Dedicated to Social Media, Part II: InterContinental Hotels Group.
By Daniel Edward Craig
Thursday, 1st March 2012
Following last week's interview with Diego Sartori of citizenM, this week I take a closer look at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG); while the two companies are vastly different in size and structure, they share a common to dedication to social media and to keeping pace with the changing tastes and behavior of travelers.

Like Sartori, Charles Yap's reputation precedes him. As Director of Global Brand Communications at IHG, he is a serial tweeter who casts his social net far and wide. I met him in London in late November, where we indulged in a bit of old-school social networking (socializing, not working) sipping champagne on a Friday afternoon at the InterContinental Hotel London Park Lane.

Hotel groups tend to be slow to adapt to change. It's hard to turn a ship around, much less an entire fleet. When it comes to social media, the upscale segment in particular has been resistant, some sniffing that "social media isn't luxury." But as more travelers turn to social networks to seek advice and share experiences, hotels have had little choice but to pay attention. Now many of the late adopters talk about social media as though they invented it.

IHG is a notable exception. The company, which manages a diverse portfolio of brands from luxury to economy, was an early adopter of social media. Several years ago its InterContinental Hotels brand began producing high quality concierge-hosted destination videos, and in 2010 it launched a concierge iPad app. And last year IHG launched mobile apps for each of its seven brands. Through its various social channels, IHG demonstrates that a hotel group can engage on a large scale while staying true to brand and above all human.

4Hoteliers Image LibraryCharles (Left) and I discussed the challenges of upholding brand standards while at the same time empowering on-property staff to actively contribute to social media. Later I sent him a list of follow-up questions, and here's a condensed version of his responses.

Tell us a bit about your company.

IHG is the world's largest hotel company by number of rooms. We operate seven hotel brands – InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites.

We have 4,500+ hotels in 100 countries and territories worldwide, as well as Priority Club Rewards, the world's largest hotel loyalty programme, with 61 million members.

Describe your background and current responsibilities.

I head up global social media engagement strategy and planning for all of our seven hotel brands. I work closely with social media colleagues and specialists from our global distribution and relationship marketing team.

My background in PR and earlier career in journalism has helped me a great deal in my current social media role. As a PR person, you are trained and nurtured to look at a situation from every possible direction. It's certainly given me the ability to look at social media engagement from a wider, more holistic lens.

How does your company manage the social media function?

4Hoteliers Image LibraryI work closely with Nick Ayres, who heads up a team focused on listening, engagement, reach and support across all areas of social media engagement.

I tap into the expertise of a team of community managers who are true brand specialists. We are a small but tight global team, with members in key markets worldwide. We also have Zaaz agency as our global brand social media planning and strategy partner.

Like our hotels, social media is a 24/7 operation. Sentiments, positive or negative, never take a break. It's not a walk in the park, but the outcomes are definitely worth it. The tools and structures that have been developed over time also mean that we are able to listen, reach and engage a lot more efficiently.

The beauty of being part of a global team, across different geographies, also means we can divide the commitment and workload amongst colleagues in different time zones. It's hard work, but really fulfilling!

What distinguishes IHG when it comes to social media?

Our seven hotel brands include some of the best-known and most popular in the world. We've built up a diverse portfolio that covers everything from luxurious hotels in the world's major cities and resorts to reliable family-oriented hotels that offer great service and comfort. Every brand has a different set of unique features, a different target guest and mindset, and our social media engagement takes these into account.

Our aim is to be as human and as conversational as we can in our engagement. We have a big focus on building relationships and real-life interaction as well as achieving higher brand awareness and revenue.

Tell us about social media campaigns you are proud of.

4Hoteliers Image LibraryMy three most memorable ones [in 2011] are: Candlewood Suites' King of the Road, where we invite our guests to share their travel tips across different subject areas in a pinboard app; The Hub at Holiday Inn, which showcased our brand new lobby, bar and restaurant concept in a fun and interactive and ideas-generating app; and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts' Concierge consultation via FaceTime on iPad2, offered by 10 hotels worldwide.

How do you measure results of social media activity?

We develop brand specific monthly performance scorecards outlining reach, engagement and sentiment as well as web and channel traffic, bookings conversion and revenue generated. We also track and celebrate our wins as a result of customer care interaction and relationships with brand influencers and advocates.

Do you use a reputation monitoring tool? Other essential tools?

Yes, we have developed a customized listening and monitoring platform in partnership with a leading global market analytics provider. We use tools to help us make better human decisions and executions.

Who inspires you in social media in the travel industry?

I admire the work of KLM (great ideas), Lexus (top class engagement) and Delta (great customer care).

What advice would you give other hotel companies that wish to achieve similar success in social media?
Think holistic, think relationships, think beyond your usual sales and marketing goals.

InterContinental Hotels Group

Website: ihg.com
Twitter: IHG Corporate @IHGPLC; Deals & Offers @IHG_Deals; Customer Care @IHGCare; Charles @HotelPRGuy; Nick @NickJAyres
Facebook: Dedicated pages for each brand, including facebook.com/InterContinental, facebook.com/HotelIndigo, facebook.com/HolidayInnHotels

Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager turned consultant specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management for hotels and the travel industry. His blog and articles attract a worldwide following, and he is a frequent speaker at industry events. Visit www.DanielEdwardCraig.com or follow him on Twitter at @dcraig.

Copyright © 2012 Daniel Edward Craig. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission

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