By Cathy McPhillips published January 8, 2016

Onward & Upward: Go Behind the Scenes of Priceline’s Social Media


Karianne Stinson heads social media for Priceline. Her role – part strategist, part crisis manager, and part travel ambassador – requires a clear vision plus a huge dose of patience. Stinson opens up about the challenges she faces day-to-day and the long-term course she’s setting for the company.

CCO: You manage a very complex operation – one that includes customer service, promotions, and content delivery. Tell us about the process and systems you’ve put in place.

Stinson: When I started, it was just me handling customer service, community management, and strategy. We have since invested in growing our customer service and related processes for social. I now have a counterpart within our customer care team who’s the manager of social customer care, and he’s hiring agents who engage in the channels.

With the customer care team in place, it gives me more time to focus on marketing and community building. I work closely with our brand team and the rest of the marketing team on our integrated content efforts. I also work with our product and mobile teams to highlight new features and services for our customers.

For example, we had an integrated campaign across all of, including email, TV, and web this summer. We promoted our feature called Tonight Only (i.e., customers can book a hotel that same night). We had done surveys and knew why people were booking last minute, so we took that information and turned it into content to promote Tonight Only.

It was engaging content that was more focused on the reason people book last minute rather than deals. We want to highlight what the deals mean for our customers – what they’re able to do or the places they can visit because they saved money with Priceline.

CCO: A lot of brands when they respond to negative feedback online sound very scripted. I’ve noticed Priceline does a nice job personalizing responses. Tell me about how you manage that – and balance the need for consistency with the desire to sound human.

Stinson: That’s a core value for Priceline: We should be as personable as possible. We take complaints as opportunities to show we offer help and care – that we are here for you. It’s a human that’s sitting at the other end of the computer trying to help with your unique situation. It’s a process that’s evolving as we grow our team. Of course it has to be scripted to a point because there are pieces of information we need to relay, but we never want to be copy/pasting. Our team needs to be as personable and empathetic as possible to connect with our customers.

CCO: Does the person who responds first see the customer through to the end?

Stinson: It depends. We have different products and there are a lot of rules and regulations unique to each product, so we begin by finding out the trip number or other booking information; then we may shift the conversation to someone in airfare, for example, because they know that segment backward and forward. We work with Sprinklr as our social CRM; it lets us see the history so we never have to say, “Tell us the story again.”

CCO: Social media can get negative. How do you help your team battle fires all day long, keep them engaged, and avoid burnout?

Stinson: It’s definitely a challenge, especially on Twitter. People are far more likely to complain than they are to talk about the great experiences they have. First, we try to highlight happy customers. We get a lot of comments such as, “Thank you so much for your help. You’ve restored my faith.” We highlight those as much as possible. We give bonuses to agents who are commended online or through email. I also tell people to remember it’s not personal. Travel invokes a lot of passion – both good and bad. Sometimes you need to step away from the computer to take a break. You also need to take time off and take vacations. I have had to train myself to unplug when I’m on a vacation because it’s too easy to check the feed. You need to know when to separate yourself and not make everyone’s problems your own.

CCO: At the Content Marketing Institute, we use a 4-1-1 rule borrowed from our friend Andrew Davis: For every one self-serving tweet, post or update, a brand should share four new pieces of content and one re-share. Do you have a formula you use?

Stinson: We don’t have a formula, but we are using influencer marketing a lot more. One of my goals is to get other people talking about us. During the promotion for Tonight Only, we worked with the Eh Bee family (famous on YouTube) to create content that was less about Priceline and more about connecting through a moment with the family. It was about why you would book at the last minute, and we wanted it to resonate with the Eh Bee’s audience. It performed really well. Last I looked, it had five million organic views – all on Facebook.


We’re also doing an Instagram campaign with Instagram influencers. We send them to different locations to highlight the beautiful properties you can book through Priceline. The great thing about getting others to create content is they do it in their own style and share it with their followers.


CCO: How do you decide who will be key influencers for you?

Stinson: Some influencers we choose because we really like what they are doing and so we have over time built a relationship with them. We also use to find influencers who reach our target audience. And of course, we have our partnership with William Shatner and Kaley Cuoco, who we feature in commercials. They are great supporters of Priceline and are often willing to help promote our marketing efforts. Of course, we want to make sure it feels natural for their audiences as well, so we balance how often we partner with them outside of commercials.

Bill and Kaley have a lot of fun together and are great on set, so we capture a lot of behind-the-scenes footage. That content does really well, giving everyone a sense of what it’s like on set when they are together, unscripted. We try to use that content related to bigger campaigns so it’s not always on.

CCO: You’ve mentioned Sprinklr. What other technology do you use to monitor the feed and watch trends?

Stinson: Sprinklr is one of our main tools. We use it for engagement and for reporting. We use it for listening as well and identifying what people are talking about. Because I’m the main person focusing on our social media marketing efforts, I need to have all my information in one place. I’ve tried a lot of tools but the best solution for me is to have a single dashboard.

CCO: You’re in such a noisy space and have so much competition – both direct and indirect. How do you stand out?

Stinson: It’s a big challenge. We try to connect with consumers based on real trips and real needs to save money. We talk about things like a trip to see your buddy from college, your night out on the town with friends, or that spontaneous road trip you took that didn’t require a lot of advance reservations because you used the Priceline app to book and go. It’s about real life and taking advantage of fleeting moments.

One of the Eh Bee influencer videos we used is about how dad has forgotten their anniversary. Mom is on the phone talking to a friend about their anniversary plans and dad is thinking, “What am I going to do?” He books a Tonight Only deal through the app before she hangs up the phone. That’s our sweet spot. We’re focused on real trips and the desire to save people money. We want to help our customers have fun, enjoy their lives, and not worry about the details.



CCO: How did you end up where you are today? What skills mattered the most in your career evolution?

Stinson: I’ve had an interesting journey. I was an elementary school teacher. I was a social worker. And then I went into traditional PR. I love social because for me, everything I’m drawn to is about relationships – whether having a connection with my students or building relationships with at-risk kids. I worked at Old Navy and Starbucks, and what I loved most was connecting with the customer. Social is the latest evolution of that.

The next step is content marketing. It’s telling your story, but in a human way. Advertising is often, “We’re going to tell you what we want you to know,” and it’s not really thinking about the customer or the consumer who’s going to be taking that in.

Content marketing, at its finest, is about building relationships. We know a lot about our customers, what they care about, what they are looking for in the travel experience – from research and booking to the trip itself. We focus on what will make their lives easier. My work has always related back to helping people, making people happy, and building relationships.

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bimonthly, print magazine. Find more best practices and rules of engagement for working with today’s top social media platforms. Read our Content Marketer’s Guide to Social Media Survival: 50+ Tips.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Author: Cathy McPhillips

Cathy is the Vice President of Marketing at the Content Marketing Institute, leading marketing efforts for CMI, Content Marketing World, Intelligent Content Conference, CMI University, CCO magazine, and other CMI properties. She works hard to get you to CMI events - online and off - and gets extra excited for opportunities to meet #CMWorld community members in person! Cathy is also a board member for The Orange Effect Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter @cmcphillips.

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  • Dave MacKay

    My business is a wee bit smaller than Priceline. lol i will not be recruiting a Hollywood person to be my influencer…

    Interesting to see how a huge company tries to deal directly with negatives and attempt to find a solution for an individual customer.

    For myself, the Instagram usage may be the best takeaway, making something that a follower may use for their own content on social media.

    Thank you!

    • Cathy McPhillips

      Thanks for your comment Dave! We also understand the budget differences between small brands and large brands. But…we also see small brands do some amazing work with social.

      Yes, customer service is the crux of many brands’ social media accounts, and brands that are handling the right way, on a case-by-case basis, are thriving.

      Instagram has been great for us as well. It’s great to see how brands use social media channels differently, and seeing Priceline on Instagram is no exception! We’re changing up some of our strategies on social in 2016 and are looking forward to seeing how these changes work for us.

      All the best to you in the new year!