Glenn Fogel of Priceline called those selling the idea of social media to the hotel industry as "charlatans" at the No Vacancy Conference in Sydney this week.
He may be right - and he may also have one company agreeing with him already, after a Facebook promotion for Wotif did not go exactly to plan.
The Asia-Pacific OTA opened the floodgates when they recently announced an 11th birthday sale that sold rooms at AUS$11 for 11 minutes, accessible via a link on its Facebook page.
In theory, this looked like a great idea, but what is believed to be a combination of limited stock and technical issues seemed to put a damper on the birthday celebrations - with the backlash almost immediate.
Inevitably, Wotif’s Facebook fans immediately took to the fan page's wall to vent their frustrations about the problems they experienced when trying to get the cheap deals, many saying they were "unliking" the OTA and urging others to do so as well.
Essentially, Wotif stacked the deck against itself by setting perhaps rather unachievable expectations, a problem as many of the new fans were clearly only looking for freebies.
Having this many opportunists already on board, it would be safe to assume that a large portion would enter the subsequent promotions, potentially leading to the technical issues that many experienced.
But Wotif has taught us a very important lesson: not all likes are created equal.
Having plenty of likes may make a Facebook page appear more enticing to new users, but acquiring them can clearly be a dangerous game, especially when things go wrong.
Indeed, such was the furore that competitor HotelClub even got in a very subtle dig via its own Facebook page:
There is a potential darker side to this tale, illustrating that Facebook isn’t always watching as close as some people think they it.
For those keeping score, the Wotif Facebook page gained almost 35,000 likes in about two weeks (Or around 2,500 per day). These kinds of numbers are almost unheard of with a corporate page, even with heavy advertising.
The bulk of these new likes came from a promotion that seemed to stray in to a grey area where Facebook’s Promotions Guidelines are concerned.
Wotif offered all new fans the chance to win three nights free accommodation just for liking the page, (aka like-bait) which is a bit of a no-no.
According to Facebook:
- You cannot: Administer a promotion that users automatically enter by liking your Page, checking in to your Place or connecting to your Platform integration.
- You can: Require entrants to like your Page, check in to your Place or connect to your Platform integration before they provide their full entry information, such as name and contact information."
In other words, you need to use a third party app, as Facebook will have no part in the technical side of a promotion. This is undoubtedly to reduce the legal risk associated with contests, as noted in their lengthily disclaimer, (also absent from the Wotif page):
Also, companies must include the following disclosures:
- Adjacent to any promotion entry field: 'This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. You are providing your information to [disclose recipient(s) of information] and not to Facebook. The information you provide will only be used for [disclose any way that you plan to use the user's information].'
- In the promotion's rules:
- A complete release of Facebook by each entrant or participant.
- Acknowledgement that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.
Wotif has not responded to requests for comment around issues regarding the competition and the Facebook promotion regulations.