Mining Social Media is More Than a Marketing Activity

By Ashish Gambhir Co-founder , newBrandAnalytics | May 08, 2011

There is no denying that the explosion of social media has forever changed the hospitality industry. Guests are increasingly tweeting, posting, texting, emailing, communicating, and commenting on the hotel guest experience - both the good and not-so-good. In today's online world, one bad guest experience can be shared easily and broadcast to thousands of prospective and existing customers, magnifying its effect in minutes. As Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying, "Make a customer unhappy in the real world, they might tell six friends. Make a customer unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends."

With more travelers turning to the web for travel advice, it's no wonder hotels are paying close attention to this channel. In a recent survey analyzing consumer behavior, Travelzoo found that 81% of travelers turned to hotel review sites to help with their decision making. Eighty-one percent! Half of those polled said online reviews from previous guests are the most influential. TripAdvisor puts that number a bit higher, stating recently that 87% of travelers read reviews when planning their next trip

Rather than fearing the transparency inherent in social media, most hotels have come to understand the opportunities consumer generated content online has afforded them. Since social media is a platform for the customer's voice - and that voice can be heard by anyone in the world - the hospitality industry as a whole has embraced social media in a huge way.

It is natural and correct to assume that social media is a marketing-based opportunity. According to the white paper from HSMAI, "Best Practice for Maximizing Your Hotel's Online Revenue and ROI," nearly 70% of US hoteliers responding to the April 2010 study reported online was the marketing channel with the greatest return on investment, and the majority are using a variety of online channels to reach potential customers, including 60% who have implemented a social media marketing strategy.

Clearly, there is great value in using social media to promote and market hotels. There is, however, another use of social media which is apt to prove to be more powerful over the long term: listening to the voice of the customer by data mining online feedback. With sites becoming more social, relevance is rapidly becoming the key to readership --- i.e. the more interesting and insightful you are, the more followers you get and the more influential you become in your community (and the farther your comments reach). Guests are talking about ambiance, front desk, check in, check out, room comfort, F&B, and several more topics with great detail. As such, the evolution and richness of the data hotels are able to mine has transformed what was once "brand conception feedback" into true "guest satisfaction feedback."

Marketers have a possible unlimited wealth of information that is consistently handed right to them. The behavioral observations and personal preferences mined via social media are invaluable from a business perspective. Successful hoteliers understand that unfiltered guest satisfaction feedback tells you:

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.