“Great…another lame social networking site. I don’t have time for this stuff! Heck, I hardly use my Facebook account…how do people manage to keep these things updated anyway?” exclaims a fellow hotelier. On some days and with certain social networking offshoots I’d be inclined to agree. However Twitter is truly something else.

Although it’s hard to take a count, there are at least 140 ‘popular’ social networking sites, varying in community focus, from business networks to friend feeds to photo enthusiast platforms. MySpace and Facebook lead the pack, with Compete.com ranking Twitter the 3rd largest, with a population of approximately 6 million users and 55 million visitors per month.

For those who’ve never heard of it, Twitter is a social network built on the concept of micro-blogging, i.e. it allows users to send and read updates (limited to 140 characters) from those in their network.  You build your network by choosing interesting people to follow and others follow you, based on how interesting they think YOU are. So you can update those you know…and the world (your updates are visible on your Twitter page)…on everything that you’re doing, thinking about or experiencing. As you can imagine, the possibilities for using this power ranges from the absolutely brilliant to plain cases of ‘waaayy too much detail’.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, for one, the fact that updates or ‘tweets’ are limited to 140 characters forces Tweeters to be as lucid as possible and is a great way to communicate the central idea quickly. The ability to share links allows users to share great discoveries and creations with a live audience. The fact that users can also send direct messages, engage in public dialogue as well as quickly access Twitter from a multitude of platforms and mobile devices also provides a fantastic way to keep your finger on the pulse of the ‘live web’.

Many don’t quite see it yet, but social networks and microblogging services like Twitter also represent an evolution in the way we search the internet. Today, search has already moved beyond plain ‘web search’ to a mash-up of weblinks, news, photos, videos and groups…but all these still represent a search of the STATIC web. The ability to search what people are saying right NOW is a huge leap forward in terms of using the web as a ‘live’ window to the world. Great examples of this power have already been publicized over the past year…eyewitness Twitter updates during the Mumbai bombings before the media could get there, the use of the tool for ‘social justice’ by a U.S. student arrested in Egypt…and even the Barack Obama campaign’s use of Twitter during the elections.

Imagine a million voices discussing your product, brand or service. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to listen to what they’re saying? How about a simple web search?

Starting to get the picture?

So you’re probably wondering…the people using a tool like Twitter just HAVE to be nerds and geeks, right? After all, no self-respecting jock or social butterfly would resort to the web to ‘network’.

Based on the perceived nature of early tech adopters, this may seem like a fair assumption to make, however it is luckily as wrong as it gets. Not only is the Twitter community composed of an entire gamut of professions, from media to doctors to entrepreneurs and housewives, but the base also represents a variety of opinion leaders, respected members of the local community and early adopters.

To run a quick check on what this diverse community had to say, I ran a quick and dirty personal survey called ‘The Twitterati Dozen’ recently. The participants were 23 Twitter users (14 from the local Dubai community), who collectively had about 9,000 followers and had contributed well over 28,500 tweets to-date. So a pretty influential crowd, overall. The idea behind the survey was to basically find out first hand, what they thought about the tool, any tips on ‘twetiquette’ and what they believed were the most important factors to ‘Twitter success’ for a hospitality marketer.

In some respects, the lessons learnt were expected…but there were some surprises too. For example, most of these ‘Twitterati’ chose to follow those they thought had interesting things to say and share – no surprise there. Very few used automatic tools to grow their network and none restricted their networks geographically. The most loved features of Twitter include its simplicity and instantaneous nature. While some complaints were about limitations in Twitter functionality; spam, self-promotion and pointless updates seemed pretty high on the pet peeves list. Twetiquette seemed pretty closely aligned to real world etiquette, i.e. say unto others as you would have them say to you, courtesy and engaging in real dialogue, rather than a one-way stream of Tweets.

I would have thought that discounts and special offers would have ranked pretty high with online discount hunters…and that’s where I was wrong. For hotel marketers looking to be successful on Twitter, the keys are honesty and transparency. Listening and responding to customer problems, suggestions and praise was equally crucial. Also, while brand / business reputation is somewhat important, the ability to build personal relationships is vital, with timeliness and frequency of updates following suit.

The conflict most companies also have is how to present their brand and organizational identity clearly, when only one or two people may actively be engaged in social networking on their behalf. How do you build relationships without the personalities of these individuals coming to the fore? The Twitterati seem to think that the knowledge of who’s actually doing the Tweeting is only of average importance…at the end of the day the business / brand still matters and if the social networker moves on, then his / her successor needs to have the impetus to keep those relationships going.

This leads me to some very interesting conclusions. It seems that as Twitter evolves, it has actually managed to gather some of the most active, engaged members of the community and professions to participate in the excitement of a living, breathing web. The etiquette of this living, electronic mirror to our world is very similar to the ‘social’ behavior normally expected of us.

Hospitality has always been defined by the quality of its human interactions, or ‘moments of truth’. As long as marketers don’t get too caught up in gaming the system and ‘creating’ viral value, the evolving social web represents a fantastic window to brand building opportunities and meaningful, real-time dialog with our customers. Companies who try to control and censor what the social web has to say about them may find the process as easy as stalking the streets for anyone who’s got anything bad to say…and clubbing them on the head. A misguided and futile endeavour, no matter how you approach it.

The tools, like Twitter and Facebook, are the evolving means to an end…one in which the Internet is simply an electronic version of our ‘reality’. Is @anyone listening?

Note: You can find the results of the Twitterati Dozen Survey here and follow me @hotelemarketer

Jitendra Jain (JJ)

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12 comments on “Social lessons from Twitter

  1. JJ Thank you for sharing this easy to follow intro that hopefully will engage more hoteliers.

    I agree with your last statement that more and more the internet is becoming an electronic version of our ‘reality’. Still many are missing the subtle nuances to the world as we have known it. So many are still ‘screaming’ marketing messages instead of attempting to be remarkable. If you are remarkable one might just follow you and ‘retweet’ you. Keep screaming… and one might just stop following you.

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  2. JJ Thank you for sharing this easy to follow intro that hopefully will engage more hoteliers.

    I agree with your last statement that more and more the internet is becoming an electronic version of our ‘reality’. Still many are missing the subtle nuances to the world as we have known it. So many are still ‘screaming’ marketing messages instead of attempting to be remarkable. If you are remarkable one might just follow you and ‘retweet’ you. Keep screaming… and one might just stop following you.

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  3. Thanks for your great comment Bart!

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  4. Thanks for your great comment Bart!

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  5. Great article JJ. You identified the conflict that brands have when only one or two people representing the brands are actively engaged in social networking. To me, this fact increases the relative importance of that employee – to the point that the expression of the brand value proposition cannot be left to just anyone. As far as hotel operations, how do the employees charged with online marketing feel about their positions relative to the importance of their brands? Are most passionate hoteliers like yourself? I would think HR departments would be all over this notion.

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  6. Thanks Eric…a very valid point…and one with no easy answer, as one would imagine. Attitude, skill and personal identification with the brand would be key attributes of course, but in practice this is often easier said than done when filling the role/s.

    The other brand issue is that every employee of that brand / company is essentially a spokesperson, whether they realize it or not. Companies also need to realize that employees, whether they have the direct empowerment to speak on behalf of the brand or not, do so constantly…social networks and personal blogs are a great example of this. Not all these communications can be ‘controlled’. So in the end, perhaps the main focus needs to be on building the internal brand culture through ALL employees, both online and offline…hopefully this filters through to everything the company does.

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  7. Pingback: Travel internet marketing trends: The rise of social media « Nashville SEO | Ethical SEO | Christian SEO and Social Media Agency

  8. Very good post and excellent about gaming the system. Too often people latch on to these “new” tools and try to exploit them and fail. Like Second Life a few years ago. People thought that just getting an island would be gold.

    Twitter is similar and needs to be balanced. On the one side, companies like Dell effectively use it, having generated a million in new sales in 18 months directly related to Twitter.

    Zappo’s is another example and use it for customer service.

    Thanks for the well balanced post!

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  9. Hi JJ,

    Good article on using Twitter. Got a question or two on whether using twitter, other social media or blogs are actual as useful, in terms of building brand as people make out?

    Yes, they’re great for creating comments, tracebacks, pings and other purely SEO methods to get your hotel site higher up in the rankings for a particular search term, but the time taken to ‘twitter’ or ‘blog’ that isn’t purely directed at taffic and more customer liaison, is surely taking up time that can be used more productively on other marketing methods?

    Take your blog for example. Apart from the fact that it’s a goldmine of useful hotel marketing info on it (and I’ll be back often by the way, having just discovered you!), I’ve used the name field in this comment as an anchor text link to my hotel’s website (which I hope you’ll keep in if not because of cheekiness, then because of pure SEO brevity).

    In the same time it takes to twitter or blog, couldn’t I have built inward links from authority websites to inprove rankings and not customer liaison – and what would benefit more?

    Sorry for somany questions!
    Jamessy

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  10. Hi Jamessy,

    Thanks for your comment – to respond to your questions, I think Hotel Marketers need to cover the basics well first and then move on to new media and emerging tech. We all have a limited amount of time and resources available at our disposal, so focusing on the high-impact items first can certainly make a huge difference.

    Also, Blogging and Microblogging should be an attempt to create a higher level of direct engagement, not just attempts at SEO and traffic, because the latter efforts will have short-lived results.

    Rgds, JJ

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  11. Very good article and quite correct. It’s not about “GET THE BEST RATE” but rather about creating a live interaction between hoteliers and its potential guests.
    http://hospitalitymarketingonline.wordpress.com

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  12. james craig

    Very good article and quite correct.  Got a question or two on whether using twitter, other social media or blogs are actual as useful,.

    Like

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