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Interview with Felicia Yukich, Manager of Social Media Marketing for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Felicia Yukich of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (FSHR) Corporate Head Office, to discuss her role as the Manager of Social Media Marketing.  Here’s what she has to say about how FSHR has become a leader in the online realm and some of the finer points of this current trend.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you become the Social Media Manager for FSHR?
My recent transition from Manager Interactive Marketing to Manager Social Media Marketing recognizes our commitment to leadership and innovation in the space. This role is an all-new global role for the company. As a previous member of the Four Seasons Corporate Public Relations team, I managed the PR and social media launch for new hotel openings and worked with our global agencies to coordinate strategic plans, including media events in the US and Brazil as well as launching and overseeing corporate PR efforts in Latin America.  Prior to joining Four Seasons, I worked at GCI Group Canada – a leading WPP firm in Toronto – in the Consumer Lifestyle PR Practice. I specialized in digital/social media initiatives and media relations for international brands including Mattel, Dell and AIR MILES.  My previous hotel experience includes hands-on hospitality PR experience at Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

2. How has FSHR differentiated itself in social media versus other luxury hotel chains?
The ownership of the brand is now shared because the relationship is now two-way; no longer just marketer to the consumer.  The winners in this new age will be the brands that let their fans define it and syndicate it.  We’ve always been a consumer centric culture so the shift to adopting the way guests and clients lead communications for Four Seasons has been rapid.  Digital media is now 50% of our brand’s marketing efforts, with a strong social media presence that facilitates engagement and encourages loyalty.  Four Seasons has quickly and strategically grown its base of Twitter followers and Facebook fans, receiving accolades within the industry.  As FSHR continues to incorporate social media into its day-to-day business, the company sees real-time interactions as a natural extension of its service model.  Working closely with our properties to embrace this evolution, our unique approach has allowed a center-led global strategy to be localized in meaningful and relevant ways at the hotel level around the world.

On L2 Think Tank’s recent “Digital IQ index” which measured 89 global airline, hotel and cruise brands, FSHR scored a digital IQ of 138, which is the top end of the ‘gifted’ classification.  We have made digital our priority; it now represents half of our consumer marketing investment.  And since content is king, we’ve combined PR with social media.

From virtual wine tastings on Twitter to a vibrant Facebook presence awash with visitor images and timely conversations, to active participation in location-based apps such as Foursquare and Gowalla, to highly curated content on YouTube, which is fast becoming the world’s second most important search engine, FSHR has its finger solidly on the pulse of the modern traveler.

3. How are guests responding to your social media presence?  What are the metrics?
The FSHR guest is an avid user of social media and expects to have relationships with his or her favorite brands in social media channels too (source: Affluence Collaborative).  FSHR has quickly and strategically grown its base of Twitter followers and Facebook fans, receiving accolades within the luxury hotel industry.  We invest time in ‘listening’ to our social media audiences at the global and local level, ensuring that we are connecting the dots between online insights and offline experiences.  We strive to serve up content that is interesting and relevant, and our increasing ‘return on engagement’ is a true testament to that.  Our social media metrics are anchored in e-commerce, guest satisfaction and PR effectiveness.

We found that guests use social media, notably Twitter, to comment on their satisfaction during a stay.  Because of this, we have incorporated Twitter into our service delivery so we are able to address issues, anticipate needs and generally surprise and delight the guest, using information they have shared publicly as well.

4. Have you found that your customer base has shifted in recent years as a part of this effort?  In other words, has the social media effort lowered the average age of the guest?
In markets like China the affluent age is far younger; we are currently developing a social media strategy for that market leveraging native Chinese social media platforms to meet prospective guests where they are.  Further, results from our current Facebook campaign shows that we are receiving the strongest response from males and females 25-34.

5. Can you provide some examples of how social media management has resulted in a change to the product, either physically or from a guest service standpoint?
Through new technology and social media, consumers can share more information with their favorite brands, so they in turn can respond in a more relevant and customized way.  Improvements in technology have enabled marketers to know their customers better and to have an ongoing dialogue with them.  We see real-time interactions as a natural extension of our service model.  See sample story here:

http://www.istrategyconference.com/blog/?category=Social-Media&title=How-the-Four-Seasons-Hotel-just-gets-Social-Media&pid=265&utm_source=10MARJM&utm_medium=HOSP&utm_campaign=PR

Previous examples:
A) When a guest at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore went on Twitter to make a light-hearted complaint about the hotel’s turndown music, she wasn’t expecting anything to come from it.  When she returned to her guestroom the next day, she found a bottle of wine and a note from the General Manager apologizing for the ‘Muzak’ tunes, along with a listing of local radio stations.  The FSHR interactive marketing team behind @FourSeasons saw the tweet and took the time to notify the California resort about the problem.  The guest is not identified by name on her Twitter account, meaning that FSHR had to do a bit of sleuthing to figure out who she was en route to rectifying what was at most a minor nuisance.

B) A similar situation occurred at Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok.  A guest lamented via Twitter that there were no good movies on TV that night.  The comment got relayed to the hotel’s management, which then informed the guest about the hotel’s in-house DVD library.

6. In addition to corporate social media initiatives, FSHR has separate Facebook and Twitter accounts for each property.  How does each hotel manage the labor requirements to keep their social media active?  Who performs the work?  Was there a training program or standard developed to manage this?
Our corporate social media team has invested heavily in offline and online hotel training and development.  As a result, each hotel is accountable and responsible for their social media activities and meeting our global standards.  Like our hotels, each case is unique but the responsibilities lie primarily within the Marketing and PR function, with outside support from Front Office, Sales and even our Concierge in some cases so that the team is truly cross functional.

7. How is the effort coordinated between properties?  What liberties does each individual hotel have?  How does the reporting structure get managed?
Our corporate social media team is committed to regular two-way communication with all of our properties.  Our global strategy is localized with content generation taking place the hotel level; global reporting is then conducted by the corporate team to ensure hotels are meeting our global social media standards and that adequate training and development is provided on an ongoing basis.

8. A significant problem I’ve encountered is getting line managers to contribute who might not be that social media savvy.  How do you handle this challenge?
This goes back to our commitment to training and development.  We work with our PR and Marketing Directors around the world to build their expertise so that they can in turn help elevate the social media capabilities of their colleagues in operations, ensuring an adequate cross-functional support system is in place.

9. Where do you think social media is headed?
The affluent population is unprecedentedly active on social media, having increased their usage across all segments since last year.  Regular usage has doubled among the Wealthy with target segments including the aspirational at 75k-199k, the affluent at 200k-499k and the wealthy at 500k+ (source: Affluence Collaborative ).  We believe this will continue to grow in years to come, with mobile phone and tablets playing an increasing role in social media behavior and content consumption.  Trust will continue to be the real currency (combined with sound products and services) and much can be gained by engaging in meaningful dialogues and relationships with your customers.  Finally, the term ‘social media’ could become obsolete very quickly since these channels are truly redefining ‘communication’ as well as how people interact with the world.

(Published on Buyer Interactive on August 22, 2011)

Larry MogelonskyInterview with Felicia Yukich, Manager of Social Media Marketing for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts