Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How Hotels Use Twitter

The latest must-use social media site is Twitter, and its potential applications for hoteliers are endless.

Facebook remains the king of online social media, but it is the microblogging site known as Twitter that is the undisputed Internet darling of the moment.

As a concept, Twitter is simple: Users are limited to 140 characters per post (an update is known as a “tweet”), and anyone can monitor (or “follow”) anyone else. Most of the major hotel brands now have a presence on Twitter, as do many individual hotels. Some hoteliers even have their own Twitter handles, most prominently Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. CEO Simon Cooper, who tweets as @SimonFCooper.

For hotels and brands, the default use for Twitter seems to be posting links to press releases and special room packages or discount codes. Inevitably, though, hoteliers who take the time to explore the site and interact with others find infinitely more applications for it.

In April, The Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles made waves in the Twitter world by announcing a promotion to give away free room nights to 25 lucky followers of @thebonaventure. The hotel has offered variations of the contest several times since, creating intense buzz for the property each time. Melanie Boyer, the Daly Gray Public Relations account executive who is managing the Bonaventure’s Twitter account, says mainstream media coverage of the contests generated an estimated 20 million consumer impressions for the hotel.

"Twitter is the eye of the ‘it storm’ right now," Boyer says. "We’re looking at the everyday opportunities on Twitter that don’t exist anywhere else. We directly interact with our Twitter followers regularly—we’re developing a personal relationship with our consumer base."

Perhaps no hotelier has had more fun with Twitter than John Gates, general manager of Rancho Bernardo Inn, California. Tweeting under the handle @GMGoneMad, Gates garnered a good bit of publicity with the Twitter-exclusive Survivor Package; for US$19 a night, willing guests would get a room but forgo breakfast, honor bar, heat and air conditioning, pillows, sheets, lights, linens, toiletries, and even the bed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were several takers. Other Twitter promotions by the Mad GM include 50% discounts for paying with pounds sterling or half off the golf rate by showing up wearing knickers.

Twitter is viral in a way that few other social media platforms can match. Even if a hotel only has a few hundred Twitter followers, one especially popular tweet could reach tens of thousands of readers in a matter of minutes via a form of forwarding known as “retweeting.”

Twitter has promotional value in an indirect way, as well. Just as many hoteliers have launched blogs that focus not on the hotel but on tangentially relevant topics—things to do nearby the hotel, for instance, or tips for business travelers—the same principle applies with Twitter. Give the consumer relevant information and they will eventually find their way to your hotel.

Mike Taylor, media relations manager for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and the man behind @fairmonthotels, advises the managers of Twitter accounts for individual hotel properties to position their accounts as the experts for information about their locales. “You become [travelers’] go-to for anything,” Taylor says. “They will come to you and speak to you because they view you as a valued and trusted source for that destination.”

Uses Are Many

While special rate deals, goofy package promotions, news announcements and general brand visibility are the most obvious uses for Twitter, the applications for hoteliers go way beyond. Perhaps most significantly, the site serves as a free, real-time consumer focus group.

Several MGM Mirage properties use Twitter to, among other things, solicit feedback from brand loyalists. Danielle Consiglio, interactive marketing manager for Luxor Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, asked @LuxorLV’s 6,000 followers for input on a poolside text message promotion.

“My team and I came up with ideas, but we are not the customer,” Consiglio says. “So I tweeted, asking, ‘If you were laying by the pool, what kind of offers would you want to receive via SMS?’ The response was great, and we were able to add some offers to our original list that we did not think of.”

Twitter also can serve a more passive focus group function. Type your hotel’s name into search.twitter.com and instantly see what people are saying; even better, the site’s interactivity lets you monitor and maintain your hotel’s online reputation with an ease and visibility unmatched by other social media platforms. Savvy hotel sales and marketing people can keep a real-time eye on the plaudits and criticisms of their competitive set—as well as their own property, of course—giving them a valuable leg up.

Take, for instance, an anecdote about a traveler who tweeted his annoyance at having to wait in the lobby for a few hours while his room was prepared. The hotel down the street, sensing an opportunity to grab some business, proceeded to offer him a room there at a discount, plus free dinner. That hotel not only stole some business in the short-term, but it also created a fan for life.

Using Twitter to promote deals and announce news is fine, but too many hoteliers stop there. Twitter's real value lies in the ability to connect with consumers on a personal level, says Susan Black, a New York-based travel industry social media consultant.

Develop a personable, recognizable voice for your Twitter account and focus on building brand loyalty, picking up one-off business when you can, Black says—and never lose sight of the fact that Twitter is a conversation, not a bullhorn.

"It's not one-way. It's a dialogue," Black says. "Be there to answer the queries. It's well known on Twitter that people follow other people when they know there is a person or a personality behind it."

Fairmont was among the first big brands to jump on Twitter a year ago, and Taylor initially viewed Twitter as a way to interact breezily with members of the media and as another outlet for press releases. As Twitter’s popularity soared, however, @fairmonthotels evolved into a much larger exchange of ideas.

“It’s grown now from more of a media focus to being about guests, brand enthusiasts, partners—we even have other hotel companies that we’re following and are following us,” Taylor says.

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts broke new ground with Twitter back in May when it launched the hotel industry's first Twitter-based virtual concierge. The @HyattConcierge account is staffed around the clock by specially trained agents in the corporate customer service department who are available to assist with typical concierge fare like tee times and dinner reservations. @HyattConcierge also will field assorted guest complaints and queries.

The account—which boasted more than 2,000 followers after less than a month—is not a promotional vehicle, stresses Farley Kern, Hyatt's director of brand public relations. "We wanted to have a presence on Twitter that was about our guests and for our guests and designed around our guests, as opposed to having a presence on Twitter just for the sake of being on Twitter," Kern says.

Is It Monetizable?

For hoteliers still skeptical of Twitter’s staying power, the obvious question—not counting whether Twitter is merely another here-today gone-tomorrow fad—is whether the platform will ever prove monetizable. Aside from the occasional one-off piece of incremental business from highly targeted users, will there ever be a time when hotels see a chunk of bookings coming directly from Twitter?

Maybe, maybe not. But for most tweeting hoteliers, Twitter’s ultimate value is far more abstract and indirect. As John Wallis, Hyatt’s global head of marketing and brand strategy, puts it: “It’s already monetizable if we’re keeping our existing customers happy.”

Creating brand awareness and maintaining guest loyalty are the platform’s most important purposes, says John Wolf, senior director of public relations for Marriott International and keeper of the @MarriottIntl account. “It’s not about return on investment—it’s about return on engagement,” he says.

Likewise, David Godsman, vice president of global Web strategy for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, views the company’s Twitter account, @StarwoodBuzz, as one gigantic customer relationship management tool.

“It’s a very powerful customer service and communication vehicle where our brands and customers can come together to have open and honest conversations,” Godsman says. “It’s less about pushing our hotels and promotions and more about connecting our core brand values with our guests’ daily lives.”

Source : HotelsMag
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