You used to have to be an avid reader of newspaper travel sections to glean much information about hotels; otherwise, you asked your friends or relied on a travel agent. Today, everybody on the Internet is your best friend, and they all have something to say about where to stay.
In addition to some nine major review sites, consumers are just a couple clicks away from thousands of reviews and millions of comments. That's why the hotel industry has few reservations about the importance of social media. But getting a grip on it is another story.
In a reader survey by Wine and Hospitality Network, a site for professionals in the wine and hospitality industry, the majority of respondents spend no more than two hours a week managing their Facebook fan pages, and 14.2 percent had no fan page at all. Meanwhile, 42 percent don't use Twitter at all, while another 25 percent spent less than an hour a week tweeting.
"Before hoteliers even consider a social media initiative, they should be aware that social media is a very engaged, hands-on marketing format. The social networks are a graveyard of abandoned hotel profiles and fan pages by hoteliers who did not realize the complexity of social marketing," said Margaret Mastrogiacomo, social media specialist with Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, a strategic services and design firm.
The Roger Smith Hotel in New York may be one of the few hotels that has a designated driver. Brian Simpson, director of social hospitality, said social media "allows us to put the people side back into the business." With the majority of hotel visitors booking through travel sites, he says, the only way he formerly could connect with guests was by bumping into them in the hallway. "Now, with social media, we can build a relationship with guests before they arrive, find out that they're here and meet them."
To handle the plethora of channels social media provides, the Roger Smith uses Revinate, a social media management service. Revinate is a new player, coming out of beta last November with a roster of approximately 400 customers.
While there are more than a dozen social media listening services out there, Revinate aims to differentiate itself with its focus on hotels. "Review site comments are so critical to hotels, and they're everywhere... It's an incredible amount of work to not only stay on top but also to respond," said VP of marketing Michelle Wohl.
Hospitality-specific features include alerting managers when a posted review scores below a preset rating threshold, letting them respond to reviews from the Revinate dashboard, setting up workflows so that, for example, a housekeeping complaint can be routed to housekeeping, and creating Twitter searches to monitor, for example, tweets about wine-country weddings.
The focus on hotels pays off for the Roger Smith's Simpson, who used to spend hours using search and setting up news alerts on competitors. While Revinate doesn't include some of the hot new social media startups he keeps an eye on, like Bizzy and Pegshot, he says it covers the major sites, especially TripAdvisor, the most important. The ability to compare his hotel's buzz with competitors is also unique. "It's one thing to do it manually for your own establishment, but for me to do that for surrounding hotels or for what other people we have an interest in are doing, that becomes more laborious."
Simpson also monitors Foursquare (not covered by Revinate) and Twitter for close to real-time information on who's there and how they like it. The hotel offers special Twitter deals through Revinate's TweetConcierge client, which also notifies staff when someone on a Twitter promo code checks in.
Because many travelers don't scroll beyond the first ten or so recommendations on a site like TripAdvisor or Yelp, building up a mass of positive reviews is critical to getting heads in beds. That was the problem faced by Eventi, a Kimpton hotel that opened in June. With the proliferation of review and blog sites, as well as social media expansions of the major booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity, it's no longer as simple as suggesting a guest post one review, said Steven Rubin, regional director of revenue and distribution for Kimpton Hotels.
"It's a company standard to encourage guests to write about the hotels, and we're confident in doing that because of Revinate," he said. The service allows staff to quickly respond to comments in multiple places from within the dashboard.
Kimpton also uses Revinate reports for training and motivation. "Being a new hotel, it's extremely important in gaining constructive feedback," Rubin said. Kimpton's general manager uses them to build competitive team spirit, by sending out regular e-mails notifying staff of how the service has ranked them among the competition.
Says Rubin, "Travelers search for not just your hotel but for all your competitors' hotels. To be successful, you have to know your enemy."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
March 19, 2014