4 Characteristics of a Great Social Media Policy
Right now your employees are using social media to share what’s happening, what they think, and where they’ve been. They’re engaged for both their personal use, and in some cases for their job, This article looks at ways to chart your hotel’s social media governance, shares a database of 163 policies from a leading social media consultant, and checks in with a Director of Digital Marketing from a well-known hotel to find out his thoughts on the matter. One thing is for sure, when it comes to hotel social media policies, one size does not fit all.
Charting Your Hotel’s Social Media Governance
Today, social media has given a global megaphone not just to hotel guests, but employees too. From every corner of the hotel, staff members make or break the guest experience each day. At their best, they serve as brand guardians working hard to exceed guest expectations. Is there any reason to discourage them from advancing your hotel brand when they are off the clock?
Social Media Gives Employees a Voice
From the chief marketing officer with hundreds of Twitter followers to the hotel bartender that rules his personal Facebook page, everybody’s jumping on the social media bandwagon. The line between personal and professional online communication is increasingly blurred.
Take for instance the hotel vice president that tweets about company news side by side with his grumblings over the New Jersey transit system that regularly foils his commute. I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing, but rather worth noting. So, what’s the best way for hotels to manage these influential in-house voices?
Study Other Social Media Policies
Start by visiting Chris Boudreaux’s Social Media Governance Blog. Chris is an executive with Converseon, a leading social media consultancy. He’s compiled a fully searchable database of more than 160 policies. At one end of the spectrum you’ll find the U.S. Navy’s 32 page Social Media Handbook with headers like Loose Tweets Sink Fleets to best Buy’s 1 ½ page bulleted Social Media Guidelines called Protect the Brand, Protect Yourself. Indeed, one size does not fit all.
I suggest a slow build approach on social media matters. As you go about designing a good fit solution for your hotel, consider these three areas:
- Hotel-wide Community Policy
- Public Relations Response Plan
- Management’s Operational Guidelines
 Hotel-wide Community Policy
Social media should be treated like any other communications policy. Start by updating your employee handbook to include a section like Guide for Online Commenting. Avoid lawyerly language like ‘forbid’ and ‘prohibit’ in an effort to minimize risk and exposure. It’s worth pointing out that US employees have a first amendment right to freedom of speech, regardless of the medium.
Your hotel’s need for cumbersome policies is greatly reduced by how well you communicate your philosophy on social media. After orientation and training, keep associates engaged in conversations around online etiquette. Educate your staff on how your hotel uses online platforms to attract more guests, and let them in on the excitement. You goal is to find ways to share examples that show employees the difference between personal comments and other posts that may reflect unfavorably on the hotel.
No matter the degree of formality in your policy, be sure to highlight these three themes:
- Use your best judgment at all times.
- Don’t say or do anything that hurts the hotel.
- If you have questions at anytime, ask your manager.
 Public Relations Response Plan
No policy will ever protect a hotel from a rogue, disgruntled employee who misrepresents your property online. So, having a response plan in place for these rare instances makes sense. As with all crisis situations, you want to respond quickly to diffuse the situation.
A brand monitor tool can help you take action quickly. It allows you to screen the web for all comments made about your hotel, including those made by staff. You have a vested interest in checking the web for all remarks, regardless of the source. Your reputation is at stake. It’s a good idea to gently remind your employees that they are accountable for the consequences of what they say, and that you are actively monitoring your brand online.
 Management’s Operational Guidelines
Section  lists key areas, like Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor where you’ll want to establish operating guidelines, standards and/or protocols. Look at these as your spokes in the wheel. You want to give these venues equal attention in your marketing mix, just as you would a newsletter program or direct mail campaign. In other words, if you’ve decided that being on Twitter meets your business objective, than you need to structure and support the program. If you can’t do that, you’re better off not engaging.
Make sure those handling social media for your hotel are given the resources, authority, and time to monitor, respond and engage. Their job is to deepen customer loyalty through these channels and water your fans and followers like a garden. Bookings can be lost in a click, so support the people that nurture your online reputation.
Guidelines also serve as a quality assurance measure during staff transitions and normal business disruptions. You don’t want to lose momentum when your hotel Twitterer takes another job, or your Facebook administrator catches the flu. Know how to get into your hotel’s Facebook page, and document your passwords to all social media platforms in a centralized, secure spot. And, as a cautionary note, employees should never use their personal emails and profiles to set up a social media account for your hotel.
Case Study: Roger Smith Hotel
The Roger Smith Hotel’s reputation as an early adopter of social media is nothing new, so I wanted to check in with Adam Wallace, their Director of Digital Marketing, to see how he handles these matters. He explained that RSH relies on their employee handbook’s code of conduct to guide employee’s behavior for the online space. Wallace believes using a light hand when writing policies is best, since it allows staff to be unencumbered in responding to guest needs in real time.
A top priority for Wallace is sharing good news with staff about the hotel’s social media success. For example, after receiving a deluge of online praise for their signature bacon, Wallace wanted to make sure everyone, right down to the union line cooks, understood the role each had played in driving new business & powerful PR. So, he gathered staff for an impromptu presentation that included videos and tweets that customers had shared online about the “bacon buzz”.
Wallace credits this effort as doing 2 things:
- Gave recognition to staff for their positive impact on the guest experience.
- Educated staff on how their work contributed positively to RSH’s reputation.
Wallace recognizes his hotel is unique, pointing to the fact that some staff is encouraged to leverage their personal Twitter accounts to cultivate niche followings. Still, he wants all hoteliers to know that social media can be used as a tool for all properties, regardless of their culture, to powerfully increase the depth of their guest relationships and drive measureable ROI.
The Bottom Line
Social media is an evolving, public space. The desire to want to control it is understandable, but futile. When designing your policy, here’s 4 things I want you to know:
- Write simple guidelines that fit with your hotel’s culture.
- Eliminate unnecessary layers of rules that stifle creativity and response time.
- Focus on training, coaching and inspiring employees on social media etiquette.
- Have faith in your employees and trust them to use common sense.