HOTELS Interview: What do Facebook’s changes mean for hotels?

The social media world got some big news on Thursday when Facebook unveiled its latest developments at the Facebook f8 Developer Conference in San Francisco.

Facebook announced a bevy of new features that have been rolled out recently, including revamped news feeds, a wall posts timeline and a subscription feature.

So how will this affect the social media marketing strategy of hotels, itself an area of marketing many hotel companies are relative neophytes at? To shed some light on this, HOTELS talked to RockCheetah founder Robert Cole, who specializes in online marketing and technology consulting for the hotel industry. Cole, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, said he was particularly excited about how hotels can benefit from Facebook users documenting their travel experiences with the Timeline feature.

HOTELS: What trends are you seeing in hotels’ social media strategy and online reputation management?

Robert Cole: I think it really winds up being that the biggest trend there is cross- channel integration. The bottom line is figuring out how the hotel can be relevant to their guests, and have honest integration, not just aggressively selling off and promoting like with traditional media marketing. Hotels are doing a better job of listening. Then the key is how to you successfully engaged.

The hotel winds up having this voice online. One size does not fit all. The hotel certainly has to have its brand identity. Then the key is how to you successfully engaged.

For destination resorts, it’s kind of a one-time deal in terms of frequency of stays. People may not end up at the Hyatt Regency Maui, for example, three times a year. So there are interesting implications — do guests even want to have a conversation with certain hotels?

HOTELS: What recommendations do you have for hotels to be effective in the social media sphere? What mistakes do you see hotels making there?

Cole: Hotels are looking at the guest as a frequent guest member. Issy Sharp, the founder of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, was always very opposed to treating guests as a number.

So today, at the front desk, that’s what makes people say “wow.” Just focusing on how many times have you stayed, I think this is a mistake.

Loyalty programs are very important for a certain group of people. They’ll do anything for points. The George Clooney in “Up in the Air” types, the road warriors.

For real loyalty, though, you need to look no further than the cult of Apple Inc. I’ve read that iPhones have 89% customer retention. That is pretty impressive. Most importantly, people are willing to buy Apple products even though they cost more. How many hotels can say that about their guests? Hotels are perfectly suited to be doing that, but in many cases they haven’t.

With loyalty programs, once you stay 10 times, you get this, you get that, but you can’t just rely on that, that’s not sufficient engagement — this we’re baiting you, you take the bait so we mutually use each other. It really needs to go beyond that because it’s about getting guests to engage you online.

HOTELS: What things are you taking away for hotel social media plans from the big Facebook announcements this week?

Cole: The Facebook changes, these are huge game changers. If you watch Mark Zuckerberg’s address, one of the first things he says is that they have this Timeline thing. It shows everything that you’ve tagged or posted, all those sorts of things.

All that sort of stuff is really cool. One of the examples Zuckerberg gave was a vacation he took with his girlfriend. The travel experience was something he really wanted to highlight — here are all the pictures of the places we’ve been. They locations were almost tent poles.

Randi Zuckerberg, she had a very good presentation on how good travel is on Facebook. The whole Facebook thing is, it has turned into this scrapbook of your life and travel is very important to that.

With Facebook’s Like Button that they introduced last year. It was always based in a semantic reference data system thing. It ties into the semantic web — this is “Web 3.0.” This is what was kind of invented by the guys that invented the web a long time ago. It’s not the link to the page that matters, but the context involved.

With the word “jaguar,” are you looking for a cat, a sports team or a car. How do you get the context right? So this Like Button not only keeps track that you like that thing, it shows that you like that movie which ties into this and it creates this whole sort of contextual relationship. That is what Facebook is doing that is different from everyone else and that is what pulls in all the advertising.

And not just target on a pure demographic basis, but in things advertisers don’t even really know about the user. Amazon also does this pretty well with their recommendations of products, but this takes it to a whole different level. Showing these are the restaurants they like to go to, this is their group of friends, their politics. It’s a very, very powerful platform.

Apps will be able to integrate with this. Hotels will be able to see that you stayed at this location in the Caribbean. But now the hotel can become the hub of the journey’s documentation. If the hotel cannot necessarily be selling but instead helping capture, this is great.

This is what people we’re talking about on HITEC. The word of mouth is great. It will be a game changer and it will be interesting to see how hotels will react to this.

HOTELS: So you think hotels will be focusing on applications that involve the integrating with Facebook’s Timeline and Photos features?

Cole: Yes. This is similar to what Google has been all over, the functional local mobile angle. That is absolutely key in how everything works together. It’s what people are looking for in the local area. And it is social and in this particular aspect, Facebook just raised the bar on social. It’s something that’s very, very relevant.

That’s what I see. So how do you integrate all this? You don’t want the Twitter feed showing up exactly the same on your Facebook wall. Hotel companies have to start sorting that out and decide what’s important in terms of their social media interactions. It’s different answers for different hotels and properties.

HOTELS: Will this help social media marketing offer a solid return on investment vs. other forms of online marketing?

Cole: If you look overall at social media, in the purest sense, it should have the best ROI. People can write positive reviews, it’s word of mouth marketing. Hotels have benefitted from word-of-mouth of years.

Social media should have this massive ROI, but it’s not like if you do A, then B happens. That makes the ROI more challenging. People could say the ROI is best on pay-per-click ads, because you can tabulate it and nail your numerical goal.

But hypothetically it should be a lot more than that. Such as do you have good search engine optimization on your page? All those things kind of apply to social media as well. It’s not a simple you do this, then you get that.

Robert Cole
Robert Cole