The Detroit News: When Detroiter Henry Balanon sent a message through social networking site Twitter announcing to friends he was enjoying a night at MGM Grand Detroit, he didn't expect the casino to take notice. But the social media team monitoring the casino's Twitter account responded quickly, asking Balanon for his room number. What happened next left a lasting impression on the 29-year-old iPhone app developer.
"When we got back up to the room, we had cookies and treats and a handwritten note waiting for us," he said. "This was like two years ago. It still sticks with me to this day."
Balanon's experience reflects the effect Detroit's casinos can have on their customers as they ramp up their use of Twitter and Facebook to provide a new level of customer service in an increasingly competitive market.
Detroit's three casinos are sending messages about jackpots and promotions and responding to customer queries via social media as they fight for customers among themselves as well as Caesars Windsor across the river in Canada. They also face a future challenge for business from four new Ohio casinos — three of which are tentatively scheduled to open next year, including one in Toledo that will be less than an hour's drive south of the Detroit trio.
MotorCity Casino Hotel has the most Twitter followers and Facebook fans among the three casinos. MGM Grand — the city's largest casino by revenue — is second, and Greektown Casino Hotel lags the pack. Social media "has become a huge area of our efforts over the last 18 months," said MotorCity Casino Hotel president and CEO Gregg Solomon. "People are looking for that instantaneous update about what's going on where."
Social media followers have taken notice.
"It seems MotorCity has a good grasp of what social media is about and that MGM is catching on," said Farmington Hills-based publicist Lynn Haliburton, who attended a recent social media night at MotorCity. "They seem to respond to questions, they are starting to retweet people and even reply to people that talk about the casino," she said. "However, Greektown seems to keep with just the 'push' method by pushing out their information and not pulling their customers into the conversation."
But Greektown, the smallest of the city's three gaming halls, said social media is becoming a more important part of its overall marketing mix. "We find this type of media to be a great way to listen and often to engage with all gaming customers," said spokeswoman Lloryn Love. "Social media provides feedback for our operations staff, and social media provides us with more channels to reach our customers in a way they may favor."
Social media has great potential for casinos because going to gaming halls is a social experience, according to Frank Fantini, editor and publisher of Fantini's Gaming & Lodging Reports, a Dover, Del.-based company that follows the national gambling industry. "It creates a continuing focus group that casinos can learn from. It also gives the initiative to players to express what works for them in terms of promotions," Fantini said. "It's also an opportunity for casinos to market directly to customers' enthusiasms."
But social media is not easily controlled and can be seen as a threat to companies that want to tightly manage their brands, said David Schugar, principal at RMC Gaming Management, a consulting firm in Las Vegas. A perusal of the three casinos' social media sites finds it is not unusual for dissatisfied casinogoers to send Twitter messages complaining about certain aspects at the Detroit properties — from a lack of service to even a lack of wins.
"Most gaming companies are very protective of their brands," Schugar said, "and thus are careful to relinquish control of the essence of the brand to blogs, social media threads and commentary." Still, there is a payoff for casinos to market in social media and form relationships with their clients, experts said.
Customers enjoy participating in a social media dialogue with casinos and other visitors because "people like to talk about what they did, who they saw, how they got a great deal on a room, etc.," Fantini said. "It's very experiential, and social media is a way to tie in that kind of sharing of experience."
That was certainly the case for Stella Trunzo of Riverview, who in May sent a Twitter message to her followers saying she would love to visit the spa at MotorCity and that it would likely make for a fun spa day. MotorCity contacted Trunzo, 30, and gave her and three friends spa passes in exchange for writing a blog post about the day.
"I was very surprised," said Trunzo, who added that the casino's spa manager gave her a personal tour of the facilities.
The spa passes, a social media night and other events have Trunzo thinking about MotorCity first when it comes to casinos — and spa treatments.
"All the experiences were so amazing," she said, "and so I do lean toward going to MotorCity."