This was the primary takeaway from a panel on social media best practices that took place last month at the Global Gaming Expo conference and trade show at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas.
Despite the potential for negative public relations, the marketing opportunity from social media is such that all casino operators will eventually have to delve into the medium, panelists said. Most people commonly associate social media with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, but it is really so much more, including Web sites such as Foursquare, Flickr, review pages such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, blog sites-literally hundreds of places where people, including casino visitors, share news and views about their experiences. It’s a world where Facebook is the No. 1 most-visited site on the Internet and YouTube is the No. 2 search engine behind Google. The fastest-growing category is mobile use of social media, where panelists said 700 billion-plus minutes per month are used on mobile phones to access social media sites, particularly Facebook, and where 87 percent of North Americans have smart phones and download nine apps per month.
With that in mind, the biggest danger may be not getting in the game at all.
“Yes, social media is real, as much as some of us don’t want to jump in,” said Alisa Mirabal, vice president of marketing for Marketing Results Inc. “If you’re avoiding social media because you’re afraid or just want to wait until there’s the perfect situation, there’s no such thing. If you are not in the dialog about yourself, it’s going on without you.”
The dialog needs to be light and conversational, a two-way interaction.
“You always want to tie everything back to your brand, but maybe you want to establish a little more fun personality online, and this obviously is the place to do it,” said John Policicchio, digital marketing manager at MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit. “It’s a social space and people are sharing and having fun.”
Operators need to know what their customers are saying online, Policicchio added. “As far as listening goes, there is a tool out there called Radian6. I like it a lot. Or you can do things like Google alert as a tool to find what people are saying about you. The key is establishing a keyword set. Property name, name of restaurants, promotions you’re thinking about running, entertainers you’re thinking of bringing into your property. ‘I want to hear about this and this and this.’ It helps you find your customers.”
CUSTOMER RESPONSEIt’s important to game manufacturers as well as operators, with companies including Bally Technologies, Aristocrat Technologies, International Game Technology and Shuffle Master using mainstream social media sites. WMS Gaming uses not only Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but has created its own social space with Players Life, bringing players a chance to interact with game designers as well as play free games online.
Away from the seminar room, operators discussed their social media goals and challenges.
“We are finding that most of the people who are connecting with us on the social media are the actual players, the slot players, the consumers and not so much our customers, since our customers are the casino operators,” said Laura Olson-Reyes, director of corporate communications for Bally Technologies. “So what we do to add value to our customers is to try and support them in their efforts. If they’re launching a new Bally game, we’ll promote it on social media. If they’re doing an onfloor Betty Boop promotion, we’ll support that or promote that on social media.”
Shuffle Master, primarily a table games presence in the United States that markets slot machines overseas, introduced its Shuffle Interactive site where it will give players a chance to practice games before trying them in a casino environment. Dan Taylor, emerging media manager at Shuffle Master, said the site will work hand in hand with established social media.
“It’s difficult to reach out to players in any other way but social media,” Taylor said. “So we thought it’d be a good idea to get out there on Facebook and Twitter and tell people about our products. It’s a great way to reach out to people playing our games.”
At WMS, an early adopter of social media among gaming companies and developer of its own interactive space, Executive Director of Marketing Candace Lucas said, “We give the player the opportunity for self-expression and community. And with that comes active listening to their positive and negative feedback on our games through forums and other social sites. We offer the players an authentic conversation and we use this information to better shape the games of tomorrow for our casino partners. The players appreciate it and come back.”
For operators, the key is interesting content and offering followers a deal through social media and their associated mobile apps, said Rick Campbell, director of marketing at Choctaw Casinos.
“Most interesting is that 60 percent of people are willing to trade their location for special deals,” said Campbell, referring to a 2010 Emarketer survey. “They are willing to share more information with you as long as they can get something out of it. When you look at putting your casino out there as a brand, you’ll find 40 percent of Facebook users do follow a brand. Fifty-one percent of the brand followers purchase that particular brand. That tells us that if you can get them to interact with you and become a follower on Facebook, you can probably get a little more interaction with them.
“You have to make it worthwhile,” Campbell added. “You have to speak about it, and give them something to talk about. I’ve seen some instances where casinos were putting it out there, ‘At 9:00 a.m. this morning, we’re giving away a car.’ That doesn’t tell me much. If you have enough room on there, you can really spell it out and move forward with it.”
Just what kind of values an operator offers is open to imagination. Slot content could include anything from an early peek at a new game to a social media-follower-only tournament to a slot points giveaway for Facebook fans.
“Every month I badger the hotel for some special rates,” Policicchio said. “They are actually very good, better than you’ll be able to find online, and they will only be posted on Facebook and Twitter. They don’t make it to our Web site. People are now starting to ask about them. They obviously want them on Fridays and Saturdays, and maybe we can do one once in a while. They start re-Tweeting it for you, and if I have four rooms they’re gone in a couple of hours.
“When one of our restaurants is having a chef’s special, we take a picture of it and post it,” Policicchio added. “You can click on Facebook for reservations. We have these viewing parties in our theater. Long story short, it’s a great place to watch a Red Wings game. Two thousand tickets will go in, well, 12 minutes was our record. They’re free, but 2,000 tickets move in 12 minutes.”
TRAINING FOR TROUBLEBut providing the right incentives is only part of the equation. When there are negative posts, the operator has to know how to react. A misstep can lead to a social media crisis, where a complaint can escalate to epic proportions in minutes. Campbell pointed to the problems Netflix had after announcing it was raising its rates.
“They got a lot of derogatory comments on their Facebook page,” he said “They started deleting, and after they started deleting there were about 5,000 blogs that afternoon that hit them. Instead of them going ahead and using the channels of social media to address the issue, they just deleted and went on TV and said, ‘We’re sorry.’ Now the blogs doubled even more, the last time looked someone said there were more than 60,000 blogs talking about how badly NetFlix has treated them. If they don’t take charge, and stop it through social media channels, it’ll just keep building and building and building.”
Operators need to go into social media with a crisis management plan in place, said Yunita Hoo, social media manager for MGM Resorts International.
“Somebody asked, ‘When can you expect a social media crisis? When can we be prepared?’ There is no answer to that because a social media crisis can happen at any time,” Hoo explained. “Social media is 24/7, everybody has access to it, if something bad happens, they’re on your site.
Hoo recommended casinos establish a social media policy. “Every company should have a social media policy, not only for your marketing department and sales people and customer service, but also for your whole company because most of your employees are on social media,” Hoo said. “If you can, designate a social media manager. It’s very important to have someone monitor the conversations that are happening.
“Anything that happens onsite is probably going to wind up on Facebook or Twitter,” Hoo added. “Act quickly. Don’t confirm a problem actually happened. If somebody complains about a bedbug and you say, ‘Let me find out about the bedbug,’ that’s confirming that it actually happened. Don’t ignore it, don’t delete it. If it’s something you don’t want to comment about in a public forum, say, ‘Please email at and we’ll look into it,’ or ‘Can you email us at this address so we can detail what really happened?’ Don’t escalate.”
Policicchio also emphasized rapid response, noting that sometimes the complaint is legitimate, and the operator should take advantage of the opportunity to improve the product.
“You have to be honest and you have to be transparent, because people are going to see it online, and it will be relentless,” he said. “If you start deleting posts where people are complaining, it’ll never work because you’ll never be able to overpower the numbers. If 100 of them start posting complaints, you probably should get to the root of the problem.”
And sometimes a complaint will bring a PR opportunity.
“We had a woman who was pregnant in our hotel lobby who sent in a comment saying, ‘I’m in the hotel lobby and they won’t let me check in because the reservations under my fiancé’s name,’ and she was very grumpy,” Policicchio said “She wanted some ice water. We ran down to the lobby and gave her the ice water, and her jaw dropped.”
Potential crisis managed, aided by proper response to social media. SM