Over the next few weeks, we'll share our learnings on how social media can benefit the various departments and stakeholders at a hotel or hospitality firm, and present practical ideas for how it can be used to improve a hotel's business.
Our aim is that readers are left with a useful foundation for applying social media to increase brand favorability, guest satisfaction and loyalty, ultimately leading to higher profitability.
But first we're going to start with a basic overview of the social media landscape for hoteliers.
Let's begin with the social networks, which are arguably the foundation piece of social media. According to Wikipedia, a social network is "a social structure made of individuals (or organizations) called ‘nodes,' which are tied (connected) by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige."
Indeed, social networks are made up of clusters of connections between individuals or entities, and are most commonly found on social networking web sites and communities, like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Any web site or community where one member can "friend" or establish a connection with another member is considered a social networking web site. The scale of these sites on the Internet is massive, with Facebook boasting over 800 million members as of September 2011.
What has made social networks so powerful is their viral effect: it takes only two individuals connecting within a social network to bring together hundreds, if not thousands, of clusters of connections from the two individuals' respective social networks. This can lead to incredibly broad and rapid distribution across the Web and the world.
As a result, newer social networks (like foursquare) often benefit from established social networks (e.g.: your email contacts, your Facebook friends) by leveraging the sub-clusters that already exist. In other words, when someone on Facebook joins foursquare, they're likely to invite their Facebook friends, who are in turn more likely to accept and join because the invitation comes not from foursquare, but from a trusted source.
Therefore, the potency of social networks comes from their ability to reach a broad audience as efficiently as they reach niche groups. Further, the speed in which information can be distributed through a social network adds to its potency.
Next, let's define social media in a way that's relevant to a brand. Put simply, social media is comprised of conversations and online postings written by normal people (i.e.: not editorial journalists), which share experiences with a brand's product or service. These postings have an impact on the brand's perception, consumer purchase decisions, or both.
So while we began by exploring the social networks, in reality the social media landscape for brands is much broader than just Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and YouKu. Brand Karma defines the social media landscape for brands as having four main categories, as shown in the figure below: