A tweet from the Twitter account of Barona Resort & Casino

 It was a cold, windy, snowy February day in southern Connecticut, and not enough poker players were going to make it to Mohegan Sun to fill a guaranteed prize pool. How to get the word out that the tournament would go on, but without the guarantee? … Blast it out on Twitter.

Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Welch, Minn., invited musicians to send recordings and compete for a spot in a “Battle of the Bands” to be held at its Island Event Center. How to get the recordings out to where the maximum number of music-lovers could listen and vote?

Post them on Facebook.

From It’s Vegas Baby at Blue Chip Casino Hotel Spa in Michigan City, Ind., to the Arena at The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, how does Boyd Gaming give customers a sneak preview of its entertainment and find audiences?

Post video on YouTube.

Almost as quickly as you can say “Friend me,” interactive social media have become important tools in the casino marketer’s kit, whether at single-property operations or through the multi-property Facebook and Twitter accounts kept by large companies such as Boyd, Harrah’s Entertainment and MGM Resorts International.

“It’s absolutely essential these days to have a robust presence on Facebook and on other social media channels,” says David Strow, director of corporate communications at Boyd.

Social media, with Facebook at the forefront, gives operators the immediacy of two-way contact, an opportunity to address customer concerns in a very public way, and a chance for promotions to “go viral,” reaching a much broader audience than just the casino’s data base. Customers and their Facebook friends take the casino brand and its promotions to an instant audience. And the numbers grow rapidly. In less than a year Mohegan Sun has surpassed 20,000 Facebook fans (and has a promotion tied to No. 25,000). Boyd, which launched its Facebook presence last September, has surpassed 35,000 fans on its various property pages.

“From a brand perspective, social media allows us to touch people in a very personal way,” says Maylette Garces, executive director/marketing services at Barona Resort & Casino near San Diego. “So while our Tweets and our posts reach hundreds and thousands of people, we have the opportunity to communicate with them on a very individual basis if they choose to do so. So we’ll follow up with comments that are posted on a positive experience and reinforce that experience so our brand is reinforced in a very positive way. If a comment is negative, we have the opportunity to make things better, going back to, again, strengthening and enhancing our brand and really building that relationship strongly.”

Early adopters of social media sites have tended to be young adults, but growth has been so strong and so fast that casino operators say they’re seeing a narrowing age difference between their Facebook fans and their data bases.

“I think that’s evolving and that it will continue to evolve,” says Michael Krupinsky, Internet marketing manager at Barona. “We can look at stats for Facebook, for example, and the 35-and-older market make up about a third of the users. That over-35 market has been growing at a tremendous rate as well. So we’re kind of multifaceted in terms of our audience, and we span a lot of that. We have a sizable percentage who are 45 and older and even 55 and older. It’s really interesting to see how it is continuing to change and evolve. More and more people are making [social media] a part of their life and how they communicate and how they find their information.”





Brad Marsh, Web site specialist, Treasure Island Resort & Casino

FISH WHERE THE FISH ARE

At Treasure Island, 70 percent of Facebook users are under 35, which Public Relations Manager Cindy Taube puts down in part to using it to promote non-gaming amenities, such as bowling, shows, the hotel and the property’s cruise ship. “The younger generation is technologically savvy, and that is how they communicate, via social media. That’s a perfect way to expose them to all of the great things that Treasure Island offers, and they can relate to it.” Each social media outlet has its own strengths. Facebook offers users the opportunity to customize, to use photographs and embed video. You can interact with customers on a “wall” for postings, and customers can share the page. MySpace is similar, but has an audience that skews younger than Facebook. Twitter is good for getting news out fast. And, of course, YouTube is the primary platform for sharing video. “With social media, as with everything that’s on the ’Net, it changes so quickly as technology changes,” says Jennifer Ballester, director of public relations and Internet marketing at Mohegan Sun. “So we basically started with a strategic plan to determine what vehicles we would use. We identified YouTube as an opportunity because we know that we had so much naturally happening here that we could capture and that would make for really interesting content. YouTube has a significant hold on their segment of the market; they’re a credible source. Fish where the fish are. “We then looked at Facebook. We spent a little time watching Facebook, watching what was playing out with Facebook versus MySpace, and also spent some time in consideration of the fact that we are a gaming company. What we found with MySpace is that it definitely skews younger; it had its limitations as far as people following us and becoming our friends; we couldn’t insure that they were 21 and over. We’re able to have control with Facebook. So the struggle between Facebook and MySpace netted out for us with Facebook as the way to go.” Facebook has such a large presence that it has become a primary focus for operators looking to use social media. “It’s like if you’re building a Web site and are concerned about getting traffic, Google is the only thing that matters,” explains Brad Marsh, Web site specialist at Treasure Island. “It has such a big share of the market. In terms of social media, Facebook has that level of distinction at this point. Twitter is definitely more for the techies, the people who are always looking for something new to use; so because of that it doesn’t have that same widespread standing that Facebook does. “Before I worked here I was programming manager for a software firm, and the No. 1 question we got from clients was ‘How am I going to get traffic to my Web site?’ It’s not, If you build it they will come. It’s not the Field of Dreams. Facebook, you don’t have that problem. If you put up a profile page, people will find it. You have guaranteed traffic. It’s just about using that traffic to bring more traffic to your actual Web site.”

Jennifer Ballester is director of public relations and Internet marketing for Mohegan Sun resort.

ATTRACTIVE VIRUS


The viral aspect is very attractive, says Boyd’s Strow.

“Once you put it out there, it gets forwarded along very quickly, so it gets your information out there to a very wide group of people who might be interested in what you have to offer,” he says. “It’s a very attractive communications channel in that respect. It’s an opportunity to introduce our brands and our amenities to people who may not be our customers right now. And they’re being introduced to us by people with whom they have a relationship.”

The way Strow sees it, the different platforms are really very closely linked.

“When we put up a status update on Facebook, when we put information up on Facebook, we automatically put it on a Twitter feed, so they go up simultaneously. But with Facebook you can include more information, you can imbed video from YouTube if there’s a company video or images. It gives you a little more flexibility. It’s easier on Facebook. A fan can forward along that information to an interested friend. You can follow that by property. But the number of views a certain posting gets far exceeds its number of fans, so you know that fans are forwarding to other friends.”

That introduction to potential new customers gives social media an extra boost as an adjunct to conventional Web sites.

“Obviously there’s some crossover from our existing data base,” says Ballester. “But we’re using it also as an opportunity to drive new business. With YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, we’re talking to a broader general public. And we’re trying to keep them engaged and updated on our theory that there’s something for everyone at Mohegan Sun. And using Facebook we try and cover all aspects of what we think that audience is looking for. So we’re talking about our entertainment. In some cases we’re talking about gaming. We use it as an opportunity to talk about our winners. People love to see their photos up there. We talk about special events that we have coming up, new restaurant openings, things like that.”

Reaching potential new customers is something Treasure Island successfully accomplished with its “Battle of the Bands”. MP3s of entries were posted, and the bands were whittled down via online vote to six finalists who got the opportunity to play on the big stage.

“We got over 1,500 votes the first day we launched this, and I think something like 60 percent were from Facebook,” Marsh says. “Fans were pushing it to their friends, who were pushing it to their friends, who were pushing it to their friends, and for essentially a two-week time period when the voting was open an insanely high percentage of our traffic came from Facebook alone, with absolutely no effort on our part. Almost all of them were new visitors to the site.”



A screen shot from the Facebook account of Treasure Island Resort & Casino

INSTANT GRATIFICATION



“It’s real time,” Ballester notes. “We have that specific following, especially when it comes to poker. We put that information out, and it’s instant, and they’re receiving it.”

Part of the trick is getting the different media to work together to maximize value.

“Suppose we’re having a band coming in,” Strow says. “We might post video of that band to YouTube, and then we link that video to our Facebook page, and we blast it out on Twitter. And we might say the first 100 Twitter fans who respond to this get in free this evening. There’s lots of different ways you can use these outlets to complement each other.”

Beyond the increasingly common use of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Krupinsky points to the importance of paying attention to the review sites like Yelp.

“On the one hand, it helps us to be honest about ourselves, about what we’re doing and how it’s being perceived out there,” he says. “It allows the users to have their say and say what they think in an avenue that’s independent, and for us that’s great, to be able to be there and share information and, hopefully, be validated that we’re doing the right thing. “

And while it’s still early in the process of fully integrating social media into casino marketing, the expectation certainly is that all that exposure in an interactive public space will bring value.

“Part of it is trying to monetize and keep an eye on that ROI,” Krupinsky says. “This isn’t just an exercise in having fun and playing. It’s really about finding ways to turn it back and at the end of the day get players in the door and increase revenue.”



John Grochowski is the author of six books on casino games, including “The Video Poker Answer Book” and “The Slot Machine Answer Book”. His weekly casino column is syndicated in several newspapers and magazines and on the Web. His tips for players are broadcast twice weekly on WBBM-AM NewsRadio 780 in Chicago.