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How citizenM Overcomes the Challenge of Creating Compelling Social Media Content

In a 3-part series, we will examine how the trendiest hotel in the world manages their online reputation and social media presence with ReviewPro. The articles are the result of a series of interviews and conversations I had with citizenM’s Social Media and Internet Strategist, Diego Sartori, to understand how their brand approaches the topic.

The citizenM concept began with the observation that over the past few years, a new type of traveler has emerged.

“The traveler of today travels in jeans, a cheap t-shirt, an expensive watch, drinks champagne, and takes public transport” – Michael Levie

Michael Levie, Chief Operating Officer at citizenM, said this during a recent keynote presentation at an EyeForTravel conference. According to Michael, citizenM was created with “a blank slate” along with the founder of Mexx clothing brand, Rattan Chadha. Starting with no prior constraints enabled the founders to design a hotel concept that was revolutionary from the ground up.

CitizenM Hotels aims to provide a new type of hotel experience for a new type of traveler: guests that may not want to stay in their rooms for the entire duration of their stay. “Our guests just want a good bed, a good shower, and then they spend most of their time out in the city or in our hotels’ social spaces,” said Michael. This focus on public social spaces plays a key role in the way the brand develops social media content, and is a topic we will explore in detail later.

An innovative building system (hotels are constructed from pre-fabricated modules) in offsite unit factories allows the company to consistently maintain high quality standards while accelerating the building process. Headquartered in Voorschoten, The Netherlands, citizenM’s founders include professionals from both the hospitality and fashion industry. With an experienced management team, citizenM is preparing itself for a rapid European expansion. CitizenM Hotels opened its first Amsterdam Schiphol property with 230 rooms in 2008, followed by citizenM Amsterdam City 215 rooms in 2009 and citizenM Glasgow 198 rooms in 2010, and has plans to open 20 additional properties throughout Europe in their first phase of expansion.

A new concept requires a new communications strategy

In keeping with their innovative product design, citizenM relies on the latest technology and digital communications to grow their business. “We are very dependent on online feedback and technology for driving reservations,” says citizenM’s Social Media and Internet Strategist, Diego Sartori. “Fast, free WiFi attracts an always-connected crowd, and our guests carry their iPads and iPhones everywhere.”

But regardless of how innovative a hotel concept is, hotel marketers around the world face a similar problem: developing information for social media publishing. “The biggest challenge we face is content creation,” shared Diego. “How can we continue to keep relevant information coming in, and share this with everyone in our social network?”

The citizenM brand has a few advantages over other hotels when creating online content. Voted “The Trendiest Hotel in the World” by TripAdvisor two years in a row – 2010 and 2011 – the team at citizenM is known for adopting cutting-edge technologies and operational practices.  “Since we’re a lifestyle hotel we have a lot of material to work with. There is a diverse range of content we can create and share.” Instead of just passively waiting for social media users to build content, the citizenM team proactively reaches out to bloggers, writers, and other social media influencers. “We invite bloggers to our hotels that share the same lifestyle. And then we ask these people to share something that represents the lifestyle of our brand.”

While many hotels use a blog to anchor their social media presence, citizenM took a different approach. “Instead of having a blog, we created a digital magazine to share brand information and curate lifestyle content for everyone.” The partner agency that produces this digital magazine has strong network of writers, which serves as a resource for creating each issue.

These contributing writers are not compensated financially, but working together provides mutual benefits. The writers get valuable exposure with a global, trendsetting audience. CitizenM receives interesting material to use in producing their magazine. Unlike publications from some hospitality companies, this magazine does not focus exclusively on travel, but follows a different subject theme for each issue.

To ensure a consistent voice in the content created by multiple authors, citizenM has created a style guide that encourages a very informal, international style. Each contributor to citizenM publications has either stayed at the property or is very familiar with the citizenM concept & lifestyle, making their work a natural fit with the other pieces of content.

Involving guests in the content creation process

Besides working with writers, citizenM’s digital communications strategy also involves guests. “We always try to incentivize our guests to share their experience online: to write or blog or share content about us. People only share online if they have a terrible experience or if they have a very good experience. If it’s just ‘okay,’ they see no value in sharing with anyone. But our rooms are very innovative and our concept is very different. We try to always exceed expectations creating a WOW factor that gets guests talking.”

The unique citizenM design concept and service-oriented social media presence organically encourages people to talk about the brand online. CitizenM intentionally developed an environment of social spaces within their hotels to spontaneously encourage conversations.

“Whenever we have the opportunity, we casually bring up our social media presence. We encourage guests to share photos of the hotel with their followers. Our goal for Facebook isn’t necessarily to generate room sales, but to increase our brand visibility and encourage word of mouth,” said Diego. This natural approach works much better with their clientele than trying to be too pushy in asking for online content contributions.

Only posting interesting information

This natural approach is one of the best practices we can learn from citizenM. When their team was in the beginning stages of setting up their social media presence, they aimed to post something every two or three days on Facebook. But they found that their audience did not interact well with that. Now, they only post something when they have something relevant and valuable to share. “If it’s just about posting for the sake of posting, we don’t share anything.”

In their experience, Twitter is a faster communications channel, which allows them to share more information. Not only promotions, but real-time information, advice, and support. While Diego manages most of the Twitter brand activity, other team members can step in if needed to provide a different voice or perspective.

In the next installment of this case study, we’ll explore the details of how citizenM involves everyone – from guests to their entire staff – in improving online reputation….

[Photo credit: citizenM on Flickr]