Redefining Relationships with Social Networking

In many ways, the hotel industry has changed little since 1829 when the Tremont House in Boston became the first U.S. hotel to offer amenities like private single rooms with doors that locked, running water, indoor plumbing, free soap and bell boys. Since then, hotels have competed mostly by vying to offer their guests the best combination of comfort and services for the money. But during that time, the relationship between the hotel and its customers has largely started and stopped at the front door of the hotel lobby.

Today, social networking technologies are enabling hospitality organizations to redefine their relationship with customers by extending the guest experience far beyond the four walls of the hotel. Through web-based social communities, hotels can create virtual gathering places that bring travelers together to share experiences, ideas and information. The results can create connections between guests that will enable you to strengthen the relationship between your hotel and your customers.

Successful online communities like FaceBook, MySpace and Windows Live Spaces provide a starting point for helping hospitality organizations understand how to harness the power of social computing to build brand loyalty. These sites enable people to share interests, gossip, advice, photos, music and much more.

A recent MTV survey of people in their late teens and early twenties made clear just how important the online world has become for social interaction. On average, survey respondents reported that 40 percent of their friendships are with people they've never met in-person, but only know through e-mail, instant messaging and social websites. Meanwhile, 85 percent of FaceBook users visit the site daily and spend an average of 34 minutes per day on the site socializing.

Imagine how it would change the way your customers experience your brand if you offered a vibrant online social community that guests visited regularly to trade information about the restaurants within walking distance of your properties, exchange photos and video of their recent travel experiences and look for recommendations as they plan their next vacation. It's also a great mechanism for enabling customers to find other guests who share their interests — fellow fans from the same city who want to gather in the lounge to watch their home team play on Monday Night Football, for example, or other food aficionados excited to try the hot new restaurant down the street.

By providing a place for your customers to maintain relationships with people they meet during their travels, you can make your brand a center of social interaction long after guests have gone home. A virtual community based on friendships established while people are guests at your property carries credibility that traditional marketing can never deliver.

Of course there are risks. It is just as easy for guests to share complaints as it is to share recommendations. But even that can be an advantage — online guest ratings and reviews provide instant, unfiltered, immediate feedback that will pinpoint when and where you are failing to meet your customers' expectations.

With its luxurious amenities and fabulous architecture, the Tremont was more than just a temporary stopping off point where travelers could rest and water their horses — it quickly became a central fixture of Boston social life. For today's hospitality organizations, social networking technology can make the hotel more than a place to grab some sleep or meet with business colleagues. By providing guests with the virtual amenities and architecture to form relationships that live beyond the boundaries of your physical property, you can make your hotel a center of your customers' social lives. And as today's teens and 20-year-olds become tomorrow's business travelers, brands that provide compelling social networking experiences will have an important strategic advantage over those that don't.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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