Hotels and Klout Don't Mix
Reasons for why you should avoid using Klout as a key influencer on your policies
By Larry Mogelonsky, President & Founder, LMA Communications Inc.
Hotels, take heed. There's a new web-born trend snaking its way into the methods by which we determine who gets complimentary perks and who does not. I'm talking about Klout scores and I believe you'll find them to be rather dangerous.
For those unfamiliar, Klout is a social media analytics tool that measures a person's online social influence. The Klout score algorithm is primarily derived from an individual's Twitter profile, taking into account the number of tweets per day, retweets, replies to your posts, hashtags, lists, followers and followings.
The San Francisco-based company has already received some hefty criticism on the integrity of its formula. But this hasn't stopped brands from cashing in on this new metric by appeasing high Klout score Twitter users with freebies and other comped goods, all in an attempt to better promote their products. It's the classic celebrity endorsement model turned on its head.
The best example I could find of this in the hospitality world is the Klout Klub at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Their hope - at least what I presume - is to gain market share by offering instant room upgrades for those with high enough Klout scores in return for online acclaim and diffusion of the brand name throughout the Twittersphere. An interesting business idea, to say the least!
This strategy conforms to the Gladwellian framework of persuading the 'mavens' into action on your behalf. Target a few specific and very influential people for the same, or even better, result of targeting the whole. It's a bold idea, but I believe that it will fail, and here's why.
Twitter endorsements for hotels are fickle.
There, I said it. I've come to have a serious love-hate relationship with Twitter, and Klout only serves to exacerbate my points of derision. So please, allow me to demystify the relationship between Twitter, or all social media for that matter, and actual revenue generation.
The Palms Casino Resort, Las Vegas I'm not writing this as a derision of the resort itself, but rather, using it as an example to show how forward-thinking strategy can elicit unexpected, and possibly dire, consequences. For those who have a high enough score to enter the pearly gates of the resort's Klout Klub: good for you. Take the free room upgrade, tweet about it and reap the rewards for all their worth. But for us regular folk, it's cause for chagrin.
Most of us have lives outside of the Twittersphere and will never have the time to achieve a Klout score necessary for their definition of VIP status. I can't help but feel the primal urges of both jealousy and anger towards the resort and those who have been rewarded due this single metric; a metric that doesn't appear to be based on any solid framework of talent and labor.
Why would I consider a property where I'm required to pay for a 'better' room (versus a free upgrade) just because I'm not on Twitter for 12 hours a day? But that's just me. I'm sure the other 99% of people below the Klout score cutoff would never feel envy towards a hotel that merits social media addiction (read: sarcasm).
Perhaps, as a baby boomer, I'm not part of this property's key demographic. But even still, this type of electronic favoritism will probably not deliver a solid incentive for mass appeal. In trying to build relationships via those with high Klout, they are disenfranchising everyone else.
On the one hand, I wholeheartedly encourage hotels to be active on Twitter and treat the software as an 'online concierge' for their past, present and future guests. Social media can be an excellent tool to keep customers informed and to promote various aspects of your brand. Yet on the other hand, segregating the way you treat guests backed on Klout scores is a form of prejudice that is bound to exclude more than it includes.
In One Ear, Out the Other
The Klout algorithm has a critical flaw in that it presupposes more followers and more tweets per day directly equate to more real-time influence. It's a fully modern example of 'in one ear, out the other' and the marketing maxim of 'less is more'.
First, when it comes to the quantity of followers, did you know that you can buy an extra 1000 for $20, or even less? True, these 'fans' won't be replying or retweeting, but they still contribute to the final tally for Klout scores. This practice is highly unethical, but it's only a matter of time before people feel the need to game the system as a means to stay ahead.
Second, and much more importantly, is the lurking negative effect of tweeting too often per day. Few, if any, genuinely care about your day-to-day activities - laundry, walking the dog, gym schedule. Nor is it imperative that you retweet or quote this week's world-shaking news event.
At a certain point it all becomes white noise and mundane. When you gain a reputation for tweeting too often per day, people might end up skimming your posts instead of reading them.
It's a subconscious spam filter. Take someone who tweets 45 times per day and the few quality messages related a given hotel are near instantaneously pushed down into the nether regions of cyberspace by newer tweets. Moreover, because the algorithm is heavily dependent on frequency, it forces those with a high Klout score to keep pumping the system full of this balderdash by any means necessary. This can serve to further a skimming mentality by followers.
Therefore, I pose the question: are tweets about your hotel more likely to be read when coming from someone who posts 45 times a day or 3 times a day? I've said it before and I'll say it again, quality trumps quantity, even in the Twittersphere.
You'll get your day in the sun by courting a 'Twitterati' to frolic in the supreme experience of your hotel. But once they leave, it's like they were never there. And their followers have moved on, too. You've had your 15 seconds of fame. What if, however, someone who only tweets once or twice a day lauds your property? Because it's one of only a few tweets posted that day, it'll attract the eye much more readily. But people who don't tweet often probably have low Klout scores so their opinions don't really matter, right?
Customer Loyalty Is Something You Earn
There's nothing wrong with using Klout scores as a metric to find guests and the social 'mavens' with the most influence. It's what you do with those metrics that matter. One of the main arguments in favor of harnessing Klout scores is that it's a good way to tap into new networks and find new customers.
While I don't argue the fact that this tactic can increase your brand awareness, I contend that it is far easier to retain existing customers than it is to find new ones. Common knowledge.
Applying this principle unveils yet another logical fallacy in Klout scores. If you have to go out of your way with free perks in order for Twitter pundits to celebrate your name, then there's something seriously wrong with your regular operations. Shouldn't your standard guest experience be enough to deserve acclaim, or at least a positive mention?
Your guest services should be exemplary, whether you're hosting a person with 70,000 Twitter followers or a Cro-Magnon who has yet to join Facebook. The superfluous bonuses you offer to Twitterati might broaden your awareness with a dirge of exciting tweets and get you a few new customers in the process, but if you can't deliver a consistently excellent experience for the everyman, then you are in trouble.
And the tweets you get from these pundits will set the bar fairly high. Suppose these new customers try out your product and it doesn't live up to what they've been sold because they aren't getting the Klout VIP package. Failing to meet expectations can do you more harm than surpassing expectations can do you good. Are you going to upgrade every person who's come off a Twitter recommendation in order to meet their expectations? No, you'd probably go broke.
At the other end of the spectrum, suppose a consumer is fully aware that a hotel endorsement on Twitter has been derived from an individual's high Klout status. Is this consumer to then assume that he or she won't be entitled to the same experience? Should he or she therefore come to take all such endorsements on Twitter for that property with a grain of salt? Either way, it's a vicious path to set down on.
The real litmus test would be when you stop handing out perks. Do your Twitter pundits still praise your name? Do they bother to spend for a room upgrade they previously had for free? Do they even stay with you, or do they decide to try the place down the street?
It's your job to get new consumers through the door, and employing mercenaries with lofty Klout scores to accomplish may work for you. Just keep in mind the lightning pace at which Twitter moves. Once your Twitterati check out, so too are the tweets about your hotel.
More importantly, however, for any new recruits you do in fact gain by these methods, you will have to work especially hard to convert them into devoted supporters. And you won't be able to buy your way out of every situation. You'll have to earn their loyalty by delivering a quality experience.
Online Life Versus Real Life
The big debate amongst people who analyze social media is whether it can actually influence people in real life to spend money. I argue that this relationship is nearly inconsequential. I'd much rather have a well-connected individual praise a hotel to their friends in person, or in their own blog, than post dozens of encouraging tweets.
Word of mouth is the obvious trump card, but relevant to this specific quandary: is there any significant association amongst Klout scores, word of mouth and monetary influence? Yes, but the nature of the relationship must be treated on a case-by-case basis.
As a hotel marketer, I wouldn't only consider a person's Klout score, but I'd take it in conjunction with their occupation. Look for industry pundits whose followers are already cued in to look for hotel recommendations - travel writers, hotel senior managers, prominent chefs, tourism bloggers, sommeliers, meeting planners and public speakers to name a few. These are individuals who will not only tweet about a property, but will talk about with others in person.
Moreover, their career paths (that is, what they do outside of the Twittersphere) have all bestowed them with a reputation for expert insights on the hospitality world. When I want a quick laugh, I'll follow a comedian. When I want to learn about new places to travel, I'll follow someone working in tourism. Klout isn't all bad, but it should definitely not be treated as the sole point of delineation.
Researching this topic before scribing this editorial, I came across a story of a person failing a job interview because his Klout score was too low. Sweeping disappointment set in. Yet I look at it the other way. Why would you want to work for a company that puts this much weight in something as trivial as a Klout score? The interviewee should count himself lucky he isn't working there because god only knows what other maligned values are at work.
Larry Mogelonsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president and founder of LMA Communications Inc. (est. 1991), an award-winning, full service communications agency focused on the hospitality industry. Larry is also the developer of Inn at a Glance hospitality software. As a recognized expert in marketing services, his experience encompasses Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Preferred Hotels & Resorts, as well as numerous independent properties throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Larry is a registered professional engineer, and received his MBA from McMaster University. This article may be reproduced with permission of the author.