Let’s first look at the facts.
Firstly, interest in social media is growing exponentially. The number of searches in 2009 for the term ‘social media’ exceeded that for every preceding year.
Secondly, social media is rationalising. Bebo, once the darling of the social networking scene, is about to be closed down by its owner AOL. Meanwhile the bigger sites continue to grow: Facebook has over 400 million active users and Twitter is estimated to grow to having around 18 million registered users by the end of 2010.
Thirdly, there are new and upcoming social applications like Foursquare. Check-ins on Foursquare hit an all time high of 382,000 per day in February 2010, a huge increase from one million check-ins per week in February 2009.
Many industry players are already pioneering initiatives to engage with customers, promote products and build identity in a more personal way because people believe these conversations more than they do advertising. For example, Marriott International held a promotion via its Twitter feed and website, offering one discounted deal per day for a Caribbean, Hawaii or California hotel in June 2009.
This is just the beginning. With major players taking over, there is much more that can, and should, be done.
Marketing depends on research, which means listening to what people are saying online. While rate comparison tools are commonly used to get valuable information to feed revenue management systems, hoteliers can also use keyword systems to pick up on conversations beyond their own search terms, right now.
If marketing is talking online, then Property Management Systems (PMSs) could evolve with concierge applications enabling guests and hoteliers to communicate more easily with each other.
For example, after guests have checked in, a message could be sent from the PMS to their Facebook inbox to provide them with more information or even offers at, or around, the hotel.
Social media can also help with sales. Enabling guests to post their comments, pictures and videos in an online resource can help hoteliers harness the volume of conversations and show why their hotel should be considered. This would necessitate changes to the hotel chain’s content management system, making it robust enough to host new content.
Successful marketing also depends on information, and much can be done to make it work harder.
The Central Reservation System could be linked to Facebook, so that booking confirmations, offers
and concierge services can be sent to guests’ inboxes. A link to other relevant information that a guest can share with his peers on Facebook could also be sent. With their systems and audiences doing the marketing for them, hotels would quite simply have to do less work.
None of these can work alone, however. Instead, they should be linked with other business intelligence solutions so that integrated reports can show how each program is performing at any technological touch point of the hotel.
To this end, what does the hotel industry need to do to embrace social media and how does it need to change? The answer: existing systems will have to be adapted. To gain real value they also need to be much more integrated, without damaging their current performance or brand perception.
There is vast opportunity for hotel brands to benefit from social media, but only if hoteliers ensure that their technology systems infrastructure is ready to place them at the forefront of this new interaction.