Don't Want to Lose Out on Profits? React and Respond to Social Media

By Glenn Withiam, director of publications, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research | October 08, 2012

A recent NPR report carried a remarkable comment from the CEO of a well-known vehicle-rental firm. The CEO said that Twitter was not relevant to most of the firm’s customers, or words to that effect. This was the end of a story that began with a couple that was trying to rent a vehicle and had decided to use Twitter to compare rental offers and features. To begin with, the couple thought they might just call the competing firms, but that proved more complicated and cumbersome than anticipated so they abandoned that approach. Instead, they Tweeted their questions to the companies in consideration. One firm answered quickly and substantively. The other was slow to respond. Guess which firm got the couple’s rental business?

This is a no-brainer, right? When customers actually request a response, it makes sense to answer quickly and appropriately, regardless of the method of communication used. Even though most firms have wholeheartedly embraced electronic media in all forms, research at the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) finds that some are still stubbornly hanging back. So, a decision that is a no-brainer to most operators seems to be a tough call for others.

One forthcoming CHR study took a look at how restaurants use social media, including Twitter and Facebook. Researcher Abigail Needles found that most restaurants are, indeed, using social media to contact guests. A small number of restaurateurs, however, refuse to use Twitter or Facebook. When asked the reasons, the restaurants surveyed conveyed skepticism and a perception that social media wouldn’t fit the operation’s concept. A typical attitude of these “old fashioned” restaurateurs was that social media outlets are cold and unreal, and personal contact was preferable.

Combatting the double-edged sword of social media
There’s no doubt that social media has its benefits and detriments, as has occurred when companies have — rightly or wrongly — been swept by a tsunami of negative tweets, posts, or online reviews. There is however a common thread in comments by the aforementioned rental vehicle CEO and the restaurateurs who prefer the “personal touch.” Both are thinking in personalized silos. They see electronic communication as cold or irrelevant for current customers, but they are missing an entire world of people for whom the electronic interaction is at least as real and meaningful as face to face communication.

Now, let’s take that “silo” analogy one step further. Even those who are aware of the value of social media may be thinking in a silo. This occurs when operators want to use electronic media for one purpose, but customers see other uses for those channels. The real message here is to pay attention to how customers prefer to interact with your company. By looking beyond the social media silo, these tools can be utilized to their full potential for the benefit of both operators and guests.


Glenn Withiam, Director of Publications, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research

What was your first job?
Picking green beans at the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has persevered in the face of adversity

What are your hobbies?
Bicycle riding and running

What technology excites you?
We live in an age of miraclesthat we can electronically
communicate, look up infor-mation, and so forth in a heartbeat. Medical advances are also quite impressive of late.

Words of Wisdom:
Whether you’re speaking of publishing or hospitality the answer is the same, don’t let technology get in the way of being a mensch.

What is one other field that you would like to try?
Professional chef

Who would you invite to lunch?
Mark Twain & Theodore Roosevelt

Top movie/book:
Some Like It Hot

Favorite vacation spot:
New York Adirondacks, but I love the Grand Canyon, Crater lake, Acadia, and the Oregon Coast.

Glenn Withiam is the director of publications for the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research. To download complimentary copies of any of the research reports from the Center for Hospitality Research, visit www.hotelschool.cornell.edu/research/chr.

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