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Intercontinental Hotel Group pushes for loyalty with mobile social network promo

When a worldwide hospitality giant such as Intercontinental Hotel Group pushes its largest loyalty program via a mobile social network, it is obvious the channel is an important part of the marketing mix.

IHG is using mobile social network Gowalla to connect with guests when they check in at any of the hotel company?s locations. The IHG brand includes InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites.

?Gowalla is focused on discovering and sharing places with your friends,? said Del Ross, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing at IHG, Atlanta. ?With Gowalla, we're able to insert IHG?s message in a natural way that blends into the user experience while offering valuable information.

?It is also an opportunity for guests to get rewarded for their stays,? she said. ?Prior to the ?Hit it Big? promotion launch, we knew we wanted to extend the offer beyond traditional marketing channels and into the mobile space.?

Gowalla is a location-based mobile social network that lets users share their favorite places with friends around the world.

When guests check in for stays at IHG brands ? Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Staybridge Suites or Candlewood Suites ? between now and Aug. 31, they can do so via their mobile phone on the Gowalla mobile social network.

Guests that check-in using Gowalla via their mobile phones receive targeted promotions dubbed ?Hit it Big? rewards.

Offers include rewards such as retail gift cards and double air miles to guests who stay multiple nights at participating hotels.

The specific offers are:
?             Double Priority Club loyalty points or double air miles, or
?             Up to $500 in prepaid gift cards to spend at various national retailers

Mobile social
Travel companies in particular can take advantage of location-based mobile social networks.

In general, mobile social networking is seeing significant growth.

With access of leading sites such as Facebook and Twitter via mobile continuing to see significant growth, social networking is becoming one of the fastest-growing areas in mobile.

Whether it is through applications or SMS, businesses are integrating social networking into their marketing initiatives, as well as letting consumers interact with one another. Companies including Telefonica, Cha Cha, buzzd, loopt, Myriad and Foursquare have all integrated social networking in some aspect.

?Mobile was initially about finding where things, places and businesses are, like restaurants, banks and gas stations,? said Glen Straub, marketing director at buzzd, New York. ?Now, thanks to the growth of social networking online, your mobile device is used more for finding where people are, where your friends are, where other like-minded folks are, who's at a place right now and what going on there right now.

?From a publisher perspective, social networking is essential to building a relationship with the end user and moreover, increasing retention,? he said. ?People feel more comfortable using your product knowing that their friends are already using it. Mobile is a very personal form of communication.

?When you give your users an opportunity to access their community or network of peers so they can share content and use their phones to connect in the real world, it will lead to great adoption.?

Socially buzzd
Buzzd has an Android, BlackBerry and iPhone application that features a buzzdmeter ? a real-time measure of activity at bars, restaurants and nightclubs in a user?s city.

Users are able to see the places with the most real-time activity from their current location.

Additionally, the company gets information from Twitter and users can get activity updates.

With the application, users can also socialize with others, view photos and profiles, add and invite their friends so they can share their buzzes and update their Facebook and Twitter status.

The company claims that issues around privacy always comes up when talking about mobile social networking applications, especially the location-based one they have.

Buzzd makes a conscious effort to remind its users that when they post content on the site, they are broadcasting their location to their friends, and, if they choose, the entire network, per Mr. Straub.

?We've taken a macro approach to social networking by building a social media aggregation machine that displays what people are saying publicly about venues on Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and Facebook,? Mr. Straub said.

?Engaging in the buzzd social networking tools allows you to share bookmarked venues, meet people who like the same types of places and also get instant updates from your friends about what?s going on at a particular venue right now,? he said.

Case in point
Several companies have incorporated social networking in their businesses.

Jack in the Box drove customer interactions when they ran ads via mobile social network Brightkite.

The campaign used both SMS and mobile Web and targeted ads to people within two miles of restaurants in the week following the launch of smoothies in each restaurant.

Time Out New York partnered with meetMoi to launch TONY Singles, a mobile and Web-based dating service that connects single New Yorkers.

Users can subscribe to the Web site and set up a free profile, browse other people?s profiles, respond to messages sent to them and send winks ? a non-personalized way to express their interest.

Facebook recently saw a significant rise of downloads for its mobile application ? more than 50 million.

GetJar created the application, which can be used on any mobile platform regardless of phone model or carrier.

In February, Google created Google Buzz for mobile devices, letting users interact with one another via their Gmail inbox.

The service uses location and consumers can select a place, attach it to their posts, or read what others have posted about that location.

Social networking is the next killer app
This past month Telefonica partnered with Myriad Group to use its mobile social networking services across 12 countries in Latin America, which will be marketed under Telefonica?s Movistar brand.

Users can access multiple social networks via mobile browsers, downloadable applications and other mobile technologies.

?Mobile social networking is opening up huge opportunities not only for operators looking to further leverage messaging and other key services like gaming and photo sharing location-based services, but also for mobile marketers who are looking to engage mobile users in a more intimate forum,? Steve Langkamp, chief commercial officer at Myriad, Stockport, Britain.

?Mobile social networking is likely to continue to trend upwards, particularly in emerging markets, with one of the main drivers being lack of fixed infrastructure, as the mobile phone is often the only point of access for Internet-based services such as social networks,? he said.

According to the company, if mobile social networking continues to be adopted, it will help increase mobile Internet usage ? even for general surfing.

Additionally, Myriad believes that there is a responsibility that businesses have to respect a user?s privacy and avoid violating a user?s trust to ensure that long-standing subscriber relationships are not jeopardized.

The company is currently working with carriers to make sure that there is a balance between delivering a user experience and ensuring users? privacy is maintained.

?Myriad?s social networking offering for mass-market phones provides users the ability to upload photos, update and monitor status, and keep track of friends? status directly from home screen, as well as send text messages,? Mr. Langkamp said.

?Myriad shares the view that social networking will be the next killer app on mass-market mobile, and within a few short years, it will start to be an everyday activity for the masses,? he said.