Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Social Media - The Wild Wild West

You can’t go to a hospitality industry meeting or get into a conversation with someone else in the hotel business these days without the topic of “social media” coming up, and specifically, the seemingly unlimited power and influence of social media.

It was in just such a luncheon meeting earlier this week that I found myself referring to the current state of social media as the wild wild west, and the more I thought about it, the more it resonated with me.  Here’s my point:

In the old west, before the law came to town, you might have an incident where Billy Bob believed that Billy Joe had done something wrong, something that deserved punishment.  Armed with nothing else but his belief that Billy Joe had done something wrong, he would go and tell everyone in town that he knew, but of course when he told the story, he told it as a point of fact – he knew that Billy Joe had done this awful thing and now it was time for him to be punished, and before long there would be a mob intent on punishing Billy Joe for his crimes – let’s hang em!

Armed with a rope and on a mission, the towns’ folk would band together and hunt down Billy Joe intent on hanging him.  And as they dragged Billy Joe off to find a good hangin’ tree, he would be pleading for his life, professing his innocence, possibly even providing a good argument for why the accusations could indeed be false, but his pleas would fall on deaf ears.

Why couldn’t they hear whatever Billy Joe was saying?  Two over-riding reasons:

      1.       The mob mentality that he must be guilty, everything he is accused of must be true.  Why?  Because all these people said so, and they couldn’t all be wrong – ergo it must be true.

      2.       Then there’s the classic; of course he says he’s innocent, he doesn’t want us to hang him.  He’s screaming so loud about being innocent, he must be guilty.

Guilty until proven innocent, only there was a catch, you didn’t even have the opportunity to prove your innocence.  A no win situation.

Of course, after hanging enough innocent men and with the advent of bringing law and order into these frontier towns, people came to see that there may be a need for a process in order to more accurately punish the guilty, and not the innocent.

Fast forward to today, and the circumstances are eerily similar. 

Someone, right or wrong, makes an accusation that they believe to be true, and they write and post a review, because they want others to know what they experienced.  (Indirectly, although in some cases they would dispute my accusation, they want the topic of their review punished, they may not actively think about it, but they have to know what the potential outcome could be).

Now, their review gets posted to Trip Advisor, they tweet it out, they put it on Face Book, and in the blink of an eye it goes viral – everyone is reading it, and everyone believes it to be true.  (And maybe it is, but that isn’t the point – or at least, it isn’t my point).

The hotelier in question can write a rebuttal, but let’s face it, everyone expects him or her to do so, so again, depending on how detailed the accusation, and how compelling the rebuttal, the hotel probably has a 50/50 chance of convincing people that the original accusation is without foundation, but again, the damage is done – the story is out there, and because it’s on the web, it’s potentially out there forever.

I’m not a fan of “big brother”, nor am I one to want to attempt to restrict free speech, and I wouldn’t even begin to speculate on how to regulate these comments on the internet.

So why write this at all?

Because it reinforces my point that I previously made about the need for hotels to develop a social media strategy, now.  If you want to be ahead of the curve and not a casualty, you need to develop a strategy to deal with social media, now, and then dedicate the necessary resources to effectively implement your strategy.

This is no different than crisis management and the need to have an effective crisis management plan in place before the crisis hits, not after.  Many businesses suffered the consequences when they put off the development of their crisis plan and found themselves standing in front of the media with their pants around their ankles, because they foolishly believed it couldn’t happen to them, and guess what – it did.

The power of the web is infinite.  Doesn’t that sound like something worthy of your attention? 

Need an experienced hospitality professional to help your property reach its full potential?  Contact me.

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