Best Western believes so strongly in the wisdom social marketing provides that it has bumped up the weight given to this feedback versus surveys, which also are conducted by Medallia, and other types of data collection. Morton believes the influence of social media will only get stronger. "We aren't ready to take dollars away from other marketing efforts, but we are investing in this area," he says.
Although Best Western now leaves the decision of whether to be a social media host up to individual owners, nearly all hotels are engaged in social media via Medallia. The software sends alerts to designated hotel staff if a comment, tweet or other post requires immediate attention.
If customers gripe on Facebook about a lack of towels poolside at a property, the on-site manager is alerted so he quickly can restock them. Hotel operators also can access statistics and insight regarding their performance against local competitors. "Initially, hotel operators didn't understand the magnitude or value of an immediate review and response," Morton says, adding social media metrics has given them perspective.
Centralization yields benefits
Defense and aerospace giant Raytheon, with presences primarily on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, is gauging customer interest in Google+, Pinterest and other emerging platforms.
Similar to Best Western, Raytheon made some strategy adjustments since it first entered the social media realm. Namely, the company centralized all social media properties.
"Everything had been owned and operated differently across the enterprise," says Pam Wickham, vice president of corporate affairs and communications. "Human resources owned the Facebook page and their focus was on recruiting college students and other would-be employees."
Meanwhile, the communications team was operating a Twitter feed as a broadcast channel for corporate news. The company's YouTube stream had no central ownership to start, only random uploading of corporate videos.
In the past 18 months, social media oversight has been gathered under Wickham's group, allowing the alignment of social media content and user interaction with the company's carefully crafted brand and reputation strategy.
"We have always considered IT our strongest partner -- even well before social media became such an important part of our strategy," says Pam Wickham, vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Raytheon.
Wickham says the inflection point for true transformation lies in understanding the difference between merely having a presence on social media and engaging in social marketing. "Social marketing is the strategic use of social media channels to deliver and amplify specific brand messaging to a targeted audience," she says. "It's much more deliberate. One is targeting, the other is simply broadcasting your message."