Casinos use social media sites to reach customers

Nov 1, 2009 7:45 PM
Staff & Wire Reports | Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter are changing the face of customer relations at major Las Vegas hotels. Resorts are setting up fan pages where executives can monitor customer suggestions about how to improve business. They also can collect guests' kudos, offer immediate assistance to customers in distress and cringe when unhappy patrons post critical remarks. Become a fan of GamingTodayon Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For their part, customers are discovering the websites offer an unprecedented voice, with comments and reviews not only reaching casino managers but wielding influence with an untold number of customers and potential customers.
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You could say Twitter and Facebook have thrown a wild card into a world of carefully crafted marketing messages. Witness the following incidents: *South Point managers read a gambler's rant on South Point's Facebook page. "Please folks ... do N-O-T gamble in this casino. They run some of the TIGHTEST machines in Las Vegas. I LOSE almost E-V-E-R-Y time I try playing at South Point." But before they responded, another customer posted: "If you don't like the South Point that much then just don't go there. But the rest of us LOVE the place ... better luck next time." *A woman posted on her Twitter page that she "just touched down" in Las Vegas. A Wynn Las Vegas (WYNN) employee immediately responded: "Welcome! Come on over to our resort to explore and discover. You won't be disappointed." To another member who was "looking forward to staying (at) Wynn," Wynn's Twitter guru posted: "Tweet us if you have questions or need recommendations." *The Luxor recently asked on its Facebook page whether customers preferred lower hotel rates or add-ons such as coupons or discounts on spa services, shows or meals. It found that customers said they overwhelmingly wanted lower rates. *Caesars Palace offered a Halloween discount travel package for Facebook and Twitter followers including "tweets" of locations in the resort offering free food, drinks and giveaways. Profile photos of more than 250 customers who booked the event were clustered on the property's Facebook page, where people uploaded vacation photos, trip stories and recommendations about what to do on the Strip. This may seem like an alternate universe for Las Vegas, where bankrolls traditionally determined the level of customer service. In the new world, average Joes and Janes can become, in a sense, instant high-rollers. Their views and perceptions matter to the corner office because their comments can be viewed by thousands at the touch of a computer key. Big brands including casinos that don't develop social media programs do so at their peril, said Jennifer Van Grove, an associate editor at, an online social media industry report. "I have 8,000 people following me on Twitter. If I post something, some are going to reply," she said. "You could have a whole chain of comments based on one incident. These hotels have to be involved." Indeed, the websites are, in part, a defensive measure for hotels. "The reality is, customers are going to talk about our brands with or without us," said Monica Sullivan, Harrah's Entertainment (HET) marketing vice president. "We want to be part of that dialogue," said Sullivan, a social-media expert who joined the company this year. "More customers are talking about the brands they love in social places on the Web rather than in e-mail." Van Grove said the trend can hold hotels accountable to their customers, fix problems, correct misconceptions and build loyalty. New technology isn't necessarily an easy sell for the casino industry, where managers have relied on decades-old marketing techniques. Weighing against communicating with customers on a more personal level were unknowns, such as the potential public relations risks of exposing a company to unfiltered public comments. "The way people acquire information is no longer the passive activity it once was," said Dave Kirvin of Kirvin Doak, a Las Vegas public relations and marketing firm that builds social media sites, monitors company sites and consults on social media for casino companies. "Online media ... allow consumers to be in charge of the news and information they receive," he said. "But when you engage the consumer using social media, you get the opportunity to both deliver a message and receive one. That's very powerful." Harrah's Entertainment and MGM MIRAGE (MGM) started Facebook and Twitter accounts about two years ago. The sites now have thousands of followers. The hotels use social media pages not just to promote themselves or drive business, but to learn what people say about them, interact with customers and influence a broad audience. "This is part of how people live today spending hours on Facebook," said George Maloof, owner of the Palms hotel-casino, which is not affiliated with the two largest casino companies. Although the casino giants have corporate employees who oversee information exchanges and establish best practices, the work mostly falls to marketing staffs at each hotel. To maintain credibility, companies tend not to remove critical comments unless they contain foul or offensive language. "Everyone's entitled to their opinion," Sally Gaughan, South Point's director of Internet marketing, said about the negative slot machine comment. "We wanted to give people a place to talk about the South Point and we wanted it to be genuine." Companies also recognize that good will from fixing a problem can create ripples online. MGM MIRAGE recently won kudos from fans after a concierge offered to fix a problem for a customer who posted on Facebook that he was unhappy with his meal at a company Strip resort. In another instance, a customer who won show tickets complained online that he couldn't use them because he had a conflict. MGM MIRAGE gave him free tickets for another date. "We have terms of use no profanity or inappropriate content. But we're open to all conversations," said Lou Ragg, executive director of Internet operations for MGM MIRAGE. "We want the information. And we want people to know we're listening to them." Station Casinos, which launched Facebook and Twitter pages this year, is recruiting people from across the company to post factoids and recommendations. Customer feedback is expected in months to come to help shape business decisions. "We're just scratching the surface with this," company spokeswoman Lori Nelson said. "It's like how websites started in the 1990s. The conversation we have today about social media is going to be completely different a year from now."

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