How casinos are using Facebook, Twitter and more to engender customer loyalty and drive slot play

At Barona Valley Resort & Casino outside San Diego, Internet marketing director Michael Kupinsky ticked off interactive social media.

Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Yelp. Foursquare. A blog.

“Basically we’ve worked social in so that it is another channel for our marketing efforts,” he said. “As we approach any promotion ideas, it’s always, ‘All right, how does social fit?’ It’s kind of top of mind, which is nice.”

The explosion of social media that has people around the world connecting via their computers, trading information, photos and video has reached the casino industry.

The idea that not only can you get real-time reaction to a Facebook post or a Twitter “tweet” but also that customers can instantaneously pass on anything they like to scores of friends has a huge marketing appeal. The potential for a post or video to “go viral,” and be passed from followers to friend to their friends and reach thousands in a very short time is a marketer’s dream. The various social media sites can all be linked back to the casino’s main Web site, and ideally, Kupinsky said, they all work together to drive casino visits.

“Social media is about creating community online,” said Michael Lightman, vice president of sales at GameLogic, Inc., which provides casinos with game and contest content for their Facebook pages through its PlayAway application. “Facebook is the largest social networking site with more than 350 million active users. And, the faster growing demographic is women, ages 55-plus. There is a very natural fit between online social media and casino marketing in general.”

GameLogic’s PlayAway on Facebook application helps keep players involved with a casino and its brand in between trips to the property.

PlayAway is designed to keep players involved with a casino and its brand in between trips. Its suite of games and tournaments offered through a casino Facebook page enables the operator to develop its own prize structure and determine what it wants to bring to the customer who is away.

“We have developed an application for Facebook that is an example of how a casino might take its social media initiative to the next level,” Lightman said. “Our application provides casino operators the ability to run free-to-play games and contests directly inside the casino’s Facebook world. Facebook members can sign up to play in a variety of ways, including by visiting a casino’s Facebook fan page, by browsing the Facebook app store, or perhaps most effectively by opting-in directly from their news feed when they see a Facebook friend playing. Most importantly, every time a Facebook member plays one of our on-line games or participates in a in one of our on-line tournaments his/her actions automatically posts on his/her Facebook wall. His/her Facebook friends are therefore immediately notified of the activity and are automatically invited to join in the online fun. Soon a highly active online community becomes a direct extension of the casino’s real-world community that it builds from.”

The community building doesn’t stop at the computer. Smart phones such as the iPhone enable customers and potential customers to take social media everywhere. That’s the focus of Foursquare, a location-based medium that calls on uses to update their location as they check in with friends. Points are awarded toward badges that remain on a user’s profile for checking in at member venues. Barona has defined its overall property as a Foursquare venue, along with its restaurants and other amenities.

A variety of services, including the ability to book a room, or check in, are among the benefits of MGM Mirage’s iPhone applications.

An app for that

That portable social media capability via the iPhone is also a focus at MGM Mirage, which late in May launched its Vegas Reality application compatible with the iPhone 3GS. Using GPS technology, a Vegas Reality user on the Strip, or even within a radius of about 5 to 20 miles from the Strip, can point in the direction of an MGM Mirage property. The application will not only bring property information on shows, restaurants and other amenities, it can access the property’s Twitter feed, share video including famous moments in Las Vegas history, take a virtual tour of the Strip and book hotel, show or restaurant reservations on the spot.

It’s one of a series of five new phone apps that are spreading through MGM Mirage properties.

“Day after day it seems the whole social media opportunity to connect with customers is ever-growing so we wanted to make sure we were staying on the front edge of that,” said Scott Voeller, MGM Mirage vice president of marketing. “If you look at the trends of where smart phones are demographically, there’s quite a bit of growth in the market that hits the sweet spot for the casino customer.

“Vegas Reality is highly intuitive and very, very easy to use. That was our key. Our partner on the app is McAfee Labs in San Francisco, and we spent a lot of time with them. It took a lot of time to understand what’s important to the customer and what’s going to make that application as useful as possible. That was our goal. It wasn’t a matter of creating a really cool phone app for the sake of phone app. What we really wanted to do was to make it relevant to our customers.”

Beyond the phone apps, Voeller said, “We’re engaged in all the various channels (including Facebook and Twitter). What’s important is that we use the channels correctly, that it’s the customers who define the content and how they want you to market to them via those channels, and so we spent a lot of time talking with customers about it. For a lot of people, social media may be the preferred way they want to be communicated to. We spend a lot of time asking people what’s the best way, what is your preference, and that’s why we’ve designed Facebook and Twitter as a part of our mainstream effort, and of course the mobile space now is a way we find to be very useful so far.”

Most casinos have joined the trend and have Facebook pages of their own, though slot machine manufactures are just starting to climb on board. While Facebook pages have been created ABOUT major slot manufacturers that basically repeat information from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, WMS Gaming has taken the plunge into social media. It links off the “For Players” page on its main Web site to its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube sites. On its Facebook wall” where it can post information and get feedback from fans, WMS asks questions such as “Which Goldfish game is your favorite?” or posts jackpot amounts on its Reel Adventure wide-area progressive link. Twitter, designed for short messages of 140 characters or less, can pass along real-time information. And WMS’ YouTube channel brings promotional videos for games such as The Price is Right and Star Trek.

Barona's YouTube channel.

Keeping it real

The workhorse of all the social media is Facebook, and at Barona, “We’ve tried to stay really on the cutting edge with Facebook, so as they release their new Open Graph initiative, which allows sites to integrate more Facebook functionality, we’ve included that into our site,” Kupinsky said. “All our events or promotions, slots or otherwise now have the ability to click a “like” button right on our site, that’s prompted them to log onto Facebook, but puts onto their wall that they liked this content, with a link back to our site.”

Facebook and Twitter offer Barona the chance for more informal communication with its customers, as does the blog linked off Barona’s main Web site, While content on the main Web site can be more polished, Kupinsky said a more informal touch is called for in social media.

Linda Devine, Barona’s senior vice president of marketing, gave the example of a couple of Barona slot initiatives, the Loose Troop, slot techs who loosen payouts on slot machines on the floor, and Manufacturer’s Best, where Barona certifies that the game version offered is the highest-paying available from a manufacturer. Signage identifies the Loose Troop and Manufacturer’s Best machines.

“The blog really gives our VP of slots, Chuck Hickey, a perfect venue where he can explain a little more and provide more information about the Manufacturers Best program and the Loose Troop program,” Devine said. “And it gives people the opportunity to comment if they do have questions.”

That customer feedback provides instant customer service opportunities, as when a Barona specialist jumped on a Twitter post by a customer who was about to celebrate a wedding anniversary at Barona’s steak house. The specialist sent the customer a happy anniversary message via Twitter, obtained the customers name and made the dinner reservations.

“That evening when the person got there, they had their dinner, they had a wonderful experience, and the restaurant staff followed right in line with this initiative,” Kupinsky said. “They came out with a customized dessert that said ‘Happy Anniversary’ in chocolate on this dessert plate and gave it to this person. She was thrilled. She immediately took a picture with her phone and put out a Twit pic via Twitter, and said look what Barona steak house did for our dessert. And that went out to 571 of her followers. That type of value is awesome for us.”

All that instant communication comes with a warning, Kupinsky pointed out.

“It’s not like traditional advertising and marketing. In social media things that are valued the most are to be real, to be authentic, to show a human side. That’s really uncomfortable for a lot of organizations, because it goes against what they’ve always done. They want to put up the polished face, and it’s a hard transition. But you can still do both in a lot of ways. The question is, are you there, to listen and respond and can you provide them with some value. Because ultimately it’s about them.”