Bill Linehan Quoted in Hotel Management's 'Social Media 2.0' Article
Part of the problem is that hoteliers often think social media belongs solely to the technology department or the sales department, when in reality it's a mash-up of the two, and best practices should maximize both sensibilities.
Online social media outlets are vital components to a hotel operation's online presence and overall image. In addition to Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare, relative newcomers such as Pinterest and Instagram may prove to be as important in the future. Every day, millions of hotel guests share their opinions via OSMs. These comments, and a company's responses to them can hugely affect a property's bookings and guest spend during any given stay.
While it is a daunting task to keep up with everything that might be posted, tweeted, pinned, or otherwise said about an operation, it is important to pay attention, respond to, and when possible, control the conversations. On the positive side, OSMs allow hospitality professionals to connect in an incredibly personal way with their customers, and the smartest ones are taking advantage of the opportunity.
The Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas, for example communicates dozens of times each day with its 4,300 Twitter followers. Its campaign is admirable in its richness of material (including videos) and in its immediate and effective responses to guest comments—both the good ("Glad to see you enjoyed our hangover burger!") and bad ("Thank you for your valuable feedback. We apologize for any inconvenience. I will send you a DM to discuss.") The Driskill is also a good example of a business that dives into and learns to effectively use new OSMs. The hotel has several Pinterest boards, such as "Driskill Dream Desserts" and "Fairytale Weddings at the Driskilll," where the hotel and brides can pin inspirational wedding photos.
WHO SHOULD DO IT? What are some of the best social media practices? Of course, it is essential to have corporate OSM accounts with staff members posting to them regularly and, on a daily basis, responding to others' activity regarding their property. There are social media optimization tools, such as Revinate and Travel Share to assist managers in this task. Such systems scour the Internet for all activity pertaining to a particular business or property for a given time frame. Linehan said, "It only takes 20 minutes a day to [find the pertinent activity] and when necessary, respond or pass the information along to the right person in your organization."
Whose responsibility should this be? Linehan notes that finding the right person is essential. "I've noticed that [hotel operators] either over-kill—hire someone whose sole job is social media, which is a waste—or they underperform, and put a GM's assistant in charge of it."
Ideally your social media point person should be someone who can keep up with the always-changing technology and trends in OSMs. However, it is just as imperative that a social media point-person be well-versed in the operation, and, because one wrong tweet or post can reach millions of people in an instant and is impossible to undo, a pro when it comes to business-to-consumer communication. The take-away? While that tech-savvy recent college grad might look like the ideal social media person, a higher-level manager is actually the better choice.
Research shows that social media users value person-to-person contact when dealing with a business entity. So while a corporate account on Twitter, for example, is essential, it is also worthwhile for top managers to have their own accounts connected to that of the company's. In this way, a business can forge a more personal connection with customers, which may lead to a better reputation and more bookings.
Interestingly, smaller operations often do the best job when it comes to taking advantage of the power of social media channels, said Michael Herman, CEO of Digital Street, an internet marketing services company. "I've seen smaller brands do well and bigger ones flounder," he said. The reason? Often the individual handling social media for a smaller company "is more likely to be in on every meeting, have their hands in everything, and have a more intimate knowledge of the brand," he said.
Responses to comments in the social media "show what type of operation you really are," Linehan said. He gives the example of a hotel that had multiple complaints on an OTA about bed bugs. Unfortunately, he said, these went completely unaddressed by the property's management. Prompt, succinct responses are necessary. "It doesn't matter what you're doing to address or fix the concern, you have to respond to the comments," he said. "A simple 'I understand and we are taking steps to fix the problem' is sufficient."
In planning next year's marketing budget, it is also important to note that additional media are becoming commonplace and expected by guests. These include videos, slide shows and other rich formats that can be embedded in social media. But in the end, said Herman, hoteliers would do well to remember that, much like the interactions under their roofs, online relationships are simply, and profoundly, another opportunity to create a great customer service experience.
SHR is an innovative provider of advanced distribution technology and services for the hospitality industry. The company serves thousands of properties around the globe on its distribution platform, WindsurferCRS. With a focus on flexibility for the hotelier and creating a memorable experience for the guest, WindsurferCRS provides optimal functionality for all types of properties. SHR's Whiteboard Labs provides custom solutions for the hospitality industry, including custom booking engines, website design and development, and cutting edge applications. Hoteliers can tap into SHR's expertise and knowledge of the industry by utilizing the Revenue Management for Hire service—a cost effective revenue management solution for any property.
Additional information about SHR and hospitality industry trends may be found at the Company's website: www.shr.global
(SHR is the trade name for Sceptre Hospitality Resources, LLC)