With the fast development of SNS (Social Networking Sites), the ways that people interact with each other has experienced a vast change. At the same time, the channel that corporates communicate with customers has shifted from direct advertisements to indirect PR-oriented marketing publications, since there are now more active viewers in the SNS rather than traditional billboards and television channels. As a result, the posts and publications for companies in their corporates’ accounts in SNS become significant for them to build the companies’ image and strengthen the relationships with the customers, and vice versa. However, some traditional companies still fail to realize this historic move from the world of traditional publications to the new world composed by SNS. Their inflexibility and obstinacy will inevitably put them into hazard situations.
This time, the negligence on SNS took place in the hotel monopolies. On September 4th, the third party rating agency Blueberry Rating published a report named “Five Stars Hotel, Why Don’t You Change the Used Sheets” including detailed videos on its public social media account. According to the reports performed by random inspections and sampling, five luxury hotels in Beijing all had the hygiene issues encompassing “do not change sheets, do not clean the toilet and bathtub, and do not wash the cubs.” These five hotels included Beijing Shangri-La Hotel, JW Marriott, Hilton, Changan St W, and Sanli Tun Intercontinental Hotel. After the publication, the major Chinese news media, Sina, had published series of posts regarding the hotel issues. Much small news media had followed within a day. A few pieces of voice recordings of the interviews with the employees from these five hotels had been released. From the interviews, these hotels all claimed they were investigating the issues and did not offer clear explanations regarding the rating results. The Public Health Department in Beijing had involved later and initiated a series of investigation on related issues. On September 9th, the Chinese national channel had reported the results, suggesting the similar hygiene problems were not detected.
After the publication of the reports from the rating agency, none of the PR teams from these five hotels offered any valid responses besides “we were investigating the issues” in their accounts on the social media. The Intercontinental Hotel was the first one to publish the official announcement through its official account on Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter). According to the announcement, the hotel had “strictly followed the standards and procedures to clean up the guest rooms.” The announcement also stated that there was “no way to verify the accuracy and the authenticity of the report” and there was no such hygiene issue founded during “our self-inspection process.” What is more, the announcement also blamed the fluorescent markers used by the rating agency could potentially harm the health of the customers. Right after Intercontinental Hotel released the announcement, Shangri-La Hotel and Hilton posted their PR responses through their official accounts. The contents of the posts were very similar to the announcement of Intercontinental Hotel, which denied the negligence on hygiene issues and questioned the accuracy and the authenticity of the report. The rest of the two hotels, W and Marriott, did not have any responses. The comment functions of their official accounts in the major social media had been closed. On September 9th, Blueberry Rating had published more detailed videos regarding the testing methods and results through the Chinese national channel. The results from the rating agency seemed to be very convincing, and there were no follow-up claims or responses from either of those hotels until today.
The reputation crises of all of these five hotels were unresolved from the PR perspective. The responses of the PR teams were very unprofessional and irresponsible. For the Intercontinental Hotel with the fastest response, the PR team avoided to answer the core hygiene issues, hid the results of inspections, and questioned the authenticity as well as the accuracy of the rating. Shangri-La Hotel and Hilton applied the similar responses. The closure of the communication channels with the clients on social media limited fairness of the proper expressions from the public. The absolute silence from W and Marriott showed no PR expertise at all and made the customers completely lose the faith and loyalties. In the end, all of the responses on social media from those five hotels exhibited no honesty to the public. The negligence and nonfeasance of those companies on SNS made them suffer the consequences. Many SNS users condemned those hotels and their occupancy rate had decreased by 20%. Meanwhile, the Health Department and related government agencies were continuing to investigate them after the exposure of the hygiene issues. The truth would never overcome the lie. And for all the corporates, no matter big or small, please pay attention to the SNS. This is the new key to be successful in any business.