Hemingway Challenge Tells Ritz-Carlton 'Wow Stories' in 6 Words

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Clayton Ruebensaal refers to them as the "wow stories." And they are seemingly endless, as well as inspiring.

So inspiring, Ritz-Carlton Hotel decided recently to start a social media campaign to share its accumulating wow stories from guests gushing about their memorable, unforgettable and treasured Ritz-Carlton moments.

But in the world of social media oversharing and brands giving away a little too much at times, Ritz-Carlton is opting for a spare, unique approach.

Last month the luxury hotel company issued a six-word challenge to guests via social media, a la the fabled challenge friends once issued to Ernest Hemingway to write a story using just a half-dozen words.

Hemingway, according to legend, won the bet by writing:

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.

Ritz-Carlton clientele have responded with equal flair when asked to share their six-word Ritz-Carlton memory on the hotel's social media platforms using the identifier #RCMemories.

The responses have been playful, intriguing, eloquent and exactly what the company was hoping for -- abundant. To wit:

First Tooth.
Fairy Knocks.
Girl Delighted.

And:

Treasures lost.
Memories Restored.
Kindness Remembered.

The campaign is part of a larger effort by Ritz-Carlton to own what Ruebensaal calls "the power of memories" in the luxury hotel industry.

"We have this huge pile of amazing stories about how we've created memories for our guests. The ladies and gentlemen [who work for The Ritz-Carlton] have done such amazing things to engage our guests and create special memories," Ruebensaal says. "We needed to pull the curtain back on what is really special here."

The six-word challenge is just Ritz-Carlton's latest innovative approach to social media. It started its Twitter account in April 2009, and is now on Facebook at the brand and local hotel level, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Tumblr and Instagram and YouKu and Sina-Weibo in China.

A little more than one month ago the company also launched on WeChat in China, increasing Ritz-Carlton's social media presence to a dozen social media channels with a total audience of 2.2 million people.

Allison Sitch, vice president of global public relations at Ritz-Carlton, has said in interviews that each social channel the company establishes plays a different role in the memory-making that the company prides itself on and encourages staff to create for guests.

The stories that could be used to populate such social media outlets are rattled off by Ruebensaal with pride.

There was the bell captain at a Ritz-Carlton in Reynolds Plantation, Ga., who after learning about a terminally ill mother staying at the hotel with her two daughters, took it upon himself to create a full-on Christmas setting in the guest's room, complete with holiday decorations brought from home and a Christmas dinner for the family, compliments of the hotel.

A staff member at a Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, Va., went out after 10 p.m. on a Sunday to buy business shoes for a guest who had just flown in for a job interview the next morning and had forgotten his own. Size 10, black, polished shoes were waiting on the guest's doorstep the next morning in time for his interview.

"I was sitting with HR director one day and we found we had over 300,000 stories like this. We aren't doing these things once in awhile. This is how we do business every day," he says.

Thus the hotel's latest social media campaign was born.

"Social media is the modern-day campfire that everyone is sitting around and sharing stories," Ruebensaal says.

"The mystery however, is what is missing in social media. Most brands tell you everything. We value the idea that our brand needs to be rare and special. We need to add a layer of 'I want to know more.' That's what we think these six-word challenges do."

To reinforce such extraordinary staff efforts, "wow stories" are also read aloud to staff members in every Ritz-Carlton around the world at the beginning and end of every week.

"Each Monday and Friday these stories are read in every Ritz-Carlton hotel around the world -- whether it was something done by a housekeeper in Jakarta or LA. If you are a staff member who lives in Los Angeles, you're going to hear that same success story about that gentleman in Tyson's Corner," Ruebensaal says. "Our [staff] are creating guests for life with these efforts ... It's the kind of thing we know from all of our research luxury consumers are willing to pay more for -- that unforgettable experience."

There is no end date for the six-word challenge. Ruebensaal figures as long as the memories keep being created, why stop sharing them?

"For us, this marks an interesting point," Ruebensaal says. "We're departing from what you see from many hotel companies on social media -- just beautiful pictures of food and places. Now we're going one step further and creating content about memories that will live in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram."

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