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Decoding Social Data

Social media continues to explode and is something successful businesses just can’t ignore. Whether it’s a review on Yelp or a comment on Facebook, people are talking about the brands they interact with and the hospitality industry is no exception. The amount spent on gathering social data is expected to increase 440% between 2014 and 2019, according to Markets and More research. Many companies are creating new positions, even new departments, to handle it all.

“We created our M Live studio just over a year ago to serve as our real-time, global marketing command center that is our nexus across all 30 brands’ social teams,” says Matthew Glick, senior director of creative and content marketing at Marriott International ( “Each brand has a social media team looking for pockets of opportunity to engage guests, monitor the brand conversations and what our guests are saying.”

The chain built the first M Live at its headquarters in Bethesda, Md., and now has locations in Miami, London, Asia Pacific, Hong Kong and Latin America. It is staffed 24/7, and allows Marriott to engage travelers in personalized ways, including one-on-one conversations through social platforms.

For Firehouse Subs (, based in Jacksonville, Fla., with 1,025 locations in 44 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, the chain took a “deeper dive” into social analytics six years ago. It monitors Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and several listing sites such as Yelp, Google, Trip Advisor and City Search, says Melissa Simpson, director of digital content at the company.

“Going back to 2009, our inspiration for investing resources in the social media space was actually based on the simple foundation of being able to listen to our customers and provide quality guest service,” Simpson notes. “While that is still a cornerstone benefit, as social media sites grew and became more advanced, so did the data it could provide businesses.”

Companies can now understand consumer sentiment about their brand and monitor social conversations to identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as a sense of guest frequency, she adds.

Tapping into Technology
Two years ago, HEI Hotels (, based in Norwalk, Conn., was managing social media and online reviews separately for its 63 locations. After adding Sprout Social ( as a social listening and analytics tool, it centralized social media, while still allowing property managers access to their individual pages.

“We approve every message that goes out, so when someone posts something it gets sent to us at headquarters where we approve it or reject it,” explains Emma Shaybani, senior marketing and e-commerce manager, HEI Hotels. “There is also an asset library so we can upload specific pictures for different occasions or brand specific messages. It allows our property managers to be successful without having to put it all together themselves.”

The company also uses technology to monitor engagement and growth and to gauge response to posts to see how they should adjust their strategy, Shaybani shares. Sprout Social allows them to run reports on the highest producing content, the engagement received, how many people liked or unliked the page, and reports on associates at different properties to see who is interacting with the platforms and how quickly they respond. It also offers scheduling capabilities so content can be planned in advance.

Additionally, HEI runs competitions on social media to generate excitement, asking people to like and share the post, especially when a property is renovated. It can measure the effectiveness in this area as well. One of its properties, Hotel Chicago (, began offering Trivia Tuesday, where it asks a question and offers the first person to answer correctly 500 Marriott points. After seeing how well it worked, other properties within the company are starting to do the same, Shaybani says.

HEI also uses Revinate (, which acts as an aggregator of reviews from all the different websites and brings them into one dashboard where we can respond. “It has an intricate level of reporting, and I can get a sentiment analysis or download my top three complaints for the week at any given hotel,” Shaybani explains.

Firehouse Subs uses several technology providers to assist it with everything from aggregating consumer reviews to building the new Firehouse Rewards App, including GoodData’s ( analytics platform. GoodData consolidates guest feedback and reviews from Facebook, Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor and many other websites, and assigns an overall rating for each restaurant, says Danny Walsh, director of reporting and analytics at the chain.
“A key benefit with several of our analytics partners is being able to consolidate data from more than 1,025 locations into a single dashboard,” Simpson explains. “This allows us to see a report card for the brand on a macro level and produce actionable insights.”

For Marriott, the company combines a variety of technology to monitor online reviews and social media, including Sysomos ( to track social media mentions of the brand. The technology alerts the Marriott team when there is a brand specific mention so that digital content producers can see and act on it, along with the customer care team or crisis team if the event requires immediate assistance, Glick notes.

Distilling the Data
With today’s social monitoring and analytics technology, companies can respond more quickly, identify trends and offer incentives to customers. Many of these responses can be done in real-time.

“Previously, we were beholden to different reports coming back two or three weeks after a campaign launched, and the data was not actionable. Now we can see in real-time the results and tweak the content in order to hit the marks we set out to reach,” Glick says. “We also do A/B testing so when it comes to paid social we are seeking out organic content, and if it’s performing above benchmark we can apply paid spend.”

Marriott relies on a dedicated team of people to break down the data and identify trends or opportunities, and often these insights are shared with other teams across the company. The same is true at Firehouse Subs. It shares its social data with C-level executives and with the marketing, reporting and analytics departments, as well as guest services.

“We’re able to review feedback by date range to analyze trends and feedback on current promotional offers and can identify trends that may be related to certain menu items,” Walsh says.

The process of drilling into the data is often a team effort that involves more than one department, but it is also about combining different reports and data sources to find actionable insights.

“Identifying trends is something we have fine-tuned. No report from any site will come out completely perfect, so we combine the data into a one-page infographic we share with all our hotels once a quarter,” Shaybani explains. “We have to pull different pieces of information, from what is trending on social media to what we got a lot of feedback on, and we also get feedback from our general managers on what they find useful.”

The company used to include Trip Advisor rankings in the report, but feedback from managers showed it was not as useful. The reports also include the top three to five issues and highlight them for general managers, the director of operations at each hotel, regional managers and others at the corporate office, such as the vice president of sales and the operations manager.

The chain also uses data collected to make decisions about its offerings and to measure internal marketing efforts. For example, when promoting a breakfast package via Facebook, some comments noted it would be better if the offer was a full breakfast rather than a continental. This was feedback that could be shared with that property, Shaybani says.

“We also do a lot of marketing with influencers, so we have bloggers come and stay at our hotels and then we rely on Sprout Social to see if we are really benefiting from the content they are posting out there,” she shares.
Overall, social analytics and technology can make a difference when it comes to customer service, engagement and even the bottom line.

“Gaining an extra percent in your email open rate based on subject A/B testing is a win, and increasing consumer engagement around social content helps guide decisions for future content development that will resonate deeper with our audience,” Simpson says. 

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About the Author

Tammy Mastroberte Contributing Editor, Hospitality Tehnology

Tammy Mastroberte is an award-winning writer who has extensively covered technology, hospitality and retail operations for more than 19 years. She is based out of New Jersey.

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