Wednesday, September 29, 2010

[The Insider] Hotel Berlin, Berlin

With its 52 years "Hotel Berlin, Berlin" clearly is not a new comer in hotel business. But when the hotel was bought out of a big chain in 2006 the heads decided to reinvent the hotel and its meaning once more. Beside a new facade for the building this included a new brand and new ways of marketing; taking the hotel into Social Media.

And once again Berlins third greatest hotel is leading hotel business to new innovative ways. Last week we got the great opportunity to talk to Anne Bubner, Brand and Media Manager and her Assistant Maria Langhammer both managing the Social Media appearance for the hotel. Like no one before they showed us how Social Media is more than just another communication channel and deeply effects the hotel and its processes.

But before they started using Social Media they created a strategy; platforms they want to use, topics they want to talk about, the target groups they try to reach and similar marketing questions. One thing they figured out quite early is the fact that you can't understand Social Media as "yet another communication channel" but you have to understand it as a culture. A culture of communication and transparency, real relationships and actual caring, of collaboration and trust. And you don't understand this culture if you look at the revenue only, as Anne told us. Of course at the end of the day there needs to be income but Social Media is more than that. As Anne phrased it "revenue is a positive side effect of Social Media" but not its main purpose.

One big part of their strategy is the location marketing. While most big chains like the Ritz or Hilton allow the customer to decide the chain first and the location second it is different for "Hotel Berlin, Berlin" where the customer has to choose Berlin as his location first, Anne explained us. That makes it more challenging  after all Berlin is an attractive place to go to, with all types of venues and events. So Maria tweets live from the IFA 2010 or the Berlin Marathon and posts updates from Handball Games of the local team "Die Füchse Berlin" on Facebook. Staying in contact with their audience even - or should I say "mostly"? - off work hours and during the weekend.

They told us about one very successful initiative, the Schnitzeljagd. A kind of paper chase game they played with their followers and fans online: they posted small details of photos of public places in Berlin and the users had to guess where they had been taken. Every day they posted another picture. The feedback was immense: People loved this way of exploring the city. But it hasn't always been this easy. They started with quite a few followers back in 2008 and most of them were even employees of the company itself. Something they didn't know until they figured that there is only one way to know your audience: take a close look at them, where are they from, how old are they, what do they talk about.

Getting to know your audience certainly doesn't end online. When a guest books a room over the Facebook App or comes from twitter "Hotel Berlin, Berlin" tracks this information. So every employee looking into the internal booking system directly knows where the guest comes from. When the guests checks in Anne personally comes to welcome them. Thus they are letting the community know who is behind the otherwise anonymous Facebook and Twitter appearance and create a even more personal relationship. Furthermore a special welcome card is waiting for them at their rooms.

This way Social Media became a part of the companies inner processes and procedures. And only because of the close relationship to their audience "Hotel Berlin, Berlin" is able to really get to know them. Only because they took a close look, Anne and Maria found out that a lot of their Facebook Fans and Twitter Followers also seem to be fans of electronic music. A target group they've not thought of so far. But now they think out loud about including more club and party events in their feeds.

Another very important group inside their Fans and Followers are their colleagues. Though it took them a while before they noticed but most of their earliest Fans where working at the hotel, too. Information such as news about "Hotel Berlin, Berlin", the hotel business and events in Berlin, videos, pictures and insights of the hotel aren't only interesting to customers but also to employees. Social Media makes it easy for them to follow what is going on. And they are curious, they are happy and proud of what they can see there.

But Anna and Maria want to take this into a higher level than just reporting about hotel insights like the trainees cocktail creations they are promoting using facebook or the latest promotion photos. They want their colleagues to participate and publish Social Media content themselves. Like the one time when their chefs have been in Singapore to a cooking contest and were letting their colleagues know about their state using Twitter. At the moment Anne and Maria are working on a strategy to include Social Media for their "House of Talents", their academy for new trainees. One idea is to let the trainees blog about their time there, tweet or create a video blog. Having another great side effect: showing prospectivjob applicants what a great working place they are, becoming the first choice to them.

"Hotel Berlin, Berlin" is a great example of a company having understood the requirements and changes Social Media brings. It is not just another way to communicate it is a change in the relationship between a company and people like employees and customers. Like no other business the service driven feels this shift happening right now, the change in the lifestyle of so many people. And only few have understood as well as "Hotel Berlin, Berlin": If you do Social Media right it doesn't stop when you leave work or shut down the computer. It goes way beyond that influencing our daily tasks and ways we (have to) behave and the procedure we follow.

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