Tips for Using Social Media to Drive Loyalty

Following a fabulous vacation in Mexico a few months ago, I unpacked my bags and logged into TripAdvisor to write a review of the 5-star boutique hotel where I stayed. I gave the hotel five stars and wrote about how beautiful the property is and how friendly and attentive the staff was. The day my review was posted I received a call from the General Manager of the property. He said he wanted to personally call me to thank me for writing such a nice review and he looked forward to welcoming me back to the hotel in the future. The entire call took less than a minute but I have mentioned it to at least fifteen friends and shared the story during a talk I just did about ‘Owning the Customer’ at The Hotel Data Conference. I know that I will be back to stay at the hotel again. In an industry that often thinks about rooms and rates more than people, this GM made me feel special and appreciated. And all it took was a minute of his time.

Why did his call matter to me? In a time when we share information with friends in quick status messages on Facebook or 140 character tweets, it is rare for someone to go out of his way to make a personal connection. So when a hotel representative takes the time to make you feel singled out and appreciated, it goes a long way. Luckily, social media provides many opportunities for hoteliers to make guests and prospects feel special.

Read and Respond to Reviews

While it might not be realistic for you to track down everyone who writes an online review for your property and place individual telephone calls, you can still touch the guests that write reviews. Many of the review sites, including TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Expedia and Travelocity allow you to publicly respond to reviews. If you’re part of the majority of hotels that are not responding to reviews today, you must start responding immediately. Responding to negative feedback sends the message that you care about the guest experience, you are sorry when guests are disappointed, and you seek out guest feedback as a way to improve your operations. Responding to positive reviews sends the message that you appreciate your guests and are happy that they had a great stay with you. Responses to positive reviews are also an opportunity to decorate your profile on review sites with messages about what you are doing well.

But don’t take my word for it. Forrester and TripAdvisor conducted a study last year and the results clearly show that responding to reviews makes a difference to consumers. In fact, 79% of respondents agree that seeing a management response to a bad review is reassuring. And 78% say that seeing a management response to a good review makes them think highly of the hotel. And, because I read dozens of reviews every day at Revinate, I can tell you that I often see reviews that say that the reason the guest chose to stay at the hotel in the first place was because management takes the time to respond to reviews.

Listen and Engage

I know you’ve heard this before, but if you have a Twitter account and a Facebook page, you must monitor them regularly or you will do more damage than good. As a consumer, I expect responses to come in less than an hour. Others might be more lenient but a response within 12 hours is a must. Imagine calling customer service and having the representative say, “Your feedback is of the utmost importance,” and then hanging up on you without uttering a word as soon as you give your feedback or ask your question. You’d feel pretty rotten. And you would likely not support that company any more. And at dinner, you would probably share your experience with your family, who might share it with their friends the next day. The bottom line is that if you have accounts on these platforms, the expectation is that you will monitor and engage. If not, remove your accounts until you can allocate the resources necessary to support your customers.

So what are some examples of hotels getting engagement right? Many conferences today use a Twitter hash tag to allow conference attendees to share ideas during the event. At a recent conference I attended, someone tweeted that the ballroom where the keynote was taking place was freezing. Less than two minutes later, the hotel responded to the tweet saying, “Coming down to lower AC. In the meantime, hug a neighbor for heat. ;) ” In addition to showing some personality, the hotel demonstrated to hundreds of people that it deeply cares about its guests and goes the extra mile by monitoring tweets from the conference just in case issues around the hotel arise. And trust me, the story spread all over the conference. Even people that weren’t on Twitter heard the story from their colleagues and left with a positive feeling about the hotel.

Guests are talking about you off property as well. They’re sharing their travel experiences on blogs, uploading photos to Flicker, videos to YouTube, and sharing recommendations with friends on Facebook. How special would you feel if you posted a video of the scene at the hotel pool and you received a comment from a representative of the hotel thanking you for your stay and telling you that he is saving you a pool chair for your return visit? You would think, “Wow! I need to go back to that hotel. They really care.” Smart hoteliers are taking the time to find this content and let guests know that they are listening and that they want personal relationships with their guests.

Monitor for ‘check-ins’

I once checked-in to my local wine bar and the GM came over a few minutes later with a glass of wine. He said he just wanted to thank me for choosing to spend my time at his bar. This type of service happens so rarely that I was surprised and amazed, but mostly really impressed. I immediately tweeted about the experience and have told so many people this story that I swear this will be my last telling. And of course, his wine bar has become my regular hang out.

Some savvy hoteliers are starting to monitor Foursquare, Facebook Places and other location-based services for virtual check-ins. When a guest checks-in using his mobile device, the hotel representative sees the check-in and responds with a tweet welcoming him to the hotel. Or, if the hotel can identify the guest, a hotel representative might come by personally to welcome him, or send an amenity up to his room with a nice handwritten note.  I have seen quite a few of these examples shared this year on blogs and on Twitter.

If this just sounds like great service, or hospitality, you’re right. All these simple tokens shouldn’t knock your socks off or overwhelm you. But the sad truth is that people have become so invisible at most hotels, that any extra touch is unexpected and goes a long way towards driving loyalty. Hoteliers have a real opportunity today to take advantage of consumers’ perceived invisibility to make a big impact.

If monitoring for all this content sounds like an overwhelming task, you’re likely not using a software solution to scour the Web and social networks for mentions of your property. Since I work for a company that develops such a solution and I know how easy it can be for hoteliers to monitor and engage with guests, there really is no excuse to stay detached from your customers. But if you want each guest to tell dozens of their friends about their experience with you, you will recognize that you can’t afford to ignore it any longer.

Michelle Wohl is the VP of Marketing at Revinate. Based in San Francisco, Michelle has worked in technology marketing since graduating from Cornell University.

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