Is Your Hotel Tweeting With David Letterman?

By Bonnie Knutson Professor, The School of Hospitality Business/MSU | June 25, 2010

I wait anxiously for it every year. Maybe it's because I live in Michigan; maybe because it comes out in December when I'm hibernating from the cold; or maybe it's because it's just plain fun to read. Whatever the reason, I can't wait for Lake Superior State University to come out with its annual list of words that should be banished from the English Dictionary. And as you might expect, the 2010 edition contains several entrees that have become part of our technological lexicon – like them or not. I'm speaking, of course, of words like:

  • Tweet – along with its many variations, like tweetaholic, retweet, twitterhea, twitterature, twittersphere, ad nauseam.
  • App – or as one person wrote: "Must we b sbjct 2 yt another abrv?"
  • Friend as a Verb – attributed to, or blamed on, the growing popularity of social networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook. Now you can "befriend" people or "unfriend" them with a click of your mouse.
  • LOL – so are you sending lots of love or laughing out loud?
  • Sexting – enough said. (But if you don't know what this term means, just ask your kids or grandkids.)

It seems as if the world of technology is not only taking over our vocabulary, but is engulfing our lives – both personally and professionally. As someone in the hotel business, this means that you have to think about how your property can integrate digital communications into its promotional strategy. This is no easy task. But it is a task that must be done because the technological genie is out of the bottle...and it's not going back in. So in a hats off to David Letterman, here is a "Half Top Ten" list of key areas to consider as you begin this integration job.

5) You can increasingly incorporate online video into your website. Every hotel has the opportunity to increase value through video streaming, webinars, or links to other interactive websites. Such tools are a great way to add customer value and stay in contact with them 24/7 – especially good for hotels who have seasonal markets, are a boutiques, or are in a highly competitive segment. For example, a resort might hold a webinar with its golf or tennis pro giving performance tips, talking about the new product line coming into the pro shop, or even providing nutrition and exercises tips that are sport specific. If you are in the meeting and convention business, your website might have video content offering ideas on such topics as creative low cost social events. And then there is always the message from you on important issues facing the hotel or travel industry? The possibilities are endless.

4) You will have to closely monitor and manage social media and earned media (that the additional exposure your business gets when customers share their experiences online through FaceBook, Blogs, or Twitter). These social outlets exist in real time so having a guest post a photo of herself in an outfit she just bought at your hotel can immediately increase awareness, augment traditional advertising, and help build revenues. Conversely, having a business traveler tweeting about the bad hamburger he got at restaurant, or having a guest's photo, caught in an unflattering situation, posted on YouTube, can instantly impact the image of your property. Remember, every research study shows that people trust information from each other more than they trust advertising. Social media is the new word of mouth, only now, it is word of finger, and instantaneously can go worldwide.

3) Convergence will be one of two new bywords for your online communications strategy. If you don't believe me, all you have to do is look at what was unveiled at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Coming to consumers' homes, and to your hotel in the near future are TVs with direct Internet connectivity, or with on-screen access to content portals such as YouTube and Netflix. As video streaming becomes intertwined with TV, your website, along with all the connectivity it will provide, can increase customers' sense of brand community. This sparks loyalty which is a hallmark of any successful GRM (Guest Relationship Management) strategy. While the sense of belonging is psychological, it is a major basis for self-definition. It is also one of the most important reasons people are faithful to a brand. Look at what Harley-Davidson has done; ditto with American Girl, You have always worked hard to develop ways to enhance that sense of community – on time room service, a personal note to a frequent guest on her birthday, or a sincere welcome when someone walks in your door. But as technology continues to expand its role in our lives, there are wonderful opportunities to expand these GRM efforts into new directions.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.