From Hualalai, Hawaii, a tweet updates followers about how things stand after a recent earthquake. From Hampshire, England, a photo goes out showing preparations for the London Marathon. From Washington, D.C., goes a link with information about the Earth Hour celebration.
None of those Twitter messages has much to do with staying in a hotel. But they all came from the official accounts of specific Four Seasons resorts in an effort to make connections with guests and potential customers.
“Personality really does come through,” Elizabeth Pizzinato, vice president of communications for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, said at a conference hosted by Ragan Communications in Cary, N.C., this month.
“The rules are very, very different in social media,” Pizzinato said. “You can’t buy it, and you can’t own it the way you can with other, traditional marketing tools. You have to earn it.”
All about the recovery
When an influential blogger and Twitter user staying at the Four Seasons’ The Biltmore resort in Santa Barbara, Calif., complained online late last year that the turndown music in her room wasn’t to her satisfaction, it had the potential to make the Four Seasons look unappealing to the followers who saw it.
“Tweets are not captured forever and a day,” Pizzinato said, noting that Google indexes every tweet.
So The Biltmore sprang into action. The director of housekeeping left a note of apology, along with a bottle of wine and a list of local radio stations that might make for better listening.
The blogger, @global_gourmet on Twitter, replied, “Major props to @fourseasons Biltmore for responding to my room music comment. I meant it in jest, but appreciate your concern.”
That tweet, and the subsequent blog post, took off, Pizzinato said, eventually reaching 500,000 people and gaining attention on other travel blogs.
Errors are a fact of life in the hotel business, Pizzinato said, but your reputation is built on how quickly and how well you make those errors right.
“It’s not the error, but the recovery that counts the most,” she said.
That’s because users are forming “an impression about your brand” just from what they see online, Pizzinato said. They don’t even have to buy anything.
“Online users have widely adopted the view that this socially syndicated content is a real representation of the brand,” she said. “It makes it harder for a brand to kind of assert its own place.”
Being an information source
Four Seasons is asserting its place by engaging customers, Pizzinato said.
More than half the 83 Four Seasons hotels worldwide have Facebook pages, she said, and around three-quarters have Twitter feeds, all of which are linked to the corporate Facebook page and Twitter account.
“You can’t dip your toe in the water on this,” Pizzinato said. “It will quickly die on the vine if you don’t have content.”
That’s why each Four Seasons Twitter account offers local information and links. For instance, the Facebook page for the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz in Lisbon, Portugal, is written in Portuguese. The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea’s Facebook page offers polls to see what guests most want to do there.
Hotel Twitter accounts even reach out to people looking to visit, some of whom don’t even mention Four Seasons. For instance, when @Brent_Childers asked for information in the lead-up to a fall trip to Costa Rica, the Four Seasons there offered this help:
“@FSCostaRica: @Brent_Childers September and October are the rainy season. Suggest right after Thanksgiving to December 15. gr8 rates and weather.”
One area where Four Seasons is sort of only dipping its toes in the water right now, though, is in using Gowalla, a service much like Foursquare that enables users to check in at various locations. Right now, the hotel chain is using the service only at its California locations.
In addition to using Gowalla as a sort of digital concierge service, Four Seasons is offering rewards to guests who use the service and visit recommended spots.
Guests who visit three spots can get a dining or spa credit ranging from $85 to $100, Pizzinato said.
Finding the resources
Keeping up with social networking at dozens of hotels all over the world is a process Four Seasons is still trying to figure out, Pizzinato said.
“Most of our hotels have PR managers on property,” she said. “Their job descriptions are completely changing.”
Four Seasons’ corporate office has added a few new people at its worldwide reservations office for social media, Pizzinato said, and offers an hour-long webinar for individual hotels. They’re also encouraging PR managers to avoid wasting time on two-page press releases when a paragraph or two could suffice, she said.
For companies looking to build up staff to do social networking, Pizzinato said having examples such as the one involving @global_gourmet will perk management’s ears up.
“If you even have a couple of examples … it really gets people’s attention,” she said. “It really is about building a business case.”