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ImageIn 1919, 32-year-old year old Conrad Hilton drove to Cisco, Texas with the intention of buying a bank. When that deal fell through, he bought the Mobley Hotel instead - the first of many hotel acquisitions to come. In 1943, his company became the first coast-to-coast hotel chain in the United States. Today, Hilton Worldwide is a global hospitality brand with several brands and is owned by the Blackstone Group. The flagship brand alone, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, includes over 550 properties in 80 countries. As a chain, the various properties are owned, franchised, or managed by independent operators.

Franchises and chains pose unique challenges for marketing and customer care alike, and thus for social media community managers. Even with centralized reservation and CRM systems, social media inevitably becomes a major component of customer care. While an individual customer care or community manager can help broker a resolution for a customer, they are limited in what they can do - they can't just call over to the floor managers and say, "hop to!"

Hilton Hotels has faced this challenge in a similar way to other brands: with a main corporate presence and a separate customer care account on Twitter that quickly takes issues offline. Where the brand has created a success story - something that goes beyond the quotidian - is with their social media version of a concierge service, @hiltonsuggests

Using social listening tools, the team is able to identify tweets that indicate a search for information in cities where the Hilton has hotels. Thus, someone might post a question like, "Where to go on a Saturday night in Manchester? HELP!!!" That query can then be channeled to an employee in that city who might answer (as one actually did to the above tweet), "would be happy to help, looking for clubs? cocktails? chilled out pubs? Will there be a few of you? #manchester."

Rob Palleschi, the global head of Hilton Hotels & Resorts, shared an example of a recent exchange that resulted in an opportunity to engage with a popular tweeter, @ProductPoet (118,000 followers), which resulted in him booking at a Hilton property and a series of positive tweets and Instagram posts about Hilton.

Palleschi said, "We first engaged with Product Poet on Twitter as we would with any other guest, with the intention to have an authentic conversation and humanize the brand on social media. Product Poet created the opportunity for us to do just that. As the conversation developed on Twitter, our team members collaborated both online and offline, from the property’s general manager to our global @HiltonSuggests team and our team at Hilton Worldwide headquarters, to give Product Poet an exceptional guest experience."

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Whenever I hear of an influential user of social media receive great attention, I'm curious - was it because they were influential?  Was someone minding their Klout score? In this case, Hilton's engagement with a customer really came out of a genuine mission to help people regardless of influence. As Palleschi said, "we have made it our goal to not only nurture our relationships with our current brand advocates but to also cultivate new ones, turning the infrequent guest into the loyal guest, and ultimately an advocate for the brand."

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The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today written by Ric Dragon that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next week. Logos by Jesse Wells.