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Why Marriott is so interested in your social media

The next time you are at a restaurant, at a ballgame or even on vacation, your social media posts may be being watched by a number of Fortune 500 companies.

An increasing number of companies are "listening in" to customers' public conversations on social media as a way to better engage with them and increase their brand presence and awareness.

CNBC visited Marriott's corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, to check out their social nerve center called M Live. It's a control room where about a dozen employees are devouring Twitter feeds, Instagram photos and Facebook posts in an effort to join the social conversation, increase the hotel chain's brand presence and be in tune with the latest trends.

With the use of a technology called geo-fencing, they can see every public posting on a social-media platform done from within their properties.

For example, Karin Timpone, Marriott's chief global marketing officer, said if someone posts a wedding engagement photo from one of its properties, the M Live team will reach out and contact the front desk to let them know. The hotel will often then reach out to the customers and give them champagne, a room upgrade, a free appetizer — something to show that Marriott values them.

"It's really about creating a personal relationship with our customers," said Timpone.

If a guest is having an issue with a stay and posts about it, M Live will reach out to the customer care team and reach out directly to the unhappy customer.

A look inside Marriott’s new M Live control room Europe
Source: Marriott
A look inside Marriott’s new M Live control room Europe

The hotel chain is also watching out for trends and reacting quickly to them. Recently, a man posted on Twitter announcing that he was the first person to catch all of the Pokemons. Marriott reached out to him and is now sponsoring him and provides him free lodging around the world.

"We're putting our brands in real conversation. It's not to say other forms of advertising don't work. This is that very intimate conversation that our brand is having with an individual poster," said Timpone.

The M Live team, which operates around the clock, sifts through over 300,000 guests posts from Marriott properties around the world.

Using a platform called HYP3R, every post shared publicly is filtered and made available to Marriott to monitor.

When a celebrity posts about the brand, Marriott gets real-time notifications alerting them so they can continue the conversation with them.

M Live will also reach out to people talking about travel and engage with them. The company said that the simple one-on-one engagement translates directly into hotel bookings. It has geo-fenced 4,437 of its properties worldwide.

Marriott’s M Live facility at its headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland
Source: Jessica Golden
Marriott’s M Live facility at its headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland

Marriott is not the only Fortune 500 company monitoring social media using HYP3R. Their clients include everyone from Disney to Pepsi to Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Various NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA teams — including the Golden State Warriors — are utilizing geo-fencing technology to better engage with their customers.

"We are only engaging and interacting with people who are publicly sharing," said HYP3R CEO Carlos Garcia.

"We are only using delightful engagement. We're not trying to sell them something, but we're trying to enhance their experience," he said.

Still, many people may be creeped out that big companies have installed a virtual fence to better monitor their conversations.

But Marriott's Timpone said its surveillance shouldn't be looked at as a privacy concern, because the customers like when they are singled out by the company or their material is shared or re-tweeted.

"We think the people who are on social media are delighted at the ability for us to amplify their conversation," she said.

"It really helps push their stories forward," said Timpone.