At each event I attend, I love asking other attendees what they hope to get out of the sessions, and it seems the number one answer is always:
“To keep an eye on what everyone else is doing.”
If I had to identify one theme that is emerging consistently across nearly every presentation I heard over the past week, it’s been all about community.
“Community building” is one of those phrases thrown around so frequently in social media strategy sessions that it’s easy to grow sick of hearing it used so often without an explanation on why it is important, and the steps involved in building an online community.
Brands such as the Roger Smith Hotel, Ace Hotels, and CitizenM hotels have long credited their focus on community building as the reason for the huge numbers of die-hard fans each has around the world.
Jason Potter and Vanessa Coleiro at Corinthia Hotels shared in my latest Tnooz article the specific steps they took in building a community at Corinthia Hotels that ended up resulting in Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff showcasing their work as an example for executives everywhere to follow.
But conversations I had this week with more people behind some of the Internet’s most vibrant hotel-hosted, travel-themed communities have confirmed my belief that this may be the single most important social media objective for hotels and travel companies today.
Josh Pelz, chief digital strategist at the Gansevoort Hotel Group, opened the EyeForTravel conference with a keynote talking about how he routinely passes along requests for advice and opinion about the Gansevoort back to his Twitter and Facebook audience.
By retweeting a question, his fans will often reply to the person asking about the hotel – and say how much they enjoy it.
This is tremendously powerful as a sales tool – having others sing their praises. And it also plays a role in service, extending their reach to sites where they may not be actively participating.
“We can’t always be there when someone has a problem. We’re not everywhere. But our community often comes to bat for us.
“If someone says they can’t get in touch with the Gansevoort, we often have other members of our community saying ‘email Josh – here’s his address’. It’s amazing to watch this.”
What causes this level of loyalty in an online community? Often, it’s simply recognition.
Mac Joseph, a senior marketing manager at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, shared an example of how he used to enjoy visiting the zoo when growing up in San Diego. He recently connected with the San Diego Zoo Twitter account, and was happily surprised when they tweeted him back. Again, no grand gesture – simply recognition.
So the big takeaway is that it’s very important to make individual members of your community feel special by interacting with them personally. Just sending a friendly “hello” – it doesn’t have to be complicated.
And if there’s one department in hotels that is great at providing that friendly “hello”, it’s guest services.
Andrew Gillespie, guest services manager at Four Seasons Hotels, described how their approach to social media is the result of an internal collaboration between the marketing and guest services teams.
Yes, some of the information posted to their social network accounts is promotional, but a lot of it is conversational and service focused. And the focus on service pays off – very tangibly.
Andrew shared a story of how a guest was bumped from one of their properties – and by providing meaningful, human service through Twitter, his team turned the guest’s opinion from negative to positive… and later found he has 17,000 Twitter followers and visits that city 60+ times each year. Iâ€™ll let you calculate the ROI on that.
It’s because of stories like this that I’ve tried to champion the whole “service as marketing” philosophy for long time.
Social networks allow us to be that “fly on the wall” of millions of conversations around the worldâ€“where travelers are constantly asking their friends and social network for advice on travel.
The degree to which those of us managing travel companies should listen and respond back to request for information is something that’s been debated for a long time, but it seems increasingly consumers appreciate brands reaching out with adviceâ€“if it’s done in a tactful, helpful manner.
They provide advice and recommendations based on questions and ideas they pick up from social media monitoring. (They even recommend competitor hotels if they donâ€™t have a property that suits the needs of a person in their audience!) And yes, they now have permission to stalk me:
Finally, community isn’t just about your visitors, guests and customers. It’s also about identifying the personalities and evangelists you have already working for you on staff.
Marco Fanton at Melia Hotels International, one of the most advanced hospitality organizations regarding their usage of social media across each of their brands, shared how the personalities you have on property must be â€œthe engine behind your social communications plan”.
In one of his examples, two chefs they have at one of Melia’s restaurants drive the majority of social media chatter. Whether it’s a chef, a doorman, or a bartender â€“ think about those personalities that your guests love and enjoy talking about. Red Carnation Hotels also does a phenomenal job with this â€“by intentionally recruiting “colorful characters”.
Some of these concepts may not be brand new to you, but it’s encouraging to see these large hotel brands beginning to understand the value of a service-first approach to social media.
And from an executive perspective, the tangible results in increased customer satisfaction, higher retention and greater loyalty, positive word-of-mouth and expanded web visibility make a strong case for increasing these types of activities.
To be sure, powerful social media listening tools play a critical role in enabling the delivery of this service â€“ but the primary call to action here is about returning to the basics of good business. It’s capitalizing on the opportunity social media provides to amplify the effects of good business practices.
Josh Pelz shared advice we would all do well to put into practice:
“Before you respond to someone online, think about how you would want a company to treat you when you’re having a problem. Flip it around. What kind of response would you want in this scenario? How can you give that to your guests?
“The customer experience is everything. Be (a nice) human. Humanize the brand. Recognize people. Treat people well. Do the right thing. Your fans are going to appreciate and remember that.”
So let me ask you this: How are you building community? Share your thoughts in the comments belowâ€¦