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Are Hotels Taking Social Media Too Far?

by on May 31, 2012 · 18 comments

in Delta, Flyertalk, Hotel Industry, Social Media, Starwood

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Social media plays a big role in hotels and airlines theses days. Most companies have their own Facebook and Twitter pages where they run special promos, engage directly with guests and loyalty program members, and answer questions. According to this  Flyertalk thread, however, it seems that the staff of one Starwood property have taken social media to a whole new level by researching a guest who called to cancel a reservation.

If you read the thread, you’ll see the guests claims that when he called to cancel his reservation at the Westin in Edina, Minnesota, he noticed someone on the staff had looked up his professional profile on LinkedIn and left him voicemails ahead of his reservation to explain the details of his rate (sounds like he got a corporate rate and they were explaining that he needed to show all manner of ID to prove he was who he said he was and worked for whom he said he did). When he called the GM to express his concern about the stalkerish nature of what the employee had done, the GM said that the hotel checks guests’ LinkedIn and Facebook accounts to verify their corporate rate as well as to provide a more personalized experience based on Starwood’s “Global Personalization” customer service initiative. Even after the guest expressed his continued dismay–arguing that the hotel should just demand appropriate identification at check-in, he found that the GM had gone and checked his LinkedIn page too!

Another Flyertalker mentions how during his stay at the W Retreat & Spa Bali-Seminyak when he arrived to his room his welcome amenity included a framed picture of himself, which was his Facebook profile picture. This guest really enjoyed the work the W Insiders did and the research they put into making his stay memorable. Still, sounds a bit creepy to me.

Starwood's Privacy Policy stating they may collect information from social media sites.

I wanted to investigate this further, so I took a look at Starwood’s privacy policy. It stated that one of the ways information (of guests) may be collected is by “working with third party sources, including collecting publicly available information from social networking web sites.” This defends what the hotel was doing, as the information they were looking at was publicly available. They have a point. If you’re willing to put up information about yourself on Facebook and LinkedIn for anyone to see (there are privacy settings!), can you be outraged when someone actually looks at them?

Though this Starwood incident seemed a little nefarious, most airline and hotels are positively crowing about their social media outreach. For instance, Delta even made a YouTube video about receiving a tweet from a Diamond Medallion member and how the airline leveraged social media to plan a surprise celebration for him. (Hey Delta, I fly out of JFK as well, where’s my party?). In fact Delta’s @Deltaassist Twitter handle has been a huge help to me – getting problems solved even while I tweeted them in the air while on Gogo Wifi.

Ritz-Carlton actually has a complex guest recognition system set up and they take similar measures such as looking up guests on Facebook and Googling them in order to enhance their experience during their stay, and you can be sure other high-end chains keep detailed notes on frequent customers (anyone ever notice their welcome amenity is the same at all the hotels within a chain?).

So what do you think? Is this just good guest relations or creepy stalking?

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Share your comments below. What do you think? Is this social media abuse, or should people be more careful about what they put on the internet? Has anything like this happened to any of you?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • http://www.travelingwellforless.com/ Debbie Schroeder

    I think it’s proactive marketing and using social media to it’s fullest. If you’re going to post information about yourself in a public forum, you shouldn’t be outraged or upset if someone reads it.

  • http://startupgrognard.tumblr.com Greg Leman

    If you don’t want people looking at your information, don’t put it out in public for all to see.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.ream1 Matt Ream

    I agree with the others. You posted public information. Don’t get mad when people use it.

  • KathInJax

    After the new broke about Target and how they learn that people are pregnant (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?pagewanted=all), I expect all companies to have massive amount of information about me. If Target is keeping a customer ID number that tracks my credit cards, purchases, income, age, gender, etc. – I would expect that hotel companies do the same thing.

  • http://twitter.com/annabelleblue Annalise Kaylor

    I am the Director of Social Media for an agency, so I live and breath social for a variety of businesses, including a major global, luxury hotel group. I cannot imagine EVER making the recommendation of using social in this way as a part of their services.

    It’s easy for businesses, especially those who rely on social for customer service, to forget that they are invited into the social space by choice, and it takes just a few clicks to be removed from the user experience. Forcing your way in when a person has not invited you to that personal space is everything BUT a best practice.

  • Rowergirl7531

    While I agree that we all need to be careful about what we post online via Facebook, Twitter, etc., having hotel employees look me up in the ways described would make me VERY uncomfortable. Glad that I have a very common name (and I make my reservations with my work email address, whereas my profiles use one of many personal email addresses), so it’s highly unlikely that they’d spend the time or be able to figure out which of the 5000+ profiles is mine.

  • http://www.wired2theworld.com/ Kristina

    This is why my facebook account is private and my twitter account is public.
    I think at times, this type of interaction can be done in a fun way. I recently read of how the Sheraton Edinburgh used social media to interact with bloggers they invited to stay there. Granted, it was a promotional event, but I still think they used it in a clever way.
    http://mikesowden.org/feveredmutterings/sheraton-edi

  • http://www.facebook.com/Oldsmoboi Drew Dowdell

    That would be interesting for me… my facebook profile photo is a picture of Sherlock Holmes in Switzerland.

  • RakSiam

    I agree with you about the privacy settings.

    How do they have enough employees with enough time on their hands to do all of this detective work?

  • Mooper

    As is typical in the current corporate-bashing environment, many people blame the hotels and Facebook for privacy concerns rather than themselves. Everyone has perfect control over what is shared. If you don’t want anything shared, close your social accounts. If you want to share only with friends, set that option. If you want the world to see everything about you, you can do that too. Google and other platforms are the same… they give you near perfect control. Use it, don’t complain any more than you would if people stared at you if you walked around nude in public.

  • LSW

    I think this falls into the catgory of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” @DeltaAssist is a great asset. I like interacting on Twitter (or any other social media platforms) with the various travel companies — if I reach out to them. But, to have someone poking around my profiles just because they can, doesn’t seem appropriate. Of course I have all of my privacy settings set as high as possible so I doubt I would be “stalked” — but who knows what lengths they will go to and how those settings can be manipulated.

    Social media is an important forum for the travel industry to be in and I look for their engagement. But, I think the line should be drawn to avoid the creep factor. If I found my FB picture framed in the hotel room I would completely freak out. They can find out what they need to know by my profile I have filled out when I registered for their reward program and from keeping notes from my other visits. I don’t know these hotel employees and how can I trust that they won’t take this information and use it inappropriately?

  • kevincure

    The comments below are exactly why certain companies totally screw up their social media policy: in general, older users see social media sites as totally public, whereas younger users do not.

    Consider the analogy of a potential employer reading a letter to the newspaper versus following the potential hire to the bar and eavesdropping. Yes, both are “communication in public,” but I think we can all agree that the first is totally fine and the second is completely out of bounds.

  • http://ideasandthoughts.org Dean Shareski

    I find it useful. Both Delta, Starwood have been very responsive to me on twitter. Here’s something that happened to me earlier in the year. http://ideasandthoughts.org/2012/01/22/2095/

  • http://www.mezzoguild.com/ Donovan – The Mezzofanti Guild

    True.

    My first reaction to this was that it really is “stalkerish” but the more I think about it the more I agree that it’s every user’s choice to post their photos, interests and so on for the world to see.

    I think I’ll go and double check my privacy settings now…..

  • Jason

    If your social media profiles are open to the public a prospective employer looking you up is in no way like following you to a bar and eavesdropping. It’s closer to you cracking a beer and inviting your buddies to come drink with you while you are in the interview! If you don’t want them to have access to your information then don’t gift wrap it and lay it at their feet for them!

  • freqflyercoll

    I think there’s a pretty simple answer to this, that others have brought up here. And it’s the answer to any other privacy concerns about social media…don’t put it out in the public! No one is forced to have a Facebook LinkedIn account, though admittedly there is generally much social/peer pressure to have one.

  • Pingback: Super-creepy! Privacy in the age of Big Data and personalization in travel | Global HDS | Global HDS()

  • ETA Unknown

    At least what Starwood is doing is personal. Last month while sipping my coffee at a 4 star Brisbane hotel restaurant I overheard one of their senior managers bragging (loudly for all to hear) about how many facebook friends they recently bought to like them.

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