Twitter, Tweet and Tube
By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | May 18, 2010
. Now watch the 2 minute 26 second video clip entitled, Social Media Revolution. If this doesn't give your thinking a new twist, nothing will. The term "social media" is a relatively new part of our lexicon. And, like many things in our lives, its meaning is in the so-called eye of the beholder – or should I say in the keyboard strokes of the consumer.
For some, it may mean Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. To others, it may mean blogs, chat rooms, YouTube, Twitter, and Wikipedia. However you think about it, in essence, social media is simply a cluster of online tools that people can use to share information – their profiles, opinions, perspectives, insights, and experiences. And they are changing the dynamics of a hotel's marketing and communication more quickly and forcefully than any other technology since the invention of the printing press. Before social media outlets took hold, promotional communication was basically controlled by the hotel brand. The who, what, where, when, why, and how of messaging was dictated by owners, managers, advertising agencies, and marketing VPs. They decreed what the message said, when it was delivered, to whom it was sent, and how it was sent. But that is no more. Hotels have lost total control of their message. Social media has democratized the hype and the role of both the brand and its customers. It has taken the conversation from a one-way function of B-2-C (business to customer) to a two-way conversation between B and C and more critically, between customer and customer – or perspective customer. Or as one marketing executive quipped, My brand image is in the hands of the inmates!
Social media is quickly moving from the fringe of marketing communication into the mainstream. An estimated eight out of ten U.S. businesses are already using social media to garner leads or drive traffic to its website, and 48% of them are increasing their social media budgets.
Even luxury brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Neiman Marcus, and Saks 5th Avenue are starting to integrate social media tactics into their promotional strategies. They are discovering that it is no longer enough to have a website so they are exploring a variety of social networking tools to decide which fit best with their image, or whether should they use them all. They are thinking that it will a more powerful message to have an outfit featured on a blog post or on a Facebook page than merely on their websites because blogs and Facebook are really "word of mouth" advertising, and can be seen by millions of Facebook "friends." On the other hand, their websites are seen as just another paid advertisement and only seen by those that click through to the page. Think about the potential for your hotel here – things to do and see, new services or facilities, special events, activities, business and leisure experiences. Forward looking hotels will examine their many online options to determine which, if any, will effectively support the brand's overall positioning strategy.
The basic theory here is that of "swarm marketing." Fueled by connectivity, digitally linked communities (i.e. consumers) are thought to behave similarly to a swarm of bees or a school of fish. That is, they tend to move together. The digital influence of a single guest (often called an "influencer") can quickly become the actions of 100 guests. Think of the profound stimulus this could be to your marketing efforts. By carefully integrating various Internet communication platforms, your hotel can explore unique ways of communicating with current and prospective guests and enhancing a sense of community among them. Examples of hotel brands successfully using social networking are starting to surface. Some have a Face book page where guests can post "postcards" about their brand experiences. This encourages them to know each other outside the hotel's environment, building a greater sense of community. Others have set up Twitter accounts so that guests can "tweet" their friends and family about their hotel experiences – often in real time. Still others use blogs to gather opinions about possible hotel events, or to update guests on renovations taking place in their facilities. And, of course, you, as owner or manager, could establish your own blog to disseminate updates and behind-the-scenes looks at the latest trends, events, programs, products, or services.
As hotels continue exploring social media as potential communication tools, their use can become more valuable because they can also be used for surveys, polls, competitive scouting, and idea generation. After all, if your guests find something in another hotel experience that might work at your property, they could blog, tweet, or post a picture to a photo gallery to spark your innovative thinking.