Given the rapid-fire pace at which content can spread via social networks, hotels have never been more vulnerable. A seemingly minor issue can quickly escalate into a full-blown crisis, causing serious damage to reputation.
After a power outage at a Texas hotel last summer, a paralyzed American war veteran called the front desk to request help from his room. For reasons not entirely clear, the clerk allegedly laughed at the request and mocked him. The guest got down by throwing his wheelchair and bags down three flights of stairs and sliding down on his backside. Then he went to straight to the media.
The incident incited a public furor that quickly spread to social networks. The hotel, its employees and the entire brand came under attack, with expressions of outrage and calls for a brand-wide boycott. Despite a solid reputation, it seemed nothing the brand could do—issue a refund and a public apology, dismiss the employee, implement staff training—would appease detractors.
- Be prepared – Given the risks involved, a social media policy with a crisis management component must be a priority. Outline the steps to take in the event of a crisis, the people responsible, and the role social media will play in messaging. Keep a list of emergency contacts at hand, including your social media administrator.
- Act quickly – When a crisis hits, there’s no time for bureaucracy. You must respond quickly and decisively. But first you must assess what’s at stake. Include senior management in decisions, and if appropriate seek advice from a PR firm or lawyer.
- Publish an official response - An official response is a critical step. It should be honest and sincere, should speak to your company’s credentials, and should be authored by a senior executive. Post it to one channel—your website or blog, a video—and direct all inquiries there.
- Rally supporters – Call on your community of fans to help get your messaging out. Their words will have more impact and reach than official brand messages.
- Don’t fuel the fire – Buchmeyer tells me of another incident in which a client attempted to quell a spate of angry comments on its Facebook page by deleting them and blocking detractors. This only resulted in escalating the situation. Monitor conversations and respond as appropriate, but resist the urge to sanitize. In some cases it may be better to “go dark” on social media rather than draw attention to the issue and further provoke detractors. This is especially true in the case of a tragedy or natural disaster, when communications should be restricted to community support and keeping guests informed.
- Get the content removed – Getting damaging content taken down can be challenging, especially if it has spread to multiple channels. Go to the source and ask them to remove it, but don’t be heavy handed. At the same time, appeal to the host site to have it removed. Litigation is an option if the content is libelous, but use it as a last resort. Engage in charitable causes and community work that will garner positive content to displace the negative.
- Reputation management—a company wide function – The media loves a scandal, and exposés of security, sanitation and safety issues are popular topics that can be highly damaging to business. Employees must be aware that social media has raised the stakes. The consequences of guest mistreatment, negligence and lapses in quality, service and security can be severe. Management must play its part by providing the training, empowerment and support necessary to ensure standards are understood and upheld.