Thursday, October 16, 2008

When business goes social

When we started putting together a package for our upcoming Nov. 3 issue on the effects of the Internet on the hotel industry, I immediately knew what section I wanted to tackle: social networking. I have been known to master my way through Facebook with unsurpassed skill—if anyone has a question about someone's interests, activities or work information, I can find it. It actually became a game between my friends in college—"OK, her favorite movies are 'Clueless,' 'Waiting for Guffman' and 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.' Name that girl." Not kidding, we did that (that girl would have been me).

Obviously, the site has expanded well past its original intent of connecting college students around the country. The site has gone global and now links people of all ages, races and backgrounds with each other. I'm a firm believer in Facebook as a social network, not a business network. But nowadays, I feel we just-past-college-aged kids are having to succumb our fun, revealing profiles for boring, professional pages. It's a sad state for those of us who knew Facebook way back when, but the times, they are a-changin'.

I learned of these changing times when I started researching for our An Industry Connected series (check out the magazine and on Nov. 3 for the print features as well as online exclusives). In fact, as an experiment, Hotel & Motel Management and Hotel Design launched their own Facebook pages (join us!). As I started to delve into hotel-related groups and fan pages, I realized people are using these to share anything and everything—they're posting job listings, sharing guest horror stories and giving and receiving advice on issues facing the hotel industry. Here are some of the astonishing numbers (as of Oct. 16):

Hoteliers on Facebook—20,215 members, and growing by the minute
Sheraton Hotels & Resorts—14,034 fans
Leading Hotels of the World—3,912 members
Hilton Hotels—2,877 fans
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide—2,231 fans
Riviera Hotel & Resort—2,121 members
Four Seasons Riyadh—2,000 members

So while I may long for the good ole days of the untainted Facebook, I do see the benefit and the sweeping effect it's having on the industry. People are connecting more than ever and faster than ever, and they're not looking back to their pre-Facebook days.

Hopefully this will result in hotels (and many other businesses—including magazines) improving by gaining advice from different properties around the world. If not, I might have a chip on my shoulder for all you business people who ruined my social network.

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