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The challenges social media poses to hotel operators

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Figuring out how to harness social media—to respond to complaints and compliments, engage guests with original content and promote local properties—is a challenge for all hotels. Starwood’s Le Méridien has found a balance while still accomplishing its goals of building awareness for the growing brand, driving loyalty, personalizing the experience and creating channel growth.

“I wanted to take an approach that felt authentic and has a sense of discovery,” said George Fleck, Vice President of Global Brand Management for Le Méridien and Westin. “The question was, how do you activate the brand so it doesn’t feel commercial but is a beautiful content strategy?”

Le Méridien has found the answer in two major social media marketing campaigns. In the first, in 2012, the brand partnered with Air France to send a photographer around the world to capture images of iconic destinations and then posted them in an online gallery. The public voted on their favorite images through Facebook, and the winners were displayed in a real-world exhibition. The contest also awarded airline tickets and a hotel stay to one fan.

In 2013, Le Méridien used Instagram for a campaign it called “Filters of Discovery.” It chose three photographers with strong Instagram followings and sent them to Paris, San Francisco, and New Delhi, where they posted photos using the hashtag “#LMfilters.” The most popular images were used in city guides that were created with “Travel + Leisure” magazine and made available in-room in properties in those cities.

“We fell in love with Instagram,” Fleck said. “What we learned is, for Le Méridien, we interact with so many languages and cultures, so images were much stronger than languages.”

Beyond these major campaigns, Le Méridien also uses social networks for the daily interactions with guests that all brands face. The brand has social media “playbooks” to guide property-level managers on communicating in the brand’s voice and how best to engage with guests. One factor they track is the timing of the interaction.

“If it’s something happening right now, Twitter is great. Facebook is more of an ongoing dialogue,” Fleck said. “I wouldn’t say one is more important than another, but we continue to amplify up and down the platforms depending on what’s going on. We encourage hotels whether on TripAdvisor or our own ratings and review sites to engage with customers, whether it’s a positive or a negative review. We hope they’re doing it in real-time when they’re there and recover from any service issues, or if it’s positive, we can learn from the stay and make it even better.”

Even something as routine as a promotion, for example a two-for-one Mother’s Day brunch, should be presented in a way that engages the guest. Instead of presenting the deal with a generic photo of a brunch, Fleck suggested sharing a recipe from the property’s chef or asking guests what they would like to see on the menu.

“It still needs to have a content story, and it needs to be original,” Fleck said. “Social media today can be like junk mail or a spam folder. If I have two seconds to look at a post on Instagram or Facebook, I would want it to be so beautiful that it puts a smile on my face. The last thing I would want is a commercial.”