Casinos are often on the cutting edge of new trends in hospitality and entertainment. Now, many are starting to get a handle on the fast-moving social media universe. Whether it’s developing a process for responding to customer feedback or simply learning how to use Twitter, there are more and more options each day—and it can be difficult to keep up. A social media program is more than just responding to online comments or sending out Twitter promotions. A comprehensive social media strategy has three components: strategy creation, monitoring and managing, and analysis. Much attention has been focused on the first two components, but managers are just scratching the surface of the third, analysis. This article will review the first two components and then focus on the analysis stage to provide a deeper understanding of the options available to turn the data generated by your social media efforts into a strategic information asset, contributing to strategies and promotions that engage with players and hotel guests.
The first stage is creating the social media strategy, which forms the foundation of the program. A good social media program includes an online personality that is not only compelling, but also congruent with the brand personality. A channel management strategy dictates which channels to focus on and which messages to push through those channels. The goal of this phase is to establish a presence in the social media universe. Many companies employ an agency or consulting firm to help them through this stage, although this is not necessary.
Monitoring and Managing
Next is the monitoring and managing stage. In this stage, the strategy for consolidating activity on all channels, monitoring the activity and managing customer issues is developed and executed. There are technology solutions available that can consolidate activity on all channels, track key metrics and allow managers to tactically respond to customer issues, comments and questions from one interface. The goal of this stage is to engage with customers and resolve their issues before the problem grows. Most activity in this stage is at the property and is executed by staff members who know both the location and operations at a level that allows them to respond to detailed feedback from customers.
The pinnacle of any social media strategy is a sound analysis program. The goal of the analysis stage is to elevate the firm from tactical, day-to-day issue resolution to strategic, long-term reputation management. There are emerging analytics available to turn all of the activity in your social media universe into meaningful, actionable information. Basic descriptive statistics that quantify activity through various channels, enumerate friends and followers, and report on response rates to social media promotions are widely available, but those who wish to gain a competitive advantage will also leverage advanced analytics for social network analysis and social media analysis.
Social network analysis, or customer link analysis, allows you to use the connections between people in social networks to identify those participants who are most influential. These are the people that your customers listen to and faithfully follow. An influencer is not just the person with the most friends and followers, but those who are referenced, re-tweeted and referred to over and over again. Once these influencers are uncovered, you can launch programs to target these folks directly, hopefully influencing them to say positive things about your brand. For example, if you are about to open a new property, or a new concept within a property, invite these influencers to the opening. Give them a special preview or an “insider” chance to experience your casino. They will then go back to their networks and “market” your new property for you in a genuine and credible way.
Social network analysis also allows you to identify micro-segments in the market. Whether it’s groups of potential customers who travel with pets, want to try new cuisines, or are looking for eco-friendly options, these micro-segments represent an opportunity to drive incremental visits to a brand-new, specialized group of customers.
The second area of focus for social media analytics is text analytics. This is a series of algorithms that apply natural language processing to turn volumes of unstructured text data into meaningful, actionable information. There are three main types of text analytics: content categorization, text mining and sentiment analysis.
Content categorization classifies text documents into categories for further storage and analysis. This method is useful, for example, in automating the process of classifying the unstructured text feedback from open-ended questions in guest surveys. The algorithms could distinguish between a comment related to housekeeping from one related to a maintenance issue so that the comments could be automatically routed to the correct department.
Much like data mining, which uncovers relationships within large and complex quantitative data sets, text mining is used to discover patterns in unstructured text data. The analysis not only establishes links between conversation topics but can also quantify volumes of conversations on those topics. You can discover what your guests are talking about the most and what matters most to the community. For example, your guests may talk about your loyalty program in significant volumes and, when they do, they may typically mention a particular points-earning opportunity. Identifying these hot conversation topics will help you understand and predict customer behavior.
Sentiment analysis, the final example of text analytics, identifies how guests feel about your brand in general, as well as how they feel about specific attributes of your property. Natural language processing identifies emotions, positive or negative, about your product or service within unstructured text documents, using the context in which certain words or phrases are used. Algorithms separate the sentiment about attributes, as well as determine whether a comment was overall positive, negative or neutral. This type of analysis allows you to identify opportunities to target improvement efforts or renovation dollars. Tracking sentiment over time allows you to predict damaging trends in the data and intervene before they become a serious problem. Sentiment analysis can also help you to track the impact of PR efforts or a marketing promotion by comparing sentiment and activity before and after the marketing event.
Best of all, social data is public data. With very few exceptions, any data on review sites, blogs, news channels or forums can be scraped and analyzed. This means that, for the first time, casinos can do an apples-to-apples comparison against their competitive set. You can use the same sentiment analysis that you used on your own data on your competitor’s data too, uncovering how your guests feel about you versus your competition.
After a solid analytics strategy has been put in place, including sentiment analysis, casinos can begin to compare sentiment to operational data and understand the influence that the content of user reviews has on key operating metrics like booking volume, booking pace, ADR, occupancy, revenue and profitability. Collecting and storing social media data over time in an analysis-ready format allows for comparison with key operational metrics. These comparisons will allow hotels to further refine their social media strategies, paying attention to those channels that generate business—where social media truly has an impact—and not wasting effort on those that do not.
A comprehensive social media program includes a well-thought out social media strategy; a process for monitoring and managing guest comments, concerns and questions; and a sound analysis plan that allows you to leverage the information contained in the volumes of unstructured text data. The analysis component elevates your social media program from merely a tactical, day-to-day issues resolution effort to a strategic reputation-management tool.