In Monday’s NY Times, Julie Weed reported that more and more hotels are bypassing the “middle-man” travel agency sites like Expedia, and communicating directly with their guests via Facebook, Twitter and smartphone Apps. Several of the hotel representatives interviewed claimed that this direct contact with past and prospective guests help to create a more customized experience that builds brand loyalty. The direct contact in this case was not only a boon to the hotels, but it was inferred that the guests were being put in a prime position to get the lowest prices. One hotel claimed to beat any prices a guest found on an “intermediary” site if that guest ultimately booked their stay via the hotel’s Facebook page. The bottom line for both hotels and travelers seems to be that dealing directly with each other via social media is a win-win.
Contrast this with an article in the Times’ Sunday edition, that contained several anecdotes from celebrity publicists lamenting the ability of their clients to communicate directly with the public, sans filter. Even before Charlie Sheen’s last name became a verb, celebrities have been giving agita to their press agents and representatives. Putting the power of Twitter posts and blogs directly into the hands of their clients can be downright dangerous. Part of a celebrity publicists job is to work as a part of a team made up of agents, managers and attorneys, all sharing the goal of creating a public image for their client that will build the foundation for a long and successful career in the public eye. But as recent episodes involving Lindsay Lohan, Chris Brown, and the aforementioned Sheen demonstrate, even the most powerful and fastidious group of publicists and representatives cannot monitor their clients’ behavior 24-7. While celebrity access to social media has created many opportunities for crisis management specialists, several publicists have had to leave long-term relationships with clients in order to save their own professional reputations. Unlike the traditional marketplace, direct contact between the public and the “product” is not necessarily the best way to ensure a long and lucrative career in Hollywood. The celebrity brand is a delicate, ever-changing commodity, one best handled by those of us on the business side of The Business.