"We have four people on our social media team and they are networked to other key people throughout the organization, including designers and writers who develop content for all channels," she says. PCH, she adds, has created a fluid network of employees who help out and know that social media is part of their job.
This teamwork is tested often, as PCH awards prizes every 10 minutes. Engagement rates of Facebook fans "talking about this" average 10 percent to 15 percent, but can reach as much as 80 percent just before large prize announcements, such as those bestowed by the popular Prize Patrol. These events have to be coordinated across all marketing channels with social media ready to react in real time.
Divide and conquer
The spontaneous need for human interaction is one of the hardest lessons social media is delivering to companies. Four years ago, when Best Western International first established a Facebook presence, it encouraged the operators for each of its 2,200 North American properties to also set up shop on Facebook.
But the company quickly learned that not all property managers have the time or public relations savvy to handle the nuances of social media such as dealing with an upset customer's post. "If the page doesn't get managed, then you potentially turn a good experience into a bad experience that can damage the brand," says Michael Morton, vice president of member services at Best Western.
Best Western listens in on social media using Medallia's customer experience software. Medallia analyzes the text of what is being said about the brand in general and the hotel experience in particular. Best Western uses this intelligence, gleaned through dashboards and customized reports, to understand its successes and shortcomings, as well as those of its competitors.
"Monitoring social media is a great way for us to understand what is positively impacting a guest and what their greatest concerns are with our hotels," Morton says. "This information, in addition to solicited feedback, helps us set the direction for the brand."
Morton's group built the initial Medallia deployment "without relying on IT," he explains. "Later we wanted to involve them as we rolled this out to more and more properties." IT also played a role in bringing data in from other systems. For example, IT helped the business team include purchasing behavioral information, such as where customer bookings were originating -- directly through the hotel, travel agent, third-party sites and so forth. This information helps answer questions like whether properties with higher scores have more bookings.
Best Western believes so strongly in the wisdom social marketing provides that it has bumped up the weight given to this feedback versus surveys, which also are conducted by Medallia, and other types of data collection. Morton believes the influence of social media will only get stronger. "We aren't ready to take dollars away from other marketing efforts, but we are investing in this area," he says.
Although Best Western now leaves the decision of whether to be a social media host up to individual owners, nearly all hotels are engaged in social media via Medallia. The software sends alerts to designated hotel staff if a comment, tweet or other post requires immediate attention.
If customers gripe on Facebook about a lack of towels poolside at a property, the on-site manager is alerted so he quickly can restock them. Hotel operators also can access statistics and insight regarding their performance against local competitors. "Initially, hotel operators didn't understand the magnitude or value of an immediate review and response," Morton says, adding social media metrics has given them perspective.