HOTELS at IHMRS: Social media’s missing links

While hotel companies are now producing many innovative marketing efforts on social media, return on investment often remains murky and the coordination of employees’ individual social media accounts with brand objectives is largely uncharted territory.

A panel discussion on Saturday at the AH&LA 2012 Fall Conference, held in conjunction with the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show in New York City, examined how hotel companies could encourage employees to spruce up their social media accounts, particularly in LinkedIn, to better reflect their employers’ branding as well as how hotel companies can more effectively market themselves socially.

The panel moderator, Michael Cummings, executive vice president at professional services firm Kellen Co., said that although hotel companies spend large sums on their websites, they let their salespersons handle their own LinkedIn accounts. This can be detrimental to the brand, given that sales prospects can now conduct online searches for the names of hotel company salespeople they are contacted by to find out more about them. Typically the first search result is a LinkedIn page, often without a professional-quality headshot photo and bereft of the branding characteristics of the salesperson’s hotel company.

Panel member Nathan Egan, chairman and CEO of PeopleLinx, a social media marketing consultancy that helps companies leverage their employees’ LinkedIn accounts, agreed with Cummings and said that this only showcased how hotel companies are behind in focusing social media on driving revenue.

“Your people have a voice, and often that is the voice that is going to drive revenue,” said Egan. “Hospitality is one of the furthest behind in driving social business, which is a surprise because it’s such a relationship driven business.”

Michelle Lapierre, senior director, customer experience & social media at Marriott International, Bethesda, Maryland, agreed that direct revenue generation is often missing from hotel companies’ social media outreach.

“You can talk about click-throughs and conversions, but when you get them off Facebook to your website, they abort, abort, abort, at a high rate,” said Lapierre. “It’s just not there, in terms of cash generating.”

Lepierre said that hotels’ social media conversations would benefit by using more of the vocabulary their customers use in their everyday conversations.

“You have to hear how your customers talk about you and mirror that. That is how you differentiate,” she said. “I remember I read some customer’s tweet that said ‘I just bought a kicka** snowblower with my Marriott Rewards points.’ That was a turning point for me, because I would have never thought to describe the program that way. I would have used words like ‘value-generating.’”

In the panel discussion audience was Josiah Mackenzie, publisher of the Hotel Marketing Strategies blog. When asked what his reaction to the discussion was, and Mackenzie said he would be interested to hear more on how hotel companies translated social media conversations into on-site operational changes. “What are the actual changes that take place after hotels engage on social media — do we greet guests differently? What is the practical impact?” Mackenzie said.