Socially Speaking - Creating a Competitive Advantage Through Social Media

By Gini Dietrich Founder & CEO, Arment Dietrich Inc. | December 26, 2010

In my previous article, I dove into social media - why you need to be there, how the channels work, and the benefits of the different networks. There should be no doubt you need to be engaging in social media – it's obvious your customers are there. In fact, according to the Ad-ology Research "Travel and Vacation Services-Summer 2009" report, 47 percent of U.S. adult Internet users recently used the Web to research travel and nearly a quarter said social media influenced their travel or vacation decisions. Add to that, according to Forrester Research, that an almost unbelievable 62 percent of Americans believe the online reviews of strangers and it's time to understand why and how you should participate.

The real question is what should you be doing to engage in social media channels? Your hotel has its own unique offerings - you know they are what create loyalty among your guests. So can't tell you exactly what to say when you get online. My goal is to get you thinking about all the possibilities, and give you some ideas you can run with and make your own.

Engaging Key Audiences

You no doubt identified target audiences for your hotel and likely have different communication strategies for each of them. There is no reason you can't do the same thing with social media - in fact it should be easier to find and engage with these audiences in these channels.

One way to connect authentically with different types of travelers is to have an overall brand presence and then create unique Twitter handles, Facebook fan pages, YouTube channels, Flickr pages, and LinkedIn groups based on various needs. You also should consider content development, such as blogs, white papers, videos, podcasts, and articles. They can and should all interact with one another so travelers are aware of the various resources, but the content must be unique in each, so there are genuine, relevant connections made.

Here are a few ideas to build relationships with key audiences through social media:

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.