As travel brands join more conversations on social media, being casual and keeping the brand identity and values intact has to be more fluid.
That’s especially hard when you’re a well-love brand that gets purchased by a global giant, as happened when InterContinental Hotels Group bought Kimpton in December for $430 million.
Kimpton’s biggest fans turned to social media first to voice their worries, but Kimpton has maintained its own identity since the merger, especially across Twitter, Facebook, and the other social channels.
Skift caught up with Whitney Smith, Director of Social Media Manager at Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants about how it still differentiates its brand and translates its values on social media. An edited version of the interview follows:
Skift: The ways that Kimpton Hotels is trying to differentiate itself against its competitors is really important. Can you go into more depth on your brand values?
Smith: If you think about airports, a lot of times that’s just a faceless experience. There’s nobody checking you in who is just super kind, and oftentimes you’re not speaking to the person next to you on the plane. Bill Kimpton started our hotels to really take some of the loneliness and coldness out of the travel experience, which I think is really cool, and makes a lot of sense, especially to someone who has been traveling for business for the past ten years.
You look at the design of our hotels, we have what we call living rooms. We don’t call our lobbies lobbies, we call them living rooms, and they have really comfortable seating and fireplaces, and we host wine hour there in our living room every day at 5 pm. Wine hour’s an opportunity to meet other guests and to talk with our hotel staff, and bring a face to travel. We base our values highly on really personalized interactions with our guests, and that surprises and delights them.
When we’re talking about Kimpton’s brand values and how they show up on property, it’s really how we celebrate genuine compassion, and what we call heartfelt human care. Because inclusion and individuality is a big one for us we want everyone to feel welcome at our hotels. And we always have since day one.
What that looks like is we hire the right people, and these are people who just get it. They know how to show empathy, and they lead with emotion. They’re able to tap into that emotional intelligence and really read every situation differently, and every person differently.
Skift: How are you translating brand values and look and feel on social media?
Smith: These brand values really translate over social in a lot of different ways. Because we know that our guests value something a little bit different, they’re going to get a different experience every time they interact with us on social. Our hotels, they’ll often surprise and delight our guests with a custom welcome amenity. We look at your preferences for your Kimpton Karma account, and we see that you love anything lemon flavored. You’ll have a lemon bar and limoncello waiting in your room for you.
When we do social surprise and delights online, we may be chatting with you, and you say, “I really miss the zebra print robe I had in my room at the Alexis Hotel.” We might just mail you one from home office. I’ll go to the supply closet, and look up the person’s address in our system or direct message them to get their address, and send them a robe.
Then I guess another example would be last week, someone tweeted us and said, “Due to unfortunate circumstances, I was unable to bring my ukulele to the hotel,” or something. I know, so random. Our social team saw that, got in touch with the team on property, who ran out and found what was I think a $50 ukulele, because that was the only ukulele in Portland. We had it waiting in that person’s room. They’re going to get a different experience every time they interact with us, and we know that that’s what they value. That’s a big way that that comes into play.
Skift: Can you talk more about emotional intelligence and reading your guest needs?
Smith: Really, it’s reading more than the need. It’s about tapping into that IQ and really saying, “This person seems like a great fit for us. They seem like a guest who appreciates what we have to offer, and we want to surprise and delight them online.” What’s been cool about having this social team, and having the management that we have, is really that we’re empowered to surprise and delight people. We have gift cards, and we have Kimpton swag that we can send, just for a basic day-to-day interaction. It’s really not just to meet needs from a customer care perspective, but to delight people unexpectedly.
Skift: Since you strive for personalization, how are you able to maintain consistency of brand voice on social media?
Smith: Empowerment. We’ve got these core values that I just talked about, and all of our employees are trained on them, they know them. Most of the time, these values come very naturally to them. We’ll train them on Kimpton’s social voice, how we show up on social, what type of language we use. We also hire people that just understand that they can take certain liberties, that authenticity is really necessary in a lot of interactions, both in person and online.
We have certain ways that we deal with certain situations. Whether it’s a service recovery or just excitement about a visit, authenticity really is at the center of everything we do. We empower people to lead with what feels right, and just keep our core values in mind.
Skift: When you’re hiring someone to be part of your social media team, what are most important skills they need to have and why?
Smith: We look for people, obviously, that have great written communication skills, because that’s most of how we’re communicating. We’re not hopping on the phone with these guests. Beyond that, I would say the emotional intelligence factor comes into play a lot. People have to be able to read a situation, and that’s particularly challenging when you can’t see people’s facial cues and expressions. They have to be able to read into tone and language, and determine what this guest is feeling, put themselves in their shoes, and show empathy. Really, someone that just cares about people.
Skift: Besides surprising and delighting your guests with personalized experiences, how are you extending the concierge aspect of the hotel business on social media?
Smith: Well, every hotel has a concierge, right, and you can walk up to that desk and say, “I’m here with my family, we’ve got two days. My kids are age six and eight. What should we do?” I think we try and go above and beyond in that we offer suggestions even when people don’t ask. We’ll make a friendly suggestion.
A lot of the inbound messages that we see, in fact I think it’s a little over 30%, we tag as “future visit, excitement.” People have either just booked their stay with us, or they’re coming in a week, or it’s Thursday and they’re arriving tomorrow. They’re tweeting because they’re excited, so they tweet something like, “Can’t wait for this weekend, girls’ weekend in DC at the Monaco.” That type of just excitement about a future visit is really a big percentage of what we’re seeing come in every day.
It’s more than just doing it for trying to be a concierge service, it’s really just doing it to be helpful, because we care. We want these people to have a good trip, and we’re passionate about the cities that we’re in.
Skift: Now that you’re part of IHG, how is Kimpton Hotel’s brand values being represented on social?
Smith: We’ve got our own social team, and we’re doing things exactly the same way as we did before the acquisition. It’s the same group of people, we’re doing things the same way we always have.