Posted by: Nesha Milicevic
A trend that has a very strong impact on the hospitality industry is social media. The most common question that we get asked in the hospitality industry is why I should be concerned about social media and how will I benefit from the social media elements. Social media is a term used to describe different types of online sources that allows and encourages readers to participate in its use and creation (Ward, 2010). These media sources have seriously gained popularity over the last few years. According to a global study survey by StudyLogic LLC (Starwood Hotels & Resorts, 2010), 80% of the people surveyed say they access a social media site at some point throughout a day. Out of those 80%, 39% said that they cannot live without their social media networks, and one third of those people check their sites more than once an hour (Starwood Hotels & Resorts, 2010).
There are many various forms of social media that the hospitality industry can make use of, such as social networks, photo and video sharing sites, blogs, and travel review sites (Aggarwal, 2008; Saugestad, 2009). Social Networks are sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Facebook is the largest social network which boasts over 1.1 billion users according to its Q4 2012 earnings. It takes up the top position by grabbing 86% of users aged between 18 and 29 followed by Instagram (28%), Twitter (27%), Pinterest (19%) and Tumblr (13%). These sites allow people and businesses to create pages and applications for users to follow, share and get updates (Saugestad, 2009). An example of photo and video sharing sites are Flickr and YouTube, where anyone can upload photos or videos for everyone on the internet to view (Aggarwal, 2008). Blogs are like online journals where one person or business writes about their experiences and opinions and readers can reply and leave comments to communicate with the blogger (Aggarwal, 2008). Travel review sites are sites such as TripAdvisor and WikiTravel. These sites are created so that uses can leave comments about their experiences when visiting various places and using their services (Saugestad, 2009). A typical example of this is leaving a good comment about a restaurant, but a negative comment about the hotel the user stayed in.
The best way to define social media is to break it down. Media is a tool used to store and deliver information or data (Wikipedia, 2011), like a newspaper or a radio, so social media is media disseminated through social interaction (Wikipedia, 2011). In Web 2.0 terms, this would be a website that doesn’t just give you information, but interacts with you while giving you that information. This interaction can be as simple as asking for your comments or letting you vote on an article, or it can be as complex as Flixster recommending movies to you based on the ratings of other people with similar interests.
Think of regular media as a one-way street where you can read a newspaper or listen to a report on television, but you have very limited ability to give your thoughts on the matter. Social media, on the other hand, is a two-way street that gives you the ability to communicate too.
The Amadeus Hotel IT website did a survey asking the question “Will proliferation of social media impact hotels technology infrastructure?” (Marchand, 2010)
67% of respondents agree that social media will impact hotel systems, 16% consider that it will not impact hotel systems while 17% are still undecided.
Social Media can be used in the hospitality industry as an interactive communication tool with the guest. Social media can be used to help promote the hotel or restaurant by encouraging guests to share their comments and pictures (developing interest in the hotel or restaurant). Central Reservation System could send a link to the guest Facebook page with a confirmation, link to a hotel blog, and activities to do around the hotel (creating excitement and anticipation). Once the guest checks in at the hotel, the property management system or concierge can send messages to guests welcoming them to the hotel providing an additional level of service and an additional way for the guest to communicate with the hotel. Once the guest has checked out of the hotel, you can send a message to the guest thanking them for the stay and invite the guest to leave feedback or simply to invite them back to the hotel on their next stay. The possibilities for social media are limited only by the imagination.
There are many different avenues for social media, like foursquare, gowalla, yelp which can be used by the guest to find a restaurant in the area, leave tips about the business, and “check in” to let their friends know where they are currently located. A business can use this information to offer special incentives to the guest, like a free appetizer to the mayor in foursquare.
There are always pros and cons for any new technology. The pros include an increased online profile, with more searchable data for sites like Google to pick up and display your site. Higher guest interaction with the property with more visibility keeping your property top of mind to more potential guests. The cons include possible privacy law violations, potential negative feedback by disgruntled guests, and relying too much on the social media sites and forgetting the guest in front of you.