Recent events in Egypt were dubbed the social media revolution. Information conveyed to stakeholders instantly and globally through the social network generates crowd power.
“Facebook and Twitter have toppled governments. Imagine what they can do to your brand. -Cree Lawson #smtravel11 on Twitter.
Recent events with Fairmont Hotels and Marriott Rewards highlight the social network’s impact on the hotel industry. Social media escalated an online mistake offer for one hotel into a Fairmont Hotels global public relations crisis. Marriott Rewards entered the social network opaquely and within one week succumbed to members’ calls for transparency.
Unintentional Human Error Leads to Opportunity of a Lifetime
LivingSocial.com offers daily discount deals and encourages deals to be shared. On Wednesday, Feb. 23, LivingSocial posted a $2,000 travel escape package for one night in the Fairmont San Francisco Presidential Suite. The offer included Fairmont President’s Club Platinum elite status for life. Fairmont Platinum elite annual benefits include one free night at any Fairmont Hotel and two confirmed suite upgrades annually.
The Fairmont deal quickly spread with posts on FlyerTalk, MilePoint, DansDeals and Gary Leff’s “View from the Wing”. I commented on Gary’s blog with a “BUY” rating, although I questioned if lifetime Platinum elite through a third party site was a mistake offer. The Fairmont deal, originally scheduled to run one week, shut down in one day after selling 115 packages.
Within 24 hours LivingSocial’s travel deal placed Fairmont Hotels at the razor’s edge of the social network. Some of Fairmont’s new $2,000-a-night roommates assumed the offer might not be honored. Word spread the deal was meant to be a one-year Fairmont Platinum elite status–not lifetime. Social media attacks on Fairmont Hotels ensued. Someone deviously set up a Twitter account using the name FairmontPR. Fairmont’s new roommates escalated a PR crisis. FairmontHotels tweeted early Friday, Feb. 25: “Hi all, a promo ran yesterday on LivingSocial in error. It’s since been shut down, and we are working on fixing it as soon as possible!”
FairmontHotels defused the crisis with a Friday afternoon message on Twitter, MilePoint and FlyerTalk, “The Fairmont San Francisco LivingSocial’s package included an unintentional human error. Regardless of the miscommunication, the Fairmont San Francisco will honor every purchased LivingSocial package as it was marketed and sold.”
Mistake rates and human error can play out like ransom demands in the social network.
Marriott Rewards Hotel Reward Category Changes March 8, 2011
“Social media is not only about building a follower base but being relevant to them, being transparent, and 2011 is moving in that direction.” -#smtravel11
On Feb. 24, the same day as the Fairmont fiasco, Marriott Hotels announced an increase in hotel reward category for 350 hotels effective March 8, 2011. Marriott posted this news on FlyerTalk and its own Marriott Rewards Insiders social forum. Only 31 hotels increasing and 19 hotels decreasing category among high-end 5 to 8 hotel reward categories were named. More than 90 percent of the Marriott brand hotels increasing category were not revealed. Through Loyalty Traveler, I encouraged Marriott Rewards members make their voices heard and voices were heard across the social network urging Marriott to release the complete hotel list.
Marriott Concierge posted Feb. 28 on FlyerTalk that hotel reward category changes are proprietary Marriott information. This statement motivated my own #marriott Twitter campaign against Marriott’s lack of transparency. Waging a social media campaign against a major hotel chain’s corporate decision is not an action I took lightly. I tweeted from my own @LoyaltyTraveler Twitter account. No fake identities used.
Free hotel rooms for loyalty points are at the heart of a points-based loyalty system. Members place economic value on points. Otherwise, loyalty is simply in-hotel benefits like Fairmont President’s Club. Marriott members deserve an opportunity to redeem earned points before the currency is devalued unilaterally. All loyalty programs need to be considerate and transparent when devaluing program currency.
Marriott Hotels posted a complete list of hotel reward category changes on March 2 on FlyerTalk with this statement, “We have traditionally only listed the changes in categories 5-8 as these typically include our most popular redemption destinations. Based on your feedback, we have decided to publish the entire list of 2011 changes.”
A Voice in the Crowd
“For all this talk about social media, many brands still take consumers for granted.” -#smtravel11
The social network dialogue happening around hotel brands is not a message the industry can control. Hotels in social media need to engage and share with brand talkers across many social forums. Sharing is the key to managing brand image in social media.