Social media as customer service: Learn from Zipcar

For many small businesses or individual business users, the idea of using the tools of social media is appealing because they see it as an easy “broadcasting” tool. It gets them on the web even when they don’t have a deep or robust web presence.

Yes, this is true, but the real value of social media, be it Twitter, Facebook, blogging platform, etc., is the ability to interact with customers/clients. In a post last week I showed how you can use Twitter to prospect for clients. But an even simpler way to use social media is to just listen and respond.

A great example of social media as customer service tool is to look at how Zipcar uses their Twitter  and Facebook account. Cambridge, MA-based Zipcar is operator of a car -sharing service, mainly in densely populated urban areas. Its emphasis is on self-service (complete with iPhone app) and the ability for members to easily get a car from service lots or easily accessed locations.

I won’t extoll all the virtues of their social media efforts but small businesses can learn the lessons of social-media-as-customer-service from Zipcar: On Twitter (4,600+ followers) it’s obvious that Zipcar is monitoring all mentions of the word “Zipcar” and responding/tweeting to customers who may be less than happy. Or to ones who are. I don’t know what tool they use, but if you can set up a free Hootsuite account or Tweetdeck account, your business can do the same thing by using the search functions. Or you can always use Google Alerts.

Here’s a textbook case of someone who tweeted about not being able to get a Zipcar for a holiday — and a Zipcar manager got in touch with them: Zipcar Does Social Media Right.

Here’s the value of listening: Think how much one good positive customer story like that is worth. Would it be that hard to ask that happy customer to post a review on Yelp? Or to write an email and ask permission to use that “testimonial” on your , blog or in a newsletter?

It’s also obvious that the Twitter team at Zipcar is doing some client prospecting: like my prior post mentioned, they are monitoring tweets for mentions of people with car/transportation issues, and reaching out to them on Twitter to suggest using Zipcar.

Of course they are also, amid the replies to users (happy or not), reminding people of services and promotions. Such as $150 in free driving when a member gets their boss to sign up the company for a business account. And that’s not all they have for promotion either: they just launched a Scvngr promotion that lets members earn points to rewards.

On Facebook, Zipcar is simply doing a stellar job of company promotion, but it is more one-way than their Twitter account. Still … it’s a great Facebook page, complete with videos and deep info on their “info” tab.

The point is: interacting with customers isn’t that hard, but you have to get in the game.

Hotels and social media: Boston hotels that get it right

One of the industries that is over all doing a good job with adopting social media is the hotel industry. Social media is a good fit with hotels: people interact with hotel s a lot and social media lets hotels inform their potential customers about what makes them unique — beyond the hotel room photos and amenities page.

What’s also amazing is how many hotels … don’t do social media. I guess some hotels just don’t want to stand apart from the competition.

A pet peeve mention: I’m guessing that because so many hotel s are corporate designed (they all follow the same template) and social media is new that so many of the social icons are at the bottom of the page. This is a huge mistake. Bug someone at the head office about this – please.

Here are just a few Boston properties that are doing a better-than-average job with social media  – and how.

The Charles Hotel: The Charles is on top of its game. Their Facebook page promotes their Farmer’s Market, artists at their Regattabar, Henrietta’s Table (in-hotel restaurant), and even room discounts and a special Yelp promotion. They’re also posting about positive mentions (like on a travel blog). Their Twitter account has more than 4,000 followers (wow) and is chatty – a good mix of replies and posts.

Four Seasons Boston: Another busy Facebook page that does a great job with promotion. Right now on their page they have a link at the top to a video on their wedding planning services. The other posts act like concierge recommendations — and who doesn’t want a recommendation from a Four Seasons concierge? Their Twitter account has more than 1,600 followers. Here too is a mix of promotion and customer service.

The Colonnade: Hooray – social media links at the top of the page! Good use of video on their Facebook page (like video from a recent rooftop party) and pictures too, like images of “Collette” the Colonnade’s rubber duck mascot (good branding strategy). The Colonnade on Twitter is using a strategy I call “local flavor” – they really emphasize local news/events, including local celebrity sightings. About 1,200 followers.

I’ve already mentioned before the good job the Boston Seaport Hotel does, so I won’t rehash that (you can read my post about them here).

There are others that are doing a good job with Twitter but fall down on Facebook — or do well on Facebook but fall down on Twitter. These days, with customers’ eyeballs everywhere, it doesn’t look good to fail in execution on one or the other when so many others do both well.

Now, about not blogging … but that’s another story.

The Boston Seaport Hotel: An example of easy social media marketing

A couple of months ago I attended one of Mashable’s Social Media Day tweetups as the Boston Seaport Hotel. It was the first time I’d attended an event there and after I got there I realized why the social media savvy types chose that hotel. The function room was beautiful with a panoramic view of Boston Harbor across seen through expansive glass walls.

It wasn’t until later I went to their and found their Twitter and Facebook accounts. They do a good job of simple social media marketing. You’d be surprised how many hotels (and even luxury condo developments) don’t do social media marketing.

The Boston Seaport Hotel on Twitter: This is a textbook example of how easy it is to get a much-followed popular Twitter account. The account has 1,799 followers and their messaging is simple and direct marketing. What do you want when you visit a hotel Twitter account? You want to get the “flavor” of the place.

They have this in spades: you’ll see they are promoting their restaurant; they are promoting their memory foam and other pillows from their “pillow library” (with a link to their amenities web page); they are announcing food specials at their bar, TamoBar (which has its own Twitter page too). The point is – you get a sense of activity and hospitality.

The Boston Seaport on Facebook: This is still what I’d classify as a “plain vanilla” Facebook page, but it is active and fun. You’ll find photos of prepared dishes by a new chef here. They post photos from guests who’ve held wedding receptions as well. And they are generally “chatty” about company news. The page only has about 526 fans, so it’s not like they are a runaway train on Facebook. But their page does show what you want to see — their “Info” tab features a detailed list of hours of operation for their restaurant, bar and fitness center.

There are a few things they could do to make their social media really shine. For instance, their Twitter page could use a custom background (like a high-res picture of the hotel or view of Boston Harbor from a function room). I’d also add an info box on that custom background too (some description, details of amenities, phone numbers, etc.).

They could also use a custom landing page for their Facebook page — one built with static FBML, which can make a Facebook page look like a web page. This is a “clean slate” on which they can do anything.  Hotels should really be giving their visitors an “oh wow” moment when they land on Facebook. For example, look at what the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group do on their Facebook landing page.

But still – the Seaport Hotel does a great job, and it is proof that it’s not that hard to do social media marketing for a hotel.