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Armstrong and Kotler state the internet is revolutionising the way we think about â€¦ how to construct relationships with suppliers and customers, how to create value for, and how to make money in the process; in other words revolutionising marketing. This has led to a significant shift over the last couple of years from using traditional sources such as newspapers, television, radios and leaflets. (Thevenot, 2007, Young, 2007, Cheung et al. 2008 and Field 2008) note that word of mouth marketing is the most powerful promotional tool, with Social Media just finger tips away; this makes it even more crucial for businesses to recognise and acknowledge it. It has been defined as “a second generation of Web development and design that aims to facilitate communication, secures information sharing, interoperability, and collaboration on the World Wide Web” (Paris et al. 2010: 531).
This essay seeks to critically explore the issues and benefits associated with the use of Social Media.
The application of Social Media has developed the way organisations communicate with their guests, since it was introduced in the early 90’s society towards a new era. It has evolved from being a tool that was used by the public to connect with old and new friends to giving businesses and consumers the opportunity to have a two way conversation (Lim et al.2012). Additionally Social Media enables organisations to promote their brand and connect with their customers on a more intimate level (Ragone, 2012 and Wilson et al. 2012). Over the last few years the use of Social Media has increased, with many social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Googleplus emerging). Research undertaken by Burson-Marsteller (2009) who are a globally recognised Public Relations company, discovered companies who made the most profit in Fortune magazine were registered with three networking sites these included Twitter, Facebook and Blogs. 54% of the businesses joined and used Twitter, 32% had blogs and 29% had a Facebook page. The report went on to show that 94% of the organisations used their Twitter to keep consumers updated. Additionally 67% were using Twitter to deal with customers’ inquiries or queries. Wigder et al. (2010) reported the growth of Social Media from 2005 to 2009 grew from 1 billion to 1.6 billion, similarly it is expected to increase by 42% by the end of 2012. Social Media has made such a significant impact on the hospitality industry.
The most important and possibly damaging Social Media sites to the hospitality industry are Trip Advisor, Yelp and Booking.com, they are on the increase as they have been seen to gain substantial popularity with potential travellers (Xiang and Gretzel 2010). According to Pantelidis (2010) tourists are more willing to put their faith in the reviews written by other travellers compared to those by professional reviewers such as the AA (Automobile Association). Sparks and Browning (2011) say customers want information that is easy to process, which is why they look to Social Media, they also believe by reading peer reviews they are more likely to get accurate information. Therefore the demand for Social Media is growing fast and it is important for businesses that want to survive to adapt and to get their name and brand out there, with the recent economic problems that the world has been facing any opportunity to win over the competitors should be taken (Gretzel et al. 2007 and Fraser, 2010).
The explosion of this application brought many opportunities as well as challenges and issues. Saunders and Graham (1992) believe as guests are directly involved in the service process; it brings uncertainty in the delivery process .For that reason it’s difficult knowing what the customer regards as high and acceptable standards. Standards may also be determined by how a guest feels emotionally rather than how the organisation has delivered the service. A guest might go into a hotel today and be ecstatic with the service that the organisation has provided whereas two weeks later they may go in again but emerge feeling disappointed despite receiving the same level of service. They may go on Social Media voice out their frustrations at the hotel. Saunders and Graham (1992:246) state ‘Focus on the customer is very much a part of the provision of a service’. Seeing as service is intangible it is difficult to determine what each individual considers acceptable, naturally all the consumer can rely on is their feelings towards the experience. As a result it makes quality harder to define and varies from each customer to the next. Service is not something you can store; it is measured immediately by the recipient. Under these circumstances “any measurement taken is thus too late to avoid a failure in contact with the customer” (Saunders and Graham, 1992: 246). Although these theories were identified years ago they still apply to the hospitality industry today.
Another challenge which Social Media has presented is there is no way to verify who is making reviews or comments. As a result disgruntled employees could go on Social Media to write negative reviews. Parkes (2011) claimed Trip Advisor is being used to blackmail hoteliers by guests to get special discounts or complimentary upgrades. An investigation carried out by Kenber (2011) discovered 80 hotel owners had complained about guests blackmailing them with negative Trip Advisor reviews. Allegedly the guests had threatened to give them one star reviews if they did not comply with their demands. Some of the requests consisted of half price rooms and meals and compensation for false food poisoning. Trip Advisor has since responded by saying that hotels that have been victims of these threats should contact them. A program which was aired on Channel 4 ‘Attack of Trip Advisors’ (2011) showed how negative comments affected the hospitality organisations. With some having claimed a loss of business and tainted reputations. However Trip Advisor said both parties are given a chance to comment and address the reviews to the site’s visitors and reviewers and have the last say. The most important issue the hoteliers failed to understand was how guests do not complain during their experience and then write bad reviews on Social Media sites such as Trip Advisor (Parkes, 2011).
A further issue that was identified by Ragone (2012) is that some hoteliers believe Social Media is and should be used only in the technology or sale areas. Whereas, they are supposed to combine the two in order to maximise its potential.
If used correctly and effectively Social Media can bring in many benefits for the organisation. An important benefit which organisations capitalise on is; it is free advertising (Thomas, 2009). Large chains such as Hilton Hotels, Marriot International, Four Seasons and Starwood Hotels have welcomed both Twitter and Facebook with each of them having over 100,000 likes on Facebook and over 50,000 followers on Twitter. A number of brands such as Sheraton have started to incorporate Facebook into their websites. So whenever a guest makes a post on either one it can be seen on the other (Kwok and Yu, 2012).Others such as Marriot have taken a slightly different approach, they invited a number of celebrities and journalists to their newly refurbished properties in 2010, to start a Twitter campaign and share their thoughts with their followers live on the property (Ehotelier, 2010 and Kwok and Yu, 2012). As far as Social Media is concerned it is essential for hospitality businesses to have similar initiatives such as those practiced by the two hotels mentioned above. On the other hand it is important for businesses to realise that even if they choose not to participate or use Social Media, customers can always comment and review the hotel or restaurant (Sparks and Browning, 2011). It has become common practice now for many hospitality businesses to feed information from other Social Media sites to their Facebook page (Thevenot, 2007). Accor have a link on their website which leads guest to trip advisor so that they can have a look at previous guests comments. This gives former guests and potential travellers the opportunities to share and like reviews and messages (Fraser, 2010 and Kwok and Yu, 2012).
A study done by Nielsenwire (2012) showed that the public devotes 20% of their day to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and linkedIn. Social Media is “a mixture of fact and opinion, impression and sentiment, founded and unfounded titbits, experiences, and even rumor” (Blackshaw and Nazzaro, 2006: 4).so it important for businesses that use Social Media to be able to deal with and clarify both the positive and negative feedback they may receive from guests. If the feedback is not dealt with this could lead to the organisation damaging their own reputation (Field, 2008).
According to Verma et al. (2012) the hospitality industry is aware of the impact Social Media has on its potential guests. Research done by (Kwok and Yu 2012) has shown that many hospitality businesses are trying to find a balance between responding to their guests on Social Media and adhering to the International Ratings organisations. Hospitality businesses have adjusted and made changes to their business models in order to accommodate and make the most of Social Media. Mobile applications have also had an impact on the way consumers search and plan their holidays. Both of these factors have led to a change in the way businesses look and communicate with customers, as they are treated more like an “active stakeholder” (Sigala et al. 2012). Majority of the businesses that have welcomed Social Media, actually encourage their guests to use Trip Advisor, as they like to think of it as a marketing and promotion tool in which they can gain loyal consumers. Similarly some like to take advantage of this opportunity as a way to gather feedback in order for them to improve their services (Verma et al. 2012). As a result they could they are able to overcome challenges and solve their problems more efficiently. The businesses that have had success when using Social Media are those that have been open and encouraged their guests to comment. Litvin and Hoffman (2012) suggest it is crucial for hospitality businesses to encourage guests to comment as it shows that they are honest and open. They go on to suggest ways for businesses to promote Social Media to their guests. The first is having a sign which reads “If you have enjoyed your stay please let others know by sharing your thoughts on Trip Advisor” similarly they propose printing it on the receipt when guests are checking out or when they are leaving the restaurant. Obviously there is no guarantee that it will encourage a customer to write a good review because whenever a customer is involved there is always an element of uncertainty. However when loyal consumers are encouraged to comment they can counter negative comments, and will have a positive influence on the potential travellers (Litvin and Hoffman, 2012). They later pointed out the significance for management to get involved by responding to the negative reviews.
With Social Media becoming more mobile this has enabled guests to be able to record videos and take pictures which they can Post on their Social Media sites (Wilson et al. 2012 and Verma et al. 2012). It has also been established that hospitality marketers need to realise “creating customer value and satisfaction are at the heart of the hospitality and travel industry (Dev et al. 2010:460). In addition they believe for hospitality businesses to be a success they need to inform and make sure profit maximisation is part of the roles and responsibilities for the revenue manager. McKenna (2012) claims there are a number of procedures being introduced to stop false reviews and to name those involved and the organisations that have paid them or encouraged them. Yelp is a site similar to Trip Advisor but is used more in the USA; it has developed a tool to alerts people that a review is believed to be false. Trip Advisor is also thought to be considering introducing a similar system.
To conclude Social Media has become the centre of hospitality businesses’ Internet marketing strategy, many hospitality businesses especially the well-known brands have perceived and realised its potential and are maximising it when marketing their business. Since its inception it has developed interest in both consumers and businesses. The issues and challenges brought by this application have made it essential for hospitality businesses to understand and embrace customer feedback. As discussed earlier consumers consider peer reviews more important in making purchasing decisions. The only way businesses can use it as a successful tool is by making sure they listen to their guests and respond quickly and efficiently. Social Media if used properly can generate some profit for any organisations. To put it more simply consumers want to be kept up to date about what is going on in the businesses; they are able to do that by using Social Media as it’s free and easily accessible. The issues that have been identified above such as perishability and lack of control; are not easy to manage for hospitality organisations all they can do is make sure quality and high standards are maintained. Verification is also an issue that will need to be dealt with by the Social Media websites; this is an on-going problem that could cost hospitality businesses large amounts of money and their reputation. No one has come up with any solutions addressing the issues of fake reviews, they can only take responsibility and if needs be investigate the claims that consumers have made, to ensure it does not happen again. It is also very important for organisations to respond, apologise and acknowledge when they are at fault and find ways to compensate the guest
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