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Big hotel brands get personal on social media
January 12 2012

Size can be a hindrance on social media, where personal interactions are worth more than blanket communication. Here’s how several major hotel companies are thinking small to generate big returns.

Highlights
  • Major hotel chains are thinking small to address the need for personal engagement in the social-media space.
  • Holiday Inn launched a portal page on Facebook that directs users to more regionally focused pages.
  • Other hotel chains encourage property GMs to develop a unique voice on Facebook.

GLOBAL REPORT—Several major hotel chains are thinking small to address the need for personal engagement in the social-media space.

While size often is an asset in disciplines like marketing and development, the big brands’ scale can be a hindrance in a platform that demands granular interaction on a personal level.

That’s why executives at Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express last month introduced a Facebook landing page that directs users to more approachable regional portals via the United States, Asia, Australasia, the U.K. and Ireland, and others.

 

Charles Yap

The brands, which have more than 3,300 properties worldwide, have more than 85,000 “likes” on the Facebook page.

 

“We wanted to create a Facebook landing app that gave our fans a clear understanding of where some of our existing regional and country pages are, making the app relevant for our guests who travel globally, as well as those who may only stay at Holiday Inn hotels within a certain geographical area,” said Charles Yap, director of global brand communications at Holiday Inn parent company InterContinental Hotels Group.

The landing page came after months of research and consultation with digital agency Zaaz, as well as “extensive discussions with colleagues from around the world,” he said.

“I have heard at many conferences that big companies are most successful when they think small,” Yap said. “I think this applies to social-media engagement. You try to engage and interact with large communities, as well as on a one-on-one personal basis.”

 

Holiday Inn last month introduced a Facebook landing page that directs users to more approachable regional portals via the USA, Asia, Australasia, the UK & Ireland and others.

 

A unique voice
Meliá Hotels International, based in Palma de Mallorca, Spain and with more than 350 hotels in its portfolio, also is adopting a more personal approach by encouraging individual property GMs to participate in social media, according to Antonio Batanero, senior director of distribution and ecommerce at the company.

While the company has its own presence on Facebook and Twitter, Meliá GMs also have their own personal accounts where customers can directly interact with them.

 

Antonio Batanero

“We realized that the conversation had to start by people talking to people and not brands talking to people, so we decided to have our GMs participating on the dialogue directly with our fans, and this has been a great success,” he said.

 

“Now we have three different presences within our social-media ecosystem: the brand presence, the hotel presence and the GMs’ (presence), and everything is connected to each other, and both hotel and corporate teams work together to ensure that every single presence is used so we can deliver the right message in the right moment through the right channel to the right audience.”

Choice Hotels International is working to create and share best practices to help guide that engagement on a property level. The goal is to create a greater level of consistency across various social-media channels, said Kelly Poling, the company’s VP of marketing and distribution.

And Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is doubling down on its marketing spend in the sector to drive more engagement.

“‘We have made digital our priority. It is now 50% of our marketing budget and combines PR with social media,” said Susan Helstab, executive VP of marketing at Four Seasons.

In addition to overseeing corporate Twitter and Facebook accounts, Four Seasons encourages hoteliers to craft a unique and individual social-media voice for each property, Helstab said.

HotelManagement Ad Will Appear Here

The company also is trying to reach guests through niche communication channels such as blogs house within the company’s website.

 

Susan Helstab

“Our biggest initiative is our family travel blog,” Helstab said. “We are engaging with bloggers and Facebook advertising on this, encouraging guests to produce photo galleries of their time at the hotel. We are building out more content that is peripheral to the hotel, which the customer can tailor to their own experience.”

 

Meliá’s Batanero emphasized the importance of real-time engagement.

“The conversation is happening online, and you must be part of it. It is not just about listening anymore; it is about using and developing a new communication channel between you and your guests where the conversation is heard by other guests or potential clients. It is also key to deliver attractive content to your guests giving them a reason to stay in touch before, during and after their stay.”

Hoteliers should naturally adapt to the social-media space, and it is just the next phase in the evolution of hospitality, IHG’s Yap said.

“Hotels have always been social. They are places where people meet, where events take place, where memories are made. Our aim at IHG is to be able to facilitate and capture some of those moments.”

Capturing the conversation
As they focus on personal interaction, major hotel chains also are realizing new ways to measure engagement in social media.

“From ‘reach’ to ‘virality’ to ‘engagement,’ we are seeing more and more data coming up from the social-media platforms,” Meliá’s Batanero said. “There are many agencies that are developing great ways to measure the effect that social media has not just on branding but also on attracting new guests. Just take a look at Facebook’s new Insights, and you will realize how important it is for them and for us to quantify the effect of our social-media activity.”

IHG’s Yap shared a similar sentiment.

“Social-media engagement is definitely quantifiable. We examine performance dashboards on a monthly basis, looking at metrics such as engagement and reach, quality of interaction and storytelling, guest sentiment, bookings conversion and revenue generated,” he said. “This helps us improve our engagement so our platforms continue being relevant to our guests and the communities we interact with. We're in it for the long term.”

The big brands also have made some headway on engaging guests at the corporate level. On Twitter @InterConHotels has more than 8,900 followers and @HolidayInn has more than 13,000. A feed called @IHG_Deals has 10,800. Even the more corporate sounding @IHGPLC has more than 8,400 followers.

Elsewhere @FourSeasons has more than 33,000 followers and more than 84,000 “likes” on their main Facebook page. Hilton Worldwide’s @HiltonOnline has more than 29,000 followers on Twitter and 147,000 Facebook “likes” for its Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand page.  And Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (@Starwoodbuzz) has more than 38,000 Twitter followers and a fan page with more than 33,000 “likes” on Facebook.

Additional reporting by Patrick Mayock.

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