It’s a frequently asked question: is a centralised or decentralised marketing model most effective? Both models have their pros and cons, so it’s likely that the best choice for your brand is somewhere in the middle. In this case, a more helpful question for marketers is, which activities belong at a brand level, and which activities are better executed at a local level?

In analysing the centralised versus decentralised marketing conundrum, we can begin by summarising the unique strengths and weaknesses of each:

Centralised

Strengths

  • Protecting brand integrity
  • Consistent brand voice and unified collateral
  • Better accountability, closer to sales activity
  • Enables workload efficiencies

Weaknesses

  • Rigid, templated approach to problems
  • Slower to respond
  • Lack of contextual/local knowledge
  • Can seem to prioritise brand over guests

De-centralised

Strengths

  • Flexibility in speaking specifically about services or products
  • Greater awareness of customer sentiment
  • Ability to respond quickly, staff available on weekends etc.
  • On-the-ground presence, can interact in-person with guests
  • Intuitive understanding of what resonates for local market
  • Authentic local voice

Weaknesses

  • Possible inconsistencies between properties
  • Staff may not be as knowledgeable of brand guidelines
  • Further removed from broader strategy
  • May not have as many resources

When it comes to managing social media, the two most common models are: one ‘command centre’ team that is responsible for all initiatives and online interaction, and a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, with one central team that sets overall strategy and local or departmental teams that run their own activity. For many companies, the best solution is a hybrid model that uses both central and decentralised teams to run marketing programs.

A win-win solution: the hub-and-spoke model

With a hub-and-spoke model, activities can be divided according to the strengths of different teams. The hub is the central team and functions as the enabler, not the ‘police’ of local marketing efforts. Activities belonging to the hub could include managing the brand look and feel, developing guidelines, creating brand campaigns, analysing data etc. The spokes, or local teams, use their unique position to respond to guests on social media and review sites, according to brand guidelines; find local influencers; develop direct marketing campaigns; and manage direct messaging with guests.

You can’t fake a local presence

You sometimes come across instances where a central team manages a number of seemingly ‘local’ accounts. In addition to being cumbersome for one centralised team to manage, these types of social accounts miss out on rich opportunities for on-the-ground guest engagement and can damage the brand by appearing inauthentic.

We know that hotel properties that respond to social media reviews receive more bookings than properties that don’t, but social media reviews are not just within the realm of TripAdvisor. Guest communication happens through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook too, so it’s the front line teams who need to be equipped to handle these platforms. Responding to guests is not just a marketing activity, nor just good PR – it’s a core operational function related to satisfying guest expectations.

Imagine a scenario where a hotel guest calls the front desk  because the TV isn’t working, waits several hours before someone responds, and then leaves their room to search for staff because no one showed up to help them. We wouldn’t consider this satisfactory, because we understand how important timeliness is in meeting guest needs. On social media, we are hearing these types of complaints – but someone needs to be on the ground to pick up the call and take immediate action.

Equipping front-line teams to succeed at social

Brands can be trepidatious about giving front-line staff the ability to engage with guests via social media, but with the right guidelines and training in place, the opportunity to positively impact guest experience outweighs the risks. Ultimately, you must ask yourself which experience you want to create for your guests: a genuine, helpful response that is prompt, or a generic response that is days late, from someone miles away?

By empowering front-line teams to respond to guests, you enable the following to happen:

  • Two-way dialogue: True dialogue can take place when the person responding to the guest has contextual knowledge of what is going on, and is responding within minutes or hours of the guest posting their comments.
  • A more genuine response: Responses that come from centralised teams tend to be more generic, because they don’t have the personal relationship with the guest and they lack information or ability to take immediate action. Authentic, genuine responses are what guests will value most, and will also be viewed as more trustworthy and helpful.
  • Better, faster service: The feedback loop that occurs when there is communication between guests and local staff is quick and continuous. This allows the hotel to continuously optimise operations through small, incremental improvements over time.
  • Frees up central team: The central team can focus on higher level strategy versus tactical implementation.
  • A happier local team: Staff appreciate the trust placed in them and when standards are set high, they will usually rise to meet them so long as they are not burdened down with excessive guidelines or policing.

There is no doubt that clear guidelines and training are required in order to shift social media management towards local teams, but these things need not be overly complicated. Most hotel properties will have some staff who already possess the basic skills; this is a natural place to start.

A strong and clear set of standards is the anchor that all teams can use to guide their interactions with guests. These standards should inform teams of why the brand’s service is of value, the emotional response expected from guests, and the way that service is to be carried out. When the standards are well understood, designated staff members should know how and when to respond to their guests.