Battle of the Digital Brands: Hilton Hotels vs. Starwood Hotels

In this week’s installment of Battle of the Brands, we look at what two big hotel chains, Hilton and Starwood, are doing in the digital space. Which brand has the best digital duvet?

Hilton:
Facebook: Hilton has 312,000 likes and 6,000 people talking about the brand. The timeline image, where a man and woman are poolside at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek Hotel, has the accompanying tagline: The Great Getaway. The company’s timeline starts in 1919 when Conrad Hilton purchased The Mobley, his first hotel. Traveling through the last century, the Hilton timeline runs through the company’s highlights — first hotel with air conditioning! first hotel with running water! first hotel chain that goes coast-to-coast! — with old timely pictures. Links take Facebook users to photos, videos, Hilton Honors rewards program and booking. Posts highlight the hotel chains hotels around the world and often ask users to like a post. It also conducts contests. The most recent: winners won a free trip to WorldPride 2012 in London, including VIP tickets and two nights at the Waldorf Hilton in London.

Twitter: The hotel chain has 40,000 followers on Twitter and the brand approaches the social network with gusto, tweeting almost 22,000 times. Hilton has found a Twitter strategy that all brands should emulate. Tweets range from customer service to informative (about the company, about particular hotels, about locations) and provide links and contests to its followers. But the main thing with the feed is that it is providing value to its followers.

YouTube: There are 86 videos with 95,000 views on the company’s YouTube Channel, with 441 YouTube subscribers. Videos are, naturally, promotional in nature. Interestingly, there appears to be some short series of chefs at different Hilton Hotels. There’s also what appears to be a series of “How To’s” from its Hawaii hotels: how to hula, how to surf, how to make a tropical cocktail. Sign me up! There are also videos of several Hilton Hotels around the world.

Mobile Site: Hilton’s mobile site is one of simplicity and functionality. There are three links: Find a hotel; My reservations; Sign-in Hilton HHonors. There’s a number to call to book by phone, as well as the option to view the full HTML site.

Mobile App: The iPhone app is exactly like the mobile site, down to the design. So depending on your mobile preference, browser or app, at least you’ll know you’re getting the exact same thing.

Starwood:
Facebook: Starwood has 41,000 likes and 600 people talking about it on Facebook. The corporate parent of such hotels as the W, Westin and Sheraton (among many others) still has a ways to go in incorporating Facebook into its brand communications. The timeline starts with the company joining Facebook in 2008. With so many brands under its umbrella, it’s missing an opportunity to highlight them under the corporate brand’s page. Links go to photos, Starwood home (a place to book rooms at its hotels), Starwood careers, its Twitter feed and its careers Twitter feed, preferred guests and its partnership page with UNICEF. Posts range in frequency (several times a day some weeks, and then nothing for a few days) as well as content. The brand tries to engage by asking poll questions (If you could choose any Starwood brand to spend your summer vacation at, which one of the nine would it be?), but also posts promotional posts about its hotels and behind-the-scenes pictures and stories of its employees.

Twitter: Starwood’s Twitter handle, @starwoodbuzz, and its Twitter bio, “Timely tweets, news, comments and updates from the world’s leading hotel company,” succinctly describes what the feed is all about. The brand has 52,000 followers and follows 49,000. Its tweets are predominately customer service-driven, which can be a great way for a brand to show it’s listening to its customers. There is a lot of interaction between brand and Twitter user, as Starwood has tweeted 13,000 times.

YouTube: Starwood does not have its own YouTube channel, though it does have channels for individual hotels in different parts of the world. The link here is a YouTube generated Starwood Hotels page, with three subscribers and 3,151 videos from Starwood’s other YouTube pages. Not having a Starwood-branded YouTube page is a miss, as the company can use it as a main hub connecting the spokes of its other YouTube pages, ultimately helping customers find the videos they’re searching for.

Mobile Site: Starwood’s site is not optimized for mobile. A normal Web page on a smartphone (iPhone in this case) is not the way to approach a mobile-centric world.

Mobile App: Starwood’s app is for its preferred guests and provides access to its hotels, as well as redeem awards. While not for any old user trying to book rooms at a Starwood Hotel, this app is a handy tool for the company’s preferred guests. One neat feature: FaceTime with the SPG support team

Conclusion:
Social: Hilton’s use of its social outlets is a solid example of how a large, multinational brand with many portfolio brands under it can operate in the social sphere. It adheres to the truisms of social media: engage with your fans, provide value and be authentic. While Starwood’s Twitter stream is a great example of customer service, it still has a ways to go on the other platforms. Even though Starwood has several hotel brands in its portfolio doesn’t mean its corporate social stream should be ignored, and that’s the sense we get. The social media 5 Diamonds goes to Hilton.

Mobile: Hilton’s mobile site and app are identical, yet provides the functionality a traveler needs. Starwood’s mobile site is difficult to operate since it’s not optimized and its app is for one audience only: its preferred guests, which leaves out those who aren’t. Winner in mobile: Hilton.

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