The most effective ways to solve your problem

John Paul Engel recently moved into the “worst hotel ever” in Miami. He left the next morning and requested reimbursement for his remaining days. When a manager refused to return his money, he used an expert social media strategy to solve the problem – but not in the way you think.

For years, travelers have turned to Facebook, Twitter and other sites for prompt refunds and apologies from travel companies. But their tactics have become more sophisticated lately.

Engel, a consultant from North Sioux City, South Dakota, says his hotel was beyond terrible.

“There was a broken front door, the smell of drugs in the hallway, and a lot of shady characters running around,” he recalled. “This is the worst hotel I have stayed in.”

When he left, the hotel refused to refund the rest of his unused nights, meaning he would pay $600 for nothing. But instead of taking his case to Twitter or Facebook or leaving a scathing review on TripAdvisor, he logged on to LinkedIn.

“I contacted the vice president of customer service at the travel site I had booked the hotel through,” he recalls. “He was a former student of my graduate school. I gave him the address of the hotel and asked him to send an inspector.”

A few days later, Engel received a full refund.

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How the pandemic has sharpened travelers’ social media skills

The pandemic has changed the way travelers use social media, experts say. They’ve developed a new skill set – and travel companies say they’ve become more responsive to social media channels.

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen increased usage and comfort in using social media,” says Ari Lightmanprofessor of digital media at Carnegie Mellon University.

Lightman noticed that travelers were using more video, audio, and multimedia platforms to pack their bags. For example, earlier this year an Aer Lingus passenger used Twitter – and a nifty PowerPoint presentation – to help the airline find his luggage.

While statistics are hard to come by, it’s clear that more and more travelers are turning to social media when things go wrong. The wave of Memorial Day cancellations showed just how overwhelming social media pressure is on airlines. In widely shared tweet, a frustrated Delta Air Lines rep begged a passenger for extra time to help resolve a flight issue. Many travelers retweeted the digital explosion, of course.

Sharon Geltner, a social media expert specializing in travel, says travelers are also using social media strategies like Engel’s more often. His advice: pay for a premium LinkedIn account, which allows you to send personal messages directly to an executive.

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“Take the time to research the right setting in your airline, cruise line, hotel or tour operator,” she advises. “You need a target.”

This strategy works. Since LinkedIn is a smaller professional network, executives often take the time to read and respond to their messages. I also post the names, numbers and email addresses of key executives on my consumer advocacy site.

Other New Social Media Strategies to Solve a Travel Problem

The most effective new social media strategies deviate from the tactics of the early 2000s. They minimize social shaming and instead focus on problem solving. Here’s what some experts say:

Don’t follow the crowd when using social media. “Resist the urge – at least initially – to publicly challenge the company,” advises Matt Schulzsenior director of LendingTree. “It may get their attention and get them to respond to you. But that doesn’t mean you’re more likely to get what you want.” Instead, give the usual customer service channels — phone, chat, or even in person — a chance before making your dispute public.

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Be platform independent. Don’t focus on just one social media platform or site. chip bell, a customer service expert, advises you instead to focus on the right person within the travel agency. “When I had an issue with a Marriott on my way to their property, I emailed the general manager directly and resolved the issue very quickly,” he says. How did he find the name of the general manager? It was on LinkedIn.

Tell the truth. Businesses are much less likely to ignore a fake online review now that social media has become so popular. It’s become a lot more problematic since the Johnny Depp libel suit. “Legal action could be taken against the individual responsible, starting with a cease and desist letter, followed by a defamation case if necessary,” warns David Clark, a lawyer specializing in personal injury cases. The best defense is the truth, so never lie or exaggerate when calling out a business on social media.

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How Travel Agencies Are Trying to Help

Travel agencies agree that these expert media strategies will lead to faster resolution. John Young, a manager who advises on social networks at South West Airlines, says calling the company at the first sign of trouble can be a bad decision. His airline has added new self-service options through its website and app over the past two years. This allows many customers to resolve their issue without calling an agent.

But if the site can’t help you, a private message sent via Facebook or Twitter might be a better way to start the resolution process. Posting to your own Facebook page or leaving a comment on Southwest’s page won’t help. “People should remember that if they post on their own Facebook page with a complaint, we can’t see that,” he says. (Try a private message instead.)

The least effective social media strategy? Become negative.

“They don’t need to threaten, shame or attack our people,” Young says. “Our employees want to help our customers.”

This may be the hardest piece of advice to follow on social media as America begins to travel again. It’s tempting to send a furious, public message to a company when things go wrong. Or to amp up the drama. But when it comes to social media, the calm and polite approach is still the most effective.

How to Use Social Media More Effectively to Solve Your Travel Problem

Be direct. Before going to a public forum, try sending a direct message to the company via Facebook or Twitter. Companies know your next step will be social media, so they’re more likely to take your request seriously. “A private conversation helps rebuild customer trust,” says Haley Walker, integrated marketing manager at RP Crowea public relations and digital marketing agency.

Pay attention to your manners and go straight to the point. “Be friendly and factual,” advises Lindsey Steck, spokesperson for Visit Pensacola, an organization that markets Pensacola, Florida. Interestingly, his organization’s social media team does this as well. You will get a more favorable response by being nice and avoiding ALL CAPS messages (ie yelling). “We are all people, after all,” she says.

Be patient. It can take hours to receive a meaningful response from a business via social media during peak hours. That’s because everyone with a problem floods the company’s Facebook page with urgent requests. Submitting follow-up questions repeatedly will not necessarily result in faster resolution. Experts say you need to give them time to process your request. Depending on your issue, this may take several hours or even days.

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