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Getting Wired

What's on Your Mind? Social Media and the Gaming Industry, Part 1

Getting Wired

We all know the marketing buzzwords of the gaming industry, from direct mail to comps to personal hosts. But there’s a new buzzword in marketing these days, one that can mean communication with your customers that is even more instantaneous than calling a host over.

It relates to all the new networks that are becoming essential tools of the nation, from Congress to the boardroom. We may have first seen it used by our kids, but we can no longer ignore the impact or potential of social media.

What is social media, and why do you need to pay attention to it?

Social networking is clearly the hottest topic in marketing, and something that every business needs to know about. In this article and in the series that will follow, I will demystify social media and help you to understand the implication it has on the gaming business.

According to Wikipedia: Social media is online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. Social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content; it’s a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal, political and business use. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).

Translation: The phenomenon of social media is a historic transformation. Throughout history, the masses have absorbed whatever message and content that those in power wanted them to absorb. From monarchies and religious leaders to newspaper barons and cable news moguls, the message has always been crafted at the top and then trickled down. Social media is rapidly changing that.

Using websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, people can now reach out across the street and across the globe simultaneously, be it for social reasons, business reasons, or both. According to Nielsen Online, social networking now ranks above email as the fourth-most popular online activity. The same report shows that while total time spent online grew by 18 percent in 2008, time spent on social networking sites grew by a whopping 63 percent.


It is important to recognize who all of these new users are. While there is growth across most all demographics, Nielson points out that the strongest growth in 2008 on Facebook, the internet’s largest social networking and sharing site, was in the critical 35- to 49-year-old segment, and that Facebook added nearly twice as many users who are 50-plus in 2008 as it did users under 18.

Some estimate that as of the middle of 2009, there are as many 35- to 49-year-olds on Facebook as there are 18- to 34-year-olds. According to Wired magazine, March 2009: “Women over 55 remain the fastest-growing group, and growth among the teen and college-age set has been relatively paltry. In absolute numbers there are now even slightly more members between the ages of 45 and 65 than there are 13- to 17-year-olds.”
    
Gaming Applications
So this begs the question, what does this mean for business?  And more specifically to this audience, what does it mean for the gaming business?

At first, it is pretty frightening to think that consumers now have the megaphone, and that they get a say in crafting and broadcasting the message. But for those forward-looking executives that recognize the magnitude of this paradigm shift, and embrace the possibilities, there is a major competitive advantage to be had.

Never before have there been so many direct channels to communicate with your customers. From the operation (and evolution) of loyalty programs to the messaging of special promotions, marketing executives can now tap into seemingly endless avenues for reaching out to their existing customers and sourcing new ones.

It is easy to look at the broad landscape that is social media and miss out on the most critical element that social media provides to companies-the ability to expand on the relationships that you have with your existing and prospective customers. From iPhones to Blackberries and Facebook to Twitter, technology has rapidly moved us into a far more integrated world. Businesses from your bank to your favorite sports team to your favorite casino are working to find ways to integrate themselves into your life in new and different ways.

Be it a contest that you run or a video that you post, the real magic of social media for a business happens when your content goes viral. When content goes viral, it means that hundreds, thousands or even millions of people use email, sharing sites or other means to tell their friends and followers about your product or service.

The chart on the following page shows top sites by market share of the “sharing” market.

Here are a few anecdotal examples of social media’s impact, from online marketers around Las Vegas.

A marketing coordinator at a major Strip resort was managing her property’s Facebook page and saw a post from a woman who had just reserved a room for her birthday party in Vegas. She was wondering if anyone could recommend a show and a restaurant for her birthday celebration. The marketing coordinator reached out to the concierge desk and had a concierge respond to the future guest with recommendations and an offer to help make arrangements for the birthday celebration. The guest took the concierge up on the offer and ended up holding her party (dinner, show and club) on property, leading to the property keeping significant ancillary revenue in house.

Where has there ever been a platform for guests to pose questions like this and for us as marketers to have an opportunity to score points with our guests before they even arrive? As social media channels continue to evolve and we become more savvy at capitalizing on the opportunities they provide, stories like this will be commonplace, and our relationship with our guests will extend well beyond the current boundaries of check-in to check-out.

On the flip side of the previous example where Facebook provided an opportunity to positively impact the guest pre-trip, some savvy properties are starting to see the potential for service recovery through Twitter and other websites.


Imagine this. A guest comes to your property and for whatever unfortunate reason had a bad experience with one of your blackjack dealers. The guest then goes back to his room and Tweets about the terrible experience he just had. Never before have we as operators had the ability to listen in when our customers go home and tell their friends and colleagues about their experience at our property.

Now, using simple search functionality on sites likes Twitter, we can have team members responsible for monitoring all references to our property (and those of our competition if we see fit) and responding as needed with the voice of the property.

Imagine if we had reached out via Twitter and offered this guest an outlet to tell his story to casino management and then taken whatever steps necessary to turn a negative into a positive. These tools can be used across nearly all of the consumer-facing departments of the property, from F&B and slot marketing to entertainment and poker.

Twitter is being embraced across the hospitality industry. For example, Simon Cooper, the president of Ritz-Carlton, Tweets regularly to his nearly 2,000 followers. Not only does this give Mr. Cooper a direct line to speak to those who are following him, but it also provides employees and customers alike a way to reach out to him directly. (Want to follow Simon Cooper? http://twitter.com/Simonfcooper.)

What’s Next?
It is not surprising that so many properties are unsure of where to start when it comes to social media. The reality is that the landscape is crowded, and there is more to a comprehensive social media campaign than setting up pages for your property on Facebook and Twitter. From video optimization on your own site and through websites like YouTube and Viddler to social bookmarking on Digg and Delicious, it is important to take a step back and come up with a plan for covering all of your bases.

A July 2009 report from Razorfish points out that 40 percent of consumers using social media are using it to learn more about brands. Less than one year into the explosion of social media as a focal point on the marketing landscape, this is pretty incredible penetration.

In the coming articles in this series, we will teach you how to devise and implement a comprehensive social media marketing strategy. We will also continue to track the explosion of social media and report back on its many applications to the gaming industry.

This article is the first in a series on how to use social networking to market your casino.

Justin Cohen is a partner at Internet Marketing Inc., a full-service online marketing consulting firm that focuses on assisting its clients with interactive marketing and strategic planning to increase online exposure, improve conversion rates, and help businesses grow revenue and profits. Cohen manages the firm’s Las Vegas Gaming and Hospitality office and oversees all aspects of the company’s business operations in the Southwest and mountain regions. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-835-6986.

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