News for the Hospitality Executive
by Max Starkov
October 1, 2012
Interview with Max Starkov, President & CEO of HeBS Digital, on the hot topic of the emerging role of the community manager in hospitality
Masha Polshinskaya, Senior Project Manager - Hospitality Worldwide, Cleverdis: There has been much discussion about the need for social media to be managed at the property level by a new breed of employee focused solely on social media. How would you define the role of such a “community manager” at the hotel?
Starkov: Social media is a customer engagement channel and a customer-service channel, and not a distribution channel. The role of the social media marketer is already evolving to better reflect the hard-learned realization of the role social media should play in travel and hospitality. The “owner” of the hotel social media profiles—the one who manages and is responsible of posting, monitoring and reacting to customer comments—is also evolving and is being transitioned from outside social media agencies and PR agencies to property-based social marketing coordinators and community managers.
The customer engagement side of social media at the hotel means branding and marketing engagements and requires involvement by the hotel sales and marketing team and perhaps an outside PR or digital marketing agency. The customer service side of social media requires the services of a new type of social media-savvy employee or a team of employees who are able to monitor and react to customer service-related social media engagements 24/7. In other words: I see a dual role at the property:
There is no doubt that social media has changed how travel consumers research and plan travel, access travel information, and perceive credibility of information. Internet users are increasingly influenced by social networks and peer reviews. By utilizing a comprehensive social media strategy, hoteliers can create social media “buzz,” target receptive audiences, and stimulate hotel website visits, interactions and bookings, as well as instantaneously resolve arising customer service issues.
We see more and more hotel customers using the hotel Facebook wall or Twitter profile to communicate their customer service frustrations, in many cases in real time: “There is no hot water in my room!” or “The lights are out in the bathroom,” etc. In other words, there is a convergence of customer reviews and social media, which exacerbates the situation even further and creates the need for hoteliers to monitor their social media profiles and customer review sites in a 24/7 fashion.
Traditionally, customer reviews on TripAdvisor, the OTA sites and more recently on major hotel brand websites have been reactive i.e. post-stay. Lately, we see more and more “real-time” reviews where customers are posting reviews during their hotel stays, especially disgruntled guests. All of this necessitates the 24/7 monitoring and reacting to customer reviews, especially negative ones, which should be addressed and resolved as soon as possible.
Cleverdis: Why is social media not a distribution channel? Many hospitality marketers would claim otherwise.
Max Starkov: In my view, hoteliers that are still trying to use social media as a distribution channel are the ones trying to find some kind of meaningful ROI to justify their efforts. Smart hoteliers understand that social media is not a distribution channel in hospitality and therefore use a different set of metrics to gauge success. Despite the monumental efforts by many hotel marketers in the past five years to use social media as a “new and revolutionary” distribution channel in hospitality and travel, they all failed miserably. Today the social scene is littered with the abandoned corpses of hotel and other travel-related profiles.
Why? Because a distribution channel is primarily a one-way street: the owner or aggregator of travel inventory/information pushes inventory/information through distribution channels which have been accepted by interested parties such as the traveling public, travel agents, group planners, etc. These distribution channels have been incorporated in travel planning technology and marketing solutions like GDS, travel supplier sites, OTA sites, etc.
Social media is not a one-way street. It is a multi-street maze of peer-to-peer, marketer-consumer and consumer-marketer engagements and relationships.
In other words, in travel and hospitality, social media is a customer engagement channel and a customer service channel, not a distribution channel. Hoteliers should use the same performance indicators they apply to customer service and branding initiatives.
Cleverdis: What would your social media strategy be for 2013?
Starkov: I would do everything possible to bring social media management and customer review monitoring in-house and at the property level. I would create internal social media management and customer review monitoring processes, preferably in the following manner:
Social Media Profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.:
Services provided by an outside agency
I would hire an outside agency to provide best practices and train my staff with quarterly guidelines and concrete ideas regarding social media postings, contests, sweepstakes, etc. This agency would perform quarterly audits of my hotels’ management of social media profiles and provide recommendations. This company would be in charge of designing and implementing all of the digital technology tasks: Facebook custom tabs, Facebook sweepstakes, reveal tabs and promotions, Twitter backgrounds, YouTube Channel customizations, etc.
Services I would retain in-house:
Monitoring customer reviews should be handled at the property and not by an outside agency and should be assigned to different teams similar to the social media management strategy. During business hours, this could be a marketing coordinator/community manager and after hours, specially-trained members of the front desk servicing teams (including designated reception/front desk managers and clerks).
Utilizing reputation-monitoring tools like Revinate and ReviewPro is highly recommended for efficiencies, breadth of review sites, and monitoring the comp set.
Cleverdis: What social media platform would you spend the most time on in 2013?
Starkov: To be successful in the social space you cannot focus on just one social channel. In any multichannel marketing strategy, it is important to focus your efforts across all social channels that are incorporated into your marketing mix.
In 2013 I would make sure that my property presence is optimized to the max and I am doing everything possible on the following social media platforms:
Cleverdis: What’s the difference in communicating on Twitter and Facebook?
Starkov: Twitter is an open platform where hoteliers can easily search buzz surrounding their brand and reach out and engage new customers. Twitter is becoming more and more a customer service tool where hoteliers must monitor and handle feedback and requests from guests in real-time. Consider Twitter as an instantaneous communication tool. You can use Twitter in place of a short promotional email. Or in place of an SMS message. At the same time, Twitter is “an early warning system” for service problems at the hotel. Therefore, you need to monitor tweets 24/7.
Facebook is more of a brand relationship tool for fostering customer loyalty and building a robust community of fans. Prompting fans to share photos and experiences is key in building a strong brand community and virally promoting the property in the Newsfeed. Consider Facebook as an extension to your property website, a platform which adds an interactive capability to your customer engagement strategy. Unlike the predominantly static hotel website, Facebook allows two-way conversations (marketer-customer and customer-marketer) as well as peer-to-peer engagements. Example, having one or more “brand ambassadors” among your Facebook fans goes a long way in promoting your hotel and engaging the rest of the fans and building brand equity and loyalty.
Cleverdis: What other social media would you use?
Starkov: In this age of rich media and exploding video format, I would spend the necessary efforts and resources on enhancing and optimizing my property’s YouTube channel and Flickr profile.
I would also create 30- to 60-second videos focusing on various aspects of my hotel product: leisure travellers, meeting planners, wedding planners, family travellers, spa, etc. and use those for the hotel website, YouTube channel, Google+ Local and Bing local listings, as well as for MMS promotions.
The search benefits of Google+ are becoming vital in an SEO online strategy. The power of Google+ results in Google organic search cannot be ignored, and this growing presence in search results are turning the heads of social networks such as Twitter who used to own social search result listings.
Another social platform hoteliers should leverage in 2013 is Foursquare. Foursquare is intrinsic in socially engaging guests on a local level. Offering Foursquare check-in specials for guests is a perfect way to up-sell onsite accommodations such as dining and spa as well as increase viral awareness.
Emerging social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest should also be on hoteliers’ radar.
Cleverdis: What content would you put online? Where can you find it?
Starkov: One of the biggest challenges in our industry is the creation of new, original and engaging content for the hotel website, the hotel blog, email marketing, social media postings, etc.
The 2011 Google Panda Update made most hotel websites and other hotel digital content assets obsolete by introducing very strict requirements for content, interactivity, and page download speeds. The update requires hoteliers to generate engaging and unique website content (as opposed to bland, old and tired content) that would intrigue users and increase the site’s “stickiness.” An even more recent algorithm update by Google now known as the “Freshness” update added a strict requirement that determines how news-worthy and how current the content is on the hotel website, blog, etc.
Social media added an additional complexity to the equation. Social media users dislike pompous over-the-board content. The “official” content – the content that comes from the hotel in the form of website copy, blog articles, Facebook postings, etc. – should be as close to the style and format of the “unofficial” content or the user-generated content. The bigger the gap between the official and unofficial content, the less credible the official content is since people tend to trust their peers more than any official entity.
Hoteliers should be looking into generating good and engaging content for the social media profiles and the hotel website blog using all available sources:
Cleverdis: If you were an independent hotelier and had only 1,000 Euros, what would your online marketing strategy be? Would you use only social media?
Starkov: With only 1,000 Euros I would address social media only if everything on my website was fully optimized and functional. Is your website SEO up to par? Do you have a mobile website? How about a booking engine on both the desktop and mobile sites? Are the calendar of events and activities on the site updated? Do you send monthly email promotions to your customers? Do you have content on the site addressing all of your important and key customer segments? How about landing pages describing all aspects of the hotel product? How about content in foreign languages to address your main foreign feeder markets?
With a low budget, it is important to take full advantage of organic visibility in natural search results. I would begin optimizing all property local listings including Google+ Local, Yahoo Local Directory and Bing Local. I would optimize the TripAdvisor presence and set up free links from online directories and destination sites to the property website to boost Google rankings and your Google PageRank. Once I have optimized my presence across the web, I would take advantage of Google AdWords to launch paid search campaigns – these could be micro-campaigns in selected feeder markets or promoting a concrete hotel special/package.
I would create an internal system to monitor customer reviews about my hotel on all important review and OTA sites, from TripAdvisor to Booking.com to Expedia. I would train my staff how to monitor customer reviews and how to react in each of the following three instances: highly negative, but true reviews; negative, but false, and highly positive reviews. I would create internal guidelines with concrete “owners” of the process and even recommend “official property comments” in each of the above instances.
Then and only then would I start thinking about building a social media presence, starting with the hotel fan page on Facebook, including a custom tab with the hotel logo, photos, descriptive copy, a reservation widget, an email capture widget and call-outs to the hotel website.
Here are some final quick tips for managing a robust social media strategy:
Max Starkov is President & CEO of HeBS Digital (Hospitality eBusiness Strategies), the hospitality industry’s leading full-service digital marketing and direct online channel strategy firm based in New York City (www.HeBSdigital.com ).
HeBS Digital as pioneered many of the best practices in hotel Internet marketing, social and mobile marketing, and direct online channel distribution. The firm has won over 220 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, etc.
A diverse client portfolio of top tier major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel brands, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are taking advantage of HeBS Digital’s direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital consultants at (212) 752-8186 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mariana Mechoso Safer
Digital Wins 2012 Travel Weekly Magellan Awards For Excellence in
Website Design and Multichannel Marketing / September 2012
Digital to Present at EyeforTravel's Travel Distribution Summit North
America 2012 / July 2012
Digital Wins 'Best of Show' Mobile Website for Loews Hotels in the
MobileWebAwards / May 2012
Digital Releases a Next-Generation Solution to Manage the Hotel's
Digital Content; HeBS Digital Announces its New CMS Premium (Content
Management System) to Manage the Desktop, Mobile and Tablet Website
/ May 2012
Can Hoteliers Take Full Advantage of Pinterest? / Erica Garza / May
Digital to Present at EyeforTravel's Online Marketing Strategies for
Travel 2012 / May 2012
Digital Announces Loews Hotels Website Re-Launch / April 2012
Website Analytics: Is There Such Thing as Free Lunch? A Comparative
Analysis of Adobe SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics / Adam Hammock
and Lindsay Denninger / April 2012
the Hospitality Industry Tango with Tingo? / Max Starkov / April
Digital Wins Big with Two 'Best of Industry' Advertising Competition
Awards / March 2012
Ten Search Engine Marketing Do's and Don'ts in 2012 / Tara
Rattigan and Toby Tornay / March 2012
Social & Mobile: Why 2012 is going to be 'The Year of SoLoMo' Part
II / Margaret Mastrogiacomo & Ritesh Gupta / March 2012
New Google Venice Update - Is Your Hotel Website Optimized for
Hyper-Local SEO? / Sue Wiker & Eric Rattner / March 2012
Plan to Ensure Your Hotel Website is ADA-Compliant / Gabriel Aponte
/ March 2012
TripAdvisor Transform Itself From an Industry Foe to an Industry Friend?
/ Max Starkov / February 2012
Digital Launches Landmark Sixth Annual Benchmark Survey on Hotel
Digital Marketing Strategies / February 2012
Price of HeBS Digital to Receive 'Top 25' Most Extraordinary Minds in
Travel Industry at HSMAI'S Adrian Awards; HeBS Digital Honored a Second
Time in Three Years / January 2012
Hotelier's 2012 Top Ten Digital Marketing Resolutions / Max Starkov
and Mariana Mechoso Safer / January 2012
2011 Top Ten Internet Marketing Resolutions / Max Starkov and
Mariana Mechoso Safer / January 2011
HeBS Perspective: Members-Only, Flash Sales and Group Buying Sites –
Are These New Retail Concepts a Good Idea for Hotel Distribution? /
Sara O’Brien / December 2010
HeBS Perspective: Hotel Mobile Apps vs. Hotel Mobile Websites / Max
Starkov / December 2010
on ROI Driven Hotel Website Design and Multichannel Marketing Results
in Significant Hotel Online Revenues and … Major Awards / November
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Strategies for Travel 2011 in Atlanta / November 2010
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Design with Eight W³ Awards / November 2010
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|HeBS to Address Mobile Marketing at HSMAI Conference; Max Starkov of Hospitality eBusiness Strategies to present on mobile marketing at HSMAI s Revenue Management & Internet Marketing Strategy Conference on June 21, 2010 in Orlando, FL. / May 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) to Present at the European Hospitality Technology Educational Conference (EHTEC) / January 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Unveils its Latest Web 2.0 Application: A Multi-Channel Interactive Scavenger Hunt for the City of Indian Wells / January 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) Wins the Prestigious Best in Class Interactive Media Award / January 2010|
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|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Announces the Fourth Annual Benchmark Survey; Survey to Measure Hotel Internet Marketing Strategies, Budget Planning and Best Practices / December 2009|
|HeBS Wins Major Web 2.0 Design & Development Awards / November 2009|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Three W3 Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Web 2.0 and Website Development / October 2009|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) Announces Hotel Indigo New York City-Chelsea Website Launch / July 2009|
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|Max Starkov of HeBS to Present at the CRM & Loyalty Strategies for Travel Conference in Atlanta; Chief Strategist Will Discuss How to Use Your Website as a Retention Tool at EyeforTravel Conference / February 2009|
|Max Starkov of Hospitality eBusiness Strategies to Receive Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing 2008 Honor At HSMAI Adrian Awards Gala Annual Gala Dinner to be Held Jan. 26 in New York City / December 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Five Prominent Interactive Media Awards including Best in Class; Luxe Worldwide Hotels' New Brand Website Honored as Best in Class in Travel and Tourism 2008 / December 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Partners with The Tides Inn Chesapeake Bay Virginia; HeBS to increase direct online bookings and boost Internet marketing presence for The Tides Inn / October 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Announces the 2009 Benchmark Survey; Survey to Measure Hotel Internet Marketing Strategies, Budget Planning and Best Practices / October 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) Announces Luxe Worldwide Hotels New Website Launch / October 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies to Present at MICE Asia 2008 in Kuala Lumpur / July 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Receives Top International Creative Awards - 2008 Summit International Awards / May 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Receives Official Honoree Distinction for the 12th Annual Webby Awards in 2008 / May 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Gold Adrian Awards in 2007 / December 2007|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Three W3 Awards / November 2007|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Gold Adrian Awards in 2007 / December 2007|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Receives Seven New Website Excellence Awards; Highest 2006 Interactive Media Awards and W3 Awards / November 2006|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Five Web Marketing Association Awards; 2006 WebAward for Best Travel Website / October 2006|