The phrase "check-in" was once only applicable to the hospitality industry. Yet, today, social networking has fundamentally altered our understanding of the phrase. Look no further than Foursquare, the location-based service, which borrowed the term for its popular mobile app, forever expanding the term's breadth and depth. Now that users can share their location, tag their friends, and broadcast their thoughts on a restaurant or venue, Foursquare has transformed a night on the town and lunch dates into digitally augmented experiences. Experiences that were once purely physical have now become starkly digital.
Per Gartner, social commerce sales will reach $30 billion by 2015, and one such industry that stands to gain tremendously is hospitality. An enhanced guest experience through innovative social strategies is a potential game-changer. By having guests share advice on popular places to dine, drink, play, and find entertainment, the social knowledge held by a hotel's own occupants can enhance potential upsell opportunities.
Hotels such as The Pod Hotel in New York offer modern, economically priced rooms. They also provide guests with a niche social network called Pod Culture. Guests are give login accounts with their reservations, allowing them to access the Pod Culture forum and connect with other guests. Within the privacy of the forum, guests can suggest and comment on attractions and shops within the hotel grounds as well as local bars, clubs, and eateries.
A Slow Crawl Toward Social
While Pod was an early mover in 2008, the push to social within hotels and resorts has been modest. With social skyrocketing, this seeming lethargy has been perplexing to say the least. The Pod Culture forum and others like it are a way to inspire more transactions within a hotel's lobby, restaurants, gift shops, and rooftop bar. And while the upside is apparent for large resorts and global hotel brands, it's evident that most hospitality brands today have not taken the plunge.
A study featured in Forbes cited that "81% of US respondents indicated posts from their friends directly influence their purchase decisions." And within a hotel, the 500 other strangers in separate rooms might as well be considered "friends." A fellow guest raving about the high-speed Internet upgrade or room service quality on an internal social network can easily persuade other guests inclined to upgrade their own stay. A hospitality-centric social strategy results not only in increased revenue per room, but also superior customer service experiences. While revenue results directly from increased transactions, augmenting customer service through social media increases revenue as a result of enhanced brand notoriety, customer loyalty, and retention.
The simplest approach involves examining pre-existing networks for customer feedback. Monitoring Twitter to see guest complaints about rooms allows hotels to manage quality control in an isolated environment. One step further, sentiment analytics tools can gauge customer satisfaction, ultimately allowing guest services to spot issues and resolve them prior to escalation. You may not be able stop your guests from complaining about a lack of towels or pillows via a tweet or Facebook status, but you can decrease your lead time to handling them.
Or imagine from a guest's perspective logging in upon arrival and instantly viewing a news feed of guest status updates. Users can even be grouped by the purpose of their stay (work, family, honeymoon, etc.). Check-ins, specific pages for restaurants, deals at shopping outlets, and coupons with theaters and plays provide social affiliate marketing tactics far more effective than in-room binders - while at the same time tightening partnership opportunities with local attractions.
Simple, safe, guest-to-guest messaging pushes the experience even further. Rather than an inherently isolated and segmented experience that hundreds of travelers, vacationers, and business folk experience, social incites guests to naturally communicate, turning a 10 p.m. lights-out into a foray at the hotel bar and lounge.
Ultimately, hospitality-based social networking provides an effective way to disseminate massive amounts of information by leveraging the guest community. Utilized effectively, it provides the opportunity to build a far more valuable customer, one who is inherently social, brand-promoting, and revenue-generating.
*Originally featured on ClickZ.
(Social for resorts / shutterstock)