By Dave Kerpen

I was standing in line to check in at Las Vegas’s then-trendiest hotel in town, the Aria, for nearly an hour. It was June of 2010 and I had just arrived after a 6 hour flight from New York. The last thing I wanted to do was waste an hour of my life waiting in line. Frustrated, I pulled out my Blackberry, and tweeted, “No Vegas hotel could be worth this long wait. Over an hour to check in at the Aria :(

Interestingly enough, the Aria didn’t tweet back to me, but a competitor did. I saw a tweet from the Rio Hotel, just two minutes later. If you’re anything like most people with whom I’ve shared this story, you’re probably thinking, “What did the Rio tweet, ‘Come on over, we have no line’?”Had the Rio tweeted such a message, I would have likely felt annoyed by them too, as if they were stalkers or some creepy characters looking to manipulate me and benefit from my bad experience. On the contrary, however, the Rio Las Vegas tweeted the following to me: “Sorry about the bad experience Dave. Hope the rest of your stay in Vegas goes well.”

Guess where I ended up staying the next time I went to Las Vegas.

The hotel used social media to listen and to be responsive, showing a little empathy to the right person at the right time. An ad, or a push-marketing-like message simply wouldn’t have worked. But their ability to listen, respond and be empathic did.

The Rio essentially earned a $600 sale from one tweet; one message that got my attention and ended up being integral in my decision as to where to stay next time I was in the city. That would be considered an excellent return-on-investment (ROI) by anyone’s standards. But the story doesn’t end there.

Before even arriving at the Rio, I “liked” them on Facebook by clicking the Like button at Facebook.com/RioVegas, thereby letting my 3,500 friends, and the world at large, know of my endorsement of their customer-friendly practices. A few months later, my friend Erin was looking for a hotel to stay at in Las Vegas over the New Year’s holiday, and I received the following message from her on Facebook: “Hey Dave, I noticed you liked the Rio’s Page. Thinking about staying there for New Years. What do you think?”

A friend’s recommendation is more powerful than any advertisement, and Erin ended up staying at the Rio as well. Dozens of other friends have surely noticed my tweets and Facebook likes about the Rio and have been influenced since. So, one tweet led to one “like” on Facebook, and, in fact, thousands of dollars worth of business.

It used to be that happy customers tell three people about their good experiences, and unhappy customers tell ten about their bad ones. But as my experiences with the Aria and Rio hotels demonstrate, today, thanks to social media, happy customers AND unhappy customers can tell thousands of people their feelings about a company’s service or products with just a few clicks, relying on the “like” button as a virtual endorsement. The Rio leveraged this fact to their advantage while the Aria did not.

This blog post was originally published on Likeable Media on July 21, 2011.