In the customer-centric hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries, guest experience and satisfaction can make or break a business. While brands invest a lot of time, effort and money into establishing a pre-visit and post-visit digital connection with guests, there is a noticeable gap in communication while the guest is on-site. As revealed in a new study, this gap equates to significant missed revenue both for the business and the brand.

Our research, presented at the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit, analyzed 8.6 million public social media posts shared by 3.75 million distinct guests while staying at the properties of 100 of the world’s largest hotel groups. The guests were segmented into two groups: 1) those engaged on social media by the hotel, and 2) those who were not engaged.

The findings were unmistakable: by interacting with guests online in a highly personalized way, brands can foster stronger customer relationships which lead to greater loyalty and advocacy. More specifically, guests who are digitally engaged with on social media are 3x more likely to return to the brand.

     “Guests who are digitally engaged with on social media are 3x more likely to return to the brand.’’                                                                                                 

Timeliness matters

Local Measure’s analysis found that the speed of response had a huge impact on results. Prompt responses on social media, while a customer is still on-site, offer brands the opportunity to strike while the iron is hottest – whether by recovering a negative experience, or by surprising and delighting someone in a timely and thoughtful way.

What response time is the sweet spot? Well, the short answer is the sooner, the better. The specific answer depends on your business and your customers’ average dwell time – the key is to get back to people while they are still there. For a hotel, we saw meaningful results for any responses under 12 hours, improving progressively as that window of time decreased — but the real magic happened when brands were able to respond within 30 minutes.

     “The key is to get back to people while they are still there.’’                                                                                                     

Customers who are responded to within 30 minutes are 12x more likely to return to the brand. If responded to within 2 hours, they are 8x more likely to return, and if responded to within 12 hours, they are 5.6x more likely to return. Considering this, in addition to the finding  that any level of engagement makes the customer 3x more likely to return, it’s easy to see how brands can drive real business results by prioritizing customer engagement.

Calculating marketing reach through brand advocacy

By engaging with guests on social media, businesses can achieve exponential and organic (read: free!) reach vis-a-vis their guests’ followers. Not only are guests who are engaged by a brand 2.5x more likely to re-post about the brand, but by incorporating an influencer strategy into their engagement program the brands reached an average audience of 52,000 people for each guest they engaged, which was 5.3x greater than the control group.

The timeliness factor plays in here too. When guests are responded to within 30 minutes, the likelihood of re-posting from the property jumps to 19x higher than the control group. By engaging with guests, brands are effectively helping them drive word of mouth.

The challenge for many tourism operators is finding and tapping into the digital conversations taking place at their locations, as 4 out of 5 social posts published from a property don’t mention the brand by name. Only with location-based technology can businesses capture all the public content posted on social media within a specific geographic location, regardless of hashtags or keywords contained in the text. Tapping into this data source unlocks a wellspring of customer engagement opportunities from which customer-centric brands can deliver a powerful guest engagement strategy.