Social Media, Concierge: A Natural Merger

Any hotelier who has ever glanced at a hotel’s social media profiles – or at least read articles on proper management of these pages – knows that these forms of electronic communication have replaced many of the tasks formerly attended to by the onsite concierge. Past, present and future guests send their digital queries and it’s the property’s responsibility to respond with helpful information.

I’m stating the obvious here. Nowadays, it is critical that you treat social media networks as personal assistance and relationship building channels. Future guests will be thankful you took the time to answer their requests. Past guests will appreciate your kind remarks. And all other fans and travel researchers will be silently judging you by the attentiveness of your online activity. In the past, helping guests was the primary duty of the concierge, but now that this role is being widely usurped by that social media managers, wouldn’t it make sense to merge the two departments?

I pose this question because even though having an onsite concierge – or any other team member who fills this role, be it the front desk or a dedicated floor manager – is still vital, your guests have gone online. Even when they are already on property, increasingly so they will direct their imminent concerns towards your Facebook fan page or direct a comment at you on Twitter. In essence, social media has become a virtual concierge.

Why the Merge?

Even before the advent of internet travel websites and Google, every guest could probably find all the information they needed without the help of knowledgeable hotel employees. But this would be a strain on their time and their moods. The reason for creating and sustaining the concierge position is to alleviate guests’ stresses by providing immediate and specific advice so that they can better enjoy their stay.

The same goes with digital communications with consumers. People could just browse one of the more popular search engines to get what they want, but submitting a question to a local expert (your employees) and having a response tailored exclusively for them is so much easier. You’re exerting yourself on their behalf so they don’t become fatigued with research. Plus, these interactions build rapport and trust with potential guests, heightening the likelihood that they’ll stay with you or come for a return visit.

The only real difference between these roles is that the concierge is face-to-face mode of communication, meaning that it is more emotionally driven and thus more likely to spur guests to develop an actual bond with the hotel. But, consider a situation where the same guest might query a hotel online before he or she arrives, then approach the concierge or front desk while onsite. Such a visitor might be served better if there was client information transfer between those who manage online relations and those who liaise guests in person. Moreover, social media allows introverts to be consummate introverts – even though such individuals may be in their guestrooms, they are more likely to dial downstairs or head online then ask in person.

Social media has scattered the communications across multiple channels and personnel, making it difficult to track. You also have to consider the proliferation of mobile devices and the ease at which a person can talk to a hotel from wherever they happen to be situated at that moment. Hence, if true rapport is to be attained, there has to be coordination and integration between online and onsite guest-to-staff communications.

That’s what it all boils down to: allowing relationships to prosper so that, in turn, your brand will likewise resonate. And so, the answer to the title of this section is simple: effectiveness and efficiency of your operations.

Inbound Versus Outbound Social Media

Merging social media and the concierge into a single unit? Not so fast. Social media management encompasses much more than simply answering guest inquiries. Social media networks are also broadcast systems for news, events, promotions and all other happenings pertaining to your brand, all with the hope of selling product. Thus, a distinction needs to be made.

Outbound social media involves the messages you disseminate to your audience – advertising, marketing and public relations. Inbound social media concerns the communications received from consumers as well as your response efforts. Given the interconnected nature of these online networks, obviously the line between outbound and inbound isn’t set in stone, but a general demarcation still applies. Members of your PR, marketing and concierge teams will mutually share your social media accounts, but the ways that each uses them will vary tremendously.

In this respect, the concierge is essentially a physical entity to represent the inbound social media manager. And the concierge of the future is adept at both roles.

Social Media Involves Everyone

A mere five years ago, it was all too easy to delegate social media to a single person within your organization – someone to handle the inbound and the outbound activity, and likely supervised by the PR or sales and marketer director. These days, in order to do social media right and get the results you want, you cannot leave this to one person. It must be a companywide effort.

Onsite happenings and candid photos must be relayed from all other staffers to the social media manager in order to be published in real time. Inbound requests must be answered as soon as they appear, often entailing a coordinated response from multiple departments. Social media managers also help monitor reviews as they emerge on various online travel review websites. Then throw in all the outbound efforts spread across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, and you have the makings of a very haphazard, vertiginous brand execution.

As more and more millennials enter the hospitality workforce, the job title of social media manager will disband because everyone at the low or mid levels of management will intuitively understand the basics of how all these networks function. They will all be able to perform rudimentary tasks necessarily for the maintenance of your hotel and brand’s digital persona.

Hypothetically speaking, a marketing assistant will be responsible for posting your finely crafted promotional materials and summarizing analytics. A PR coordinator will upload pertinent press releases. The front desk clerk or lobby staffer will be the one telling guests to tag the hotel in pictures taken from their smartphones. Your web or IT team will control everything relating to page design or custom graphics.

And the concierge will handle guest requests both in person and electronic. Because consumers now expect an organization to be fluent in the ways of social media, so too must your concierge department; a prudent first step might be to retrain your concierge team on how to work these networks.

The Guest Relations Department

If you were to divide your outbound social media efforts across your PR and marketing departments, then this would alleviate the pressure on your social media manager to dedicate his or her time to inbound consumer demands. However, in order to build genuine relationships with guests, your inbound social media team must communicate on all matters with your concierge staff. They must act as a single unit, as a joined department aptly named for its prime directive: the Guest Relations Department, the Guest Relationships Department or the Guest Services Department as three possible titles.

In this way, you are not only amalgamating responsibilities but you are also pooling resources. The job requirements for social media manager may include partial hospitality experience, but not necessarily extensive knowledge on the area (attractions, routes, restaurants, events, tours etc.). All the regional know-how can be learned after the fact. On the flip side, the concierge is expected to be a human version of Google on local happenings.

What’s needed is a cross-pollination of expertise so that every member of the Guest Relations Department, be they originally from the concierge department or the social media team, can fluidly respond to queries online or in person. A worthy consideration to help with this transition might be concierge apprenticeships for social media staffers, helping to develop the next generation of erudite concierge employees. Similarly, your concierge team must be open to incorporating any expertise passed on by their younger social media counterparts – there’s no room for obstinacy here.

Just imagine that for minute: a squad of two or three concierge team members working from the same lobby station, talking with guests who sidle up to the counter and typing in online responses during their downtime. By merging the social media, the concierge and potentially the front desk roles, it allows for more effective guest relations coverage. If one staffer has to deal with a pressing issue that crops up online, the other will be ready to handle any visitors who approach the desk without making them wait.

Further, if one concierge squad member doesn’t know the answer right away, perhaps his or her colleague does – they need only discuss the problem for several seconds to arrive at the solution. This will greatly amplify the efficiency with which such a team might reply and ultimately improve guest satisfaction.

Building the Merger

Given that the future of the concierge and all communications with guests are heavily dependent on technology, it’s crucial that you give guests the most straightforward methods by which to reach you. This starts by hiring the right people; recruiting individuals who have a base proficiency in both social media and dealing with guests face-to-face, in addition to a working familiarity of the area and access to resources that can improve this foundation. From there, you must give them access to the right software so they can apply their knowledge and personality to the field.

Yes, your Facebook fan page will need some tweaks to make it more appealing to guests so they are enticed to interact with it, but there are newer pathways that guests will soon expect you to be aware of. Live chat is a clear and present example, which you should permit not only for desktop/laptop computers but also tablets and smartphones (this technological ability is currently in development). What about a dedicated concierge mobile app to quickly guide inquiries through to the correct department? Adding to this, would you ever considering registering a Skype profile (some legal ramifications are apparent with this one) so consumers can reach one of your concierge agents via video or voice call?

If you look closely, you can see that this convergence is already well underway. For instance, give some thought to the recent Pinterest campaign by Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. Dubbed “Pin.Pack.Go”, the initiative invites users to ‘pin’ their dream vacation destination and join forces with Four Seasons team members to build the itinerary full of suggested activities, eateries and sightseeing adventures. This is all done electronically and before the users arrive on property, but in order to design the perfect vacation, local knowledge is a necessity; the concierge team must know the ins and outs of the Pinterest platform.

As I consider Four Seasons to a very forward thinking brand, the success of this campaign is definitely worth watching. But instead of merely watching, why not kick off your own online concierge service, utilizing one of the foremost social media networks to collaborate with your fans? Hardly a revolutionary concept, but that doesn’t mean its frequency is going to plateau any time soon.

At the core of social media is two-way communication. In the hospitality world, this means that you are allowed to tell your audiences about upcoming promotions or events, but it also means that you must be accountable to them when they send you a digital question, request, picture or anecdote. If you can’t respond effectively, you aren’t using the medium properly and you won’t be able to progress relationships with your guests. It just so happens that your concierge team is the most capable at giving value to your guests in this regard, so enable them by affixing inbound social media to their regular duties via a departmental merger.

(Published by Larry Mogelonsky in Hotel Executive December 3, 2013)

Larry MogelonskySocial Media, Concierge: A Natural Merger