Starwood Lurker no longer works for Starwood — or Marriott. The online face of hotel loyalty received the ultimate status match, a new job at Hilton.
I first got to know ‘of’ William Sanders on the FlyerTalk online community in 2001. Then I became a FlyerTalk moderator in 2003 and in November of that year became part of its member-elected board. That year I had the second most votes in the at-large election, trailing William Sanders by a wide margin.
He only served one term on FlyerTalk’s member-elected board, but here’s the remarkable thing: his username was Starwood Lurker. He was a company representative and so beloved by the community that he wasn’t just elected to the forum’s board but garnered more votes than anyone else.
Literally the Case Study Representing a Brand Authentically Online
Starwood Lurker didn’t just ‘lurk’ in the forums, he engaged daily. He answered questions, solved problems, engaged in banter with the community. My early interest in Starwood, and much of the fervent loyalty the SPG program engendered amongst online frequent travelers, stems from turning Starwood Preferred Guest into an accessible program that you could get real answers from, from a real person, and not just a corporate face.
William didn’t write in corporate-speak. He used plain, authentic language. Not only that he got real answers, expressed real empathy and even his own frustration at times (honestly explaining when something was difficult to do even when it shouldn’t be), and even called out customers who might have unreasonable expectations.
William has been featured in the New York Times, at Campaign Live and in Ad Age. He’s a case study in not just one but two books and a journal article as a best practice in brands engaging customers online.
Starwood Lurker Leaves Marriott for Hilton
In a move reminiscent of Sprint producing ads with Verizon’s “Can You Hear Me Now” guy William Sanders has left Marriott and joined Hilton.
- Last Tuesday Marriott announced the retirement of William Sanders, the original Starwood Lurker.
- Then today Hilton announced that they’ve hired him.
Between Marriott and Starwood, William has 22 years in. Marriott’s policy is that an employee retiring after 25 years receives 2 free nights at each and every hotel every year. I won’t speculate on the cause of William’s departure.
Marriott posted to FlyerTalk about William’s departure – after 22 years at the company and 19 years active on that site – in an unsigned message (“Best regards, Social Media Specialist”) instead of his posting his own goodbye. He chimed in from a personal account the next day, classy guy that he is thanking Marriott for the send off.
Hilton Up, Marriott Down?
Whether Marriott was uninterested, unwilling, or unable to retain William says volumes about the state of that chain — and Hilton’s move to bring him on says a lot about how they’d like to be interacting with members. Officially William retired, but since his next gig was been publicly announced the following week he clearly wasn’t leaving Marriott to take some time off of work.
Hilton gets an ace at putting a human face on a large company, learning its nuances and representing those – positives as well as the warts – to customers. And he’s great at learning the pain points of customers and bringing those back to the company as well.
For all its flaws I still think Marriott Rewards is the better choice over Hilton Honors for the 50+ night a year customer. However if Hilton wants to get serious about its loyalty program, this would be a great way to start doing it.