by Padraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
I posted a couple of weeks ago on my personal experiences with travel and hospitality brands and how they use social media channels to connect with their customers. You see their avatars on your Twitter feed and notice their ads on Facebook but, I asked, are airlines and hotels using social media to listen attentively to their customers? Are they engaging in two way conversations that lead to outcomes and results? Or is it trend-driven window dressing, all appearance with no substance or strategy behind it?
Mandarin Oriental replies
I cited my mostly negative personal experiences with luxury hotel chain Mandarin Oriental and national airline of Ireland, Aer Lingus during a 3 night short trip to London. Both had active twitter accounts and did engage with me at various junctures but neither, I contended, was really listening. Neither was able to elevate the conversation beyond the perfunctory and the banal and turn the moment golden, by creating a truly memorable customer encounter.
Since then I’ve had a very satisfying and productive dialogue with Flavia Caponi, Hotel Manager at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. I have also had meaningful contact with Paul Buckley, Programme Manager for Social Media at Aer Lingus and hope to meet him shortly in person. What I’ve learned is that there may be a fatal flaw at the heart of how some hotels are structured with “social” typically owned by the marketing department whose back-office location is disconnected in time and place from the realities that unfold in real time, front of house. Thus engagement on social media channels will be good between 9 and 5 when the digital guy is at his desk but not so good in the evenings or at weekends or when the he’s on vacation. This was Flavia’s explanation for the week long lacuna in my twitter exchange with the hotel.
Flavia agreed fully that Mandarin Oriental needed to expand its digital strategy to include the operational dimension.
It’s such a new medium and initially we saw it exclusively as a way of talking about the brand, pushing out interesting destination content, promoting unique on-line offers. This is activity that naturally belongs to the MarCom team. What we’re seeing now, however, is that customers are increasingly using social streams to make comments on their real time experiences so we need to re-structure ourselves to hear and to respond promptly to these comments.
What they do at Crowne Plaza Copenhagen
On my original post I asked readers for examples of great social media strategies and eventually connected with Martin Roulund Jakobsen, Head of Digital Marketing at Crowne Plaza Copenhagen. Regarding Flavia’s point above, Martin states that social media channels at Crowne Plaza Copenhagen are increasingly monitored by the General Manager himself:
Our digital strategy here is definitely top down and I’m fully supported in my role by all senior management.
So there’s no question that the strategy is time and place dependent as monitoring of the Social feeds is part of the management function. At Crowne Plaza digital is integrated into the operational structures of the property and regarded as a crucial channel that connects the hotel to the unfolding wants and needs of the customers.
A Good Social Media Story
I asked Martin to share a story of how digital was used for effective customer service and this is what he told me: He was at home on a Saturday afternoon recently when he spotted a comment from a guest stating that the lounge at Crowne Plaza was messy and untidy. He informed the duty manager immediately by telephone and then engaged with the guest over a number of additional issues that she identified. Martin’s on-line engagement with the guest then translated into a face to face encounter with the team on duty over the weekend ensuring that her issues were addressed. Result? Customer service beyond the ordinary. True customer engagement. Customer experiences that surprise and delight.
From Social Media to Digital Marketing
Martin’s job title – Director of Digital Marketing – expresses Crowne Plaza’s vision and ambition for digital which, of course, extends way beyond the social media piece. Social Media, Martin says, are deployed for disseminating content and for dialoguing with customers and, yes, they do try to pick up on negative customer feedback and complaints. But the strategy around digital goes much further and includes leveraging the in-house expertise to enhance outcomes for meetings and events customers whom Martin and his team “educate” on the digital piece.
Social Media Lounge
This has meant infrastructural investment – Crowne Plaza has its own Social Media lounge complete with vast Twitter wall etc. MICE customers, therefore, can avail of the equipment and the know-how of the in-house team. This, of course, means extra revenue for the hotel but has become, sometimes, the decisive differentiation factor in selecting Crowne Plaza over another property in Copenhagen.
Stand out from the Crowd
The digital strategy also allows Crowne Plaza to stand out from its competitors through a highly creative, integrated approach where social is used to create and disseminate unique content to extend and enhance campaigns and provide a more dynamic understanding of brand. Martin referred me to an article on Hotel News Now where he described how Crowne Plaza uses social media beyond Facebook and Twitter.
The property is active on YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+. LinkedIn has been an important piece of the social media puzzle for the Copenhagen Towers, especially as it relates to securing meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions business. All members of the hotel’s sales team are encouraged to share content to their respective networks from the company page. We use this platform to maintain a top of mind presence with our target group. Our strategy is to position ourselves as the innovative venue, not only when we talk about the venue but also when talking news and trends from the MICE scene. By using LinkedIn, we can keep a constant flow of (business-to-business) related content to the market.
If you have any more examples of great use of Digital, particularly social media, please let me know.
Padraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua