
[Sojern]: Reposting on Instagram can improve engagement. How do you pick what’s reposted?
[Carlson]: We implement reposting as part of our Instagram plan—choosing content to reflect the brand. It really comes down to the fit and flow with The Wink. People are drawn to visuals and fun. When we repost, we look at someone who is our guest or who we would want to be our guest. The amount of followers a user has isn’t really part of the decision. Taking a good picture matters more than whether they have 12 followers or 200,000—people are drawn to the visuals and fun aspects.
[Sojern]: You repost guests stories and save them to a story highlight. What are some key wins you’ve experienced using Instagram Stories?
[Carlson]: We also repost guest Stories and save them to a Story highlight. Guest posts are always exciting. They usually come back to the associate at some level. The associates see themselves or their name and love it. After all, social media is very engaged today. People are intertwining personal and business together because it’s really the same thing, your social media presence is you as a person.
Connecting with the Community on Instagram
[Sojern]: The Wink is very community focused. How does The Wink give back to the community?
[Carlson]: One of our favorite ways to give back and add some fun to our profile is by hosting adoption events with the Humane Rescue Alliance. They come in once a month to help find homes for their dogs and puppies. About half get adopted by associates at The Wink! These events have been a huge success.
We love dogs at The Wink. We have personal Wink doggy style treats that get handed out at arrival, dog beer (chicken and beef stock), dog beds, and other canine comforts. Washington D.C. in general is not hugely dog friendly, but our location is. We have two dog parks nearby, one fenced in and one by a river for dogs who like to swim. There are also a lot of restaurants in the area with dog-friendly patio seating, which we’ve also implemented.
[Sojern]: You post about events in the area, how does this help you connect with the community in a unique way?
[Carlson] We’ve found our guests really like our event updates. Anyone can look up what to do in DC, but they might not find what’s unique and different. Our associates know what is going on more than anyone else, so that’s who we get recommendations from. Everyone knows the White House and the Smithsonian, but we show the inner workings and cool parts of D.C. that the tastemakers go to.
[Sojern]: How do you promote packages?
[Carlson]: We have a wide variety of fun packages for different travelers. They’re promoted on our website, digital display spaces, and Instagram. We target campaigns to individuals who will fit with a package, for example: music lovers, bookworms, or families with little ones. We get a few bookings of packages on their own, but most book a package and a room. Or they see the package and decide they don’t need it, but see the value in The Wink and end up booking a room. We keep it fresh by switching around to promote different things. We really don’t get discouraged if people don’t book packages because we see how many people are looking at them and how often they translate into room bookings.
Lessons Learned from Launching a Hotel Brand
[Carlson]: There is no such thing as doing things perfectly. If I were given the chance to do it again I would have opened up a few more social channels earlier. We made major progress during holiday season when everyone is on vacation, but we could have been busier and gained more revenue. Sojern was a great example of a marketing channel we did open up, which helped out tremendously—generating $87K+ in direct bookings in only six months with display advertising. We started partnering with Sojern’s RevDirect™ and later opened up advertising on Facebook and Instagram.
[Sojern]: What top three tips would you give to your fellow hoteliers in regards to using Instagram to help launch a brand new hotel?
- Get it started as soon as possible.
- Make sure you have a continual amount of content posted. So don’t allow big gaps to manifest, people could lose interest.
- Don’t be scared or intimidated to do something fun.
[Sojern]: What’s next on The Wink’s Instagram plan?
[Carlson]: Our next steps for our Instagram plan will definitely involve more video. We’re working on some cool video shoots that will hopefully be more interactive. We’d also like to get some takeovers from fun people. We have a running event coming up, so if we can get a takeover at that time we’d be very happy. Lastly, we want to show highlights of the renovation on Instagram. Instead of a crazy unveiling party I’d almost rather do an unveiling Instagram moment.
We’d like to thank Kris for sharing his experiences. If you find yourself in Washington D.C., check out The Wink for unique rooms and local tips.
The Wink partners with Sojern’s RevDirect™product to help increase bookings. Check out Sojern’s RevDirect™ product for yourself here.