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Johnny, the Smug-Nosed Hotel Owner

(To the tune of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

You know hotels need Facebook and Pinterest and Foursquare,
Social Search Optimization, and more, yeah?
But do you recall?
The one who ignored it all?

Johnny, the smug-nosed owner,
Tuned out all the tell-tale signs.
When OTAs saw his website,
They read in between the lines.

All of the other hotels,
Were good at booking many a guest,
They never booked with Jonny,
So he knew it was time to reinvest.

On one foggy Christmas eve,
Johnny found online:
“SSO, mobile, and new site,
Your guests will book direct tonight!”

With all the improved features,
He took back the rooms from OTAs,
His presence online now current,
And guests galore are booking their stays!

Read our other holiday poems:
Hotel for the Holidays: A Social Media Poem
Frosty the Hotel Marketer

Dec 5

Oh, the Places Your Guests Will Go!

On November 20, Pinterest released its newest feature: Place Pins. Cue travel marketers rejoicing. The window of opportunity for travel and social media working in tandem has just widened, as Pinterest’s new feature provides many opportunities for hotels and travel brands wishing to expand on their social media marketing. Place Pins allow pins that correlate with actual addresses to coincide with a map shown side-by-side with the Pinterest board. In this way, the pinner or the viewers can easily visualize the options suggested on the board, and even take things a step further by planning trips, creating guides, or finding nearby activities or attractions all without leaving Pinterest.

“…every day, people Pin about 1.5 million places, and now there are more than 750 million Pins of these destinations on Pinterest. We asked ourselves, how can we help people turn their travel inspiration into reality? Today, we’re taking a first step toward that goal with Place Pins.”
-Pinterest, 11/20/13

On a social network that is inherently travel-friendly, integrating maps with Pinterest boards is a natural step, and a feature that hotels should jump on in order to not only enhance their guests’ experiences, but their own hotels’ social media presences as well. Place Pins put an emphasis on discovery of local content, and as hotels are generally full of those who know the city best, it shouldn’t be too much trouble for hotels to take their Pinterest pages to the next level.

The feature works fairly intuitively. Pinners have the option of adding a map to an existing board or creating a new board with the map feature. The map feature can be toggled on and off easily at any point. After enabling the map, pins appear with an option “Map this Pin” and a plus sign, that when clicked, opens up a search area that is conveniently powered by Foursquare (here’s your friendly reminder to claim your Foursquare page)! From there, boards with maps will show side-by-side, even displaying addresses and phone numbers for user convenience. It’s worth mentioning that the mobile Pinterest app also now uses Place Pins so users can access them on-the-go. Pinners can send their boards to specific users – so if a hotel knows a guest is visiting soon, it might be a nice touch to take a moment and send that person a Pinterest board full of local spots to check out, complete with maps and contact info!

Pinterest board screenshot

Constantly at the forefront of social media marketing, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts was one of the first travel brands to begin using Pinterest’s new Place Pins, and is a great example of how to utilize the new feature. The resort now uses Place Pins to complement its successful Pinterest trip-planning program, Pin.Pack.Go, which connects guests with local experts.

Pinterest should be an important aspect of any hotel’s social media strategy, and adding a mapping feature will only continue to make Pinterest integral. Beyond increasing guest satisfaction, showing creativity online, and acting as a digital concierge, this new feature can drive traffic to a hotel’s website, boost blog shares, and so much more!

Convert Lookers Into Bookers with Updated Photography

Imagery on a hotel’s website is one of the most crucial elements for a good user experience. The average web browser is likely not aware of the impact decent photography can have, but it only makes sense that a website with extensive, hi-res imagery would have a higher conversion rate and higher engagement than a website with outdated and amateur imagery. Some independent hotel managers hire professional photographers to capture the true essences of their properties and give web browsers an idea of the actual look and feel of the hotel. Google sends its trusted business photographers all over the world to do the same for its local search results. In a time when photos are more important than ever, both on- and off-page, to the point that Google has its own team generating original photos in order to include them on search engine results, hoteliers need to continue to stay on top of their website’s photography as well. Going along with the motto that a hotel’s website should be “new every 2 [years],” photography should be updated regularly as well and should reflect any new additions or renovations on property.

Typically, the brand.com websites are very image-centric and give guests what they want to see at first look, likely due to the involvement and resources of corporate. Independent properties, especially those that are family-owned, or hotels in which a smaller group of people has control over all aspects, more frequently than not have websites that have been neglecting the photography or gallery areas. Independent properties need to do a better job of “merchandising” their hotels with these high-quality photos. Showcasing a hotel on both the desktop and mobile websites is imperative for converting lookers into bookers, increasing engagement, and simply remaining competitive in today’s photo-driven world! It should also be a key component to a hotel’s mobile marketing strategy to include photos of the property on its mobile booking engine, as people are booking travel via mobile more than ever before.

A recent VFM Leondardo study looked at the top 10 hotel images travel shoppers want to see when searching for the perfect hotel. The research revealed the following order:

1. Guest rooms
2. Restaurant
3. Recreation
4. Lobby
5. Map
6. Business center
7. Pool
8. Amenities
9. Exterior
10. Bar/lounge

Hoteliers interested in revamping the imagery on their websites might find this list helpful so they know a good place to start without getting overwhelmed.

Don’t forget the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” because this holds especially true for hotels. The power of beautiful imagery on a website is vast and should not be underestimated. Enhancing the user experience with photography will undoubtedly drive bookings and create conversation. Typically, hoteliers do not neglect updating or renovating their properties, and in turn they should not neglect their digital properties either!

Nov 8

@[Hotel] to @[Guest]: “Coffee’s on us!”

Last week, Starbucks announced a new service called Tweet-a-coffee. The program is as intuitive as it sounds – it allows Twitter users to give Starbucks Card eGifts to other Twitter users all from within the social network. Once a user syncs his Twitter account with his Starbucks account, it’s as simple as crafting a tweet to @Tweetacoffee and writing “@Tweetacoffee to @[Twitter handle].” From there, the user to whom you sent the tweet will receive a tweet with a link to a site that allows him/her to redeem the gift card via the Starbucks website. The process is quick and painless, and makes the phrase “Coffee’s on me!” a fun real-time reality because of its smooth tie-in with social media.

There is no doubt that businesses and brands will soon begin, if have not already begun, taking advantage of tweeting a coffee to brand ambassadors, customers, and more. Businesses within the hospitality industry should be quick to take advantage of this service, as it is low-cost but could have a big impact. Buying a coffee for someone is, after all, quite a hospitable thing to do! Here are a few ways hotels could Tweet-a-coffee and why this might pay off:

-Appease unhappy guests. Have you ever had someone tweet to your hotel with a complaint? It happens all the time. Depending on the size and influence of the tweeter’s network, it’s true that the actual consequences of a negative tweet about your brand might not have a large impact. However, in the age of social media, word can get around quickly and you can never be too careful! Either way, the principle remains the same – you have an unhappy guest and he is writing about it online for virtually anyone to read. Give these upset tweeters a little something to be happy about with a digital Starbucks gift card and a tweet offering some kind of apology and intent of action. The guest will be happy to have been heard, and other potential bookers can see that your hotel listens to feedback, takes action, and is kind in return.
-Reinforce brand ambassadors. Is there someone on Twitter who is constantly sharing your content? Retweeting you, engaging with you, or even sharing his Foursquare check-ins at your property with his network on Twitter? Reinforce his passion for your hotel by picking up his next coffee! Not only do you want to make your upset guests happy, but don’t neglect keeping your existing fans smiling as well!
-Host a contest. There are many ways to incorporate Tweet-a-coffee into a Twitter contest. Pose a question that sparks conversation about your hotel and retweet the responses. Better yet, take advantage of Twitter’s recent update that shows pictures and videos in-stream on the feed and host a contest where users tweet photos of their best times at your hotel or traveling around your local area. These tweets catch the eye since the photos are shown by default. This is a great way to increase your earned media and user-generated content. Send an eGift card to a lucky participant!
-Surprise a current guest. Monitor Twitter to see who is sharing their Foursquare check-ins at your hotel. Is a guest tweeting about his stay while he is still there? Tweet him a Starbucks card to help him start his day exploring your city with a smile and a jolt!

Of course, you can’t just be tweeting a Starbucks eGift card to everyone. Select people at random or give yourself a limit to send each week. Use services like Klout to see who really can boost your hotel, but don’t forget about the little guy either! Use Starbucks’ Tweet-a-coffee to expand on your hotel’s social media strategy and keep your Twitter followers on their toes. Happy tweeting!

The Most Effective Forms of Earned Media for Hotels

This blog first appeared on ehotelier.com.

By now, you have likely heard about three specific types of media, all of which are integral to the success of your hotel’s online marketing strategy. Paid, owned, and earned media, all while falling under the same general umbrella, vary in many ways. The following should give you a quick refresher of each type of media:

Paid media: Purchased content such as pay-per-click or display ads.
Owned media: Content you control such as your hotel’s website, blog, social media profiles, and listings on third-party sites such as TripAdvisor.
Earned media: User-generated content spread generally through review sites, social media, blogs, photos, videos, etc.

As stated, using these types of media can help you achieve your hotel’s online marketing goals, specifically when it comes to improving your search ranking, which can in turn affect direct bookings. Especially in a day when Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are spending more in marketing than ever before, it is important to pursue paid, owned, and earned media for your hotel in order to improve your organic search rankings.

Earned content is perhaps the most difficult to garner, yet the most valuable type of media. Studies have shown that consumers trust the opinions of other consumers more than any other advertising source, thus placing even more importance on user-generated content. In many cases, earned media is low-budget, making it a cost effective way to market your hotel.

But what really is user-generated content, and how can you go about increasing this content generated online by your guests, fans, followers, and brand ambassadors? It can be tricky to motivate people about your hotel, but it can be done! The following insight looks more at earned media, and provides tips on how to actually generate content from users:

Reviews:
Your hotel needs as many reviews as possible. Not only on review giant, TripAdvisor, but also on OTAs such as Expedia, as well as Google+ Local, which are often neglected. Google takes reviews and ratings posted on Google+ Local and factors them into the algorithm that decides what hotels show up on the Google Carousel. This means a strong Google+ presence is more important than ever! Encourage reviews by utilizing TripAdvisor’s widgets – add a space to write a review for your hotel directly on your website, or upload a tab to your Facebook page where users can do the same. Post on your social media channels asking for a quick review, however, keep in mind the 80/20 rule of self-promotion! Ask guests at check-out for a review, and send a follow-up email including a link to your Google+ Local page. Many guests are happy to write a review, they just need a little nudge or a reminder. Make the process as easy as possible for them. As long as you are not too invasive with your marketing, you may find the results for increasing your number of reviews better than expected!

Blogger outreach:
Creating buzz around your hotel or brand in the blogosphere is one of the most powerful types of earned media. Many blogs, especially travel-themed blogs, have large communities and followings, and the level of trust among the blogger or bloggers and the community can be high. Securing blog posts about your hotel can happen on a low to no budget (depending on the blog or blogger), which makes blogger outreach an important element of your hotel’s marketing plan. This process can be time consuming but can pay off if done correctly. If you have a unique special offer running at your property or a big event happening soon, reach out to relevant bloggers and inform them of your hotel’s story. You never know who already might be a fan of your hotel, so put your feelers out for potential brand ambassadors! There are ample tools in existence that allow you to see who is talking about your property in the digital space, and utilizing these can give you a head start.

Social media:
Social media has truly empowered user-generated content. While many fans or followers will share content with your hotel on their own, there are ways to encourage them even more. Hosting contests or giving small incentives to post a review or photo can work wonders – however, remember to simply ask for a review and not specify that it should be a positive one. Again, people trust their friends’ and families’ words and recommendations more than traditional advertising, so take advantage of this by encouraging conversation about your brand through as many mediums as possible. Stay aware of any new and emerging social media trends and stand out by being one of the first in the hospitality industry to garner a community.

Again, the most effective online marketing strategy for your hotel incorporates paid, owned, and earned media. Gaining the latter can mean putting in some time, but it will pay off when your hotel appears high organically on search results due to a positive comment or engaging photo posted on your Facebook page from a loyal guest!

Give the People What They Want: The Local Touch

A recent eMarketer study showed what was already suspected by many – the majority of the polled leisure travelers in the US use their smartphones to seek out local information while traveling, and 43% of the respondents use tablets to do the same. The latter result rose 36% from the findings 2 years ago, thus reassuring that tablet usage has grown dramatically and will continue to grow as the industry evolves.

                 eMarketer study

The data only gets better for travel marketers. According to a study from Google and Nielsen cited in the eMarketer articlesmartphone users averaged 2.2 actions after searching on their mobile devices. This number of actions is higher than almost every other industry’s data, save for the beauty and automotive industries.  The most useful finding from the study is that two-thirds of local searches during the studied time period were nonspecific, which suggests that people are browsing for suggestions of activities, rather than browsing for particular trip-planning information.

What does this mean for hotels? Opportunity! Now that it is easier than ever to find out what draws people to your site via mobile devices, hoteliers should be quick to take advantage of this data. The first step, of course, is to ensure your hotel has a mobile website and that it is optimized with the best format and displays the most relevant information for mobile browsers. With the information that travelers and guests are seeking out suggestions during their stays, take the time to share your insider knowledge. Not only will this keep your guests happy, but it will drive traffic to your site and position your hotel as an expert in the local area.

Host a blog on your website and keep it current and fresh. Include information about the area, local events, day trip ideas – include anything in which your guests would be interested. Top 10 lists are great because they are succinct yet provide much value. Are there any common questions asked at the Concierge desk? A Q&A style blog post might bring a lot of traffic to your blog and save guests the time and energy of waiting in line at Concierge. Hook up your hotel’s Twitter feed to the mobile site and tweet daily trip tips. This is a great way to incorporate the social aspectto your site and bring in visitors both to your site and your social media pages.

With the knowledge of exactly for what your guests are searching, it’s important to take advantage. Don’t let your hotel fall behind!

(Photo courtesy of eMarketer)

Refine Your Hotel’s Facebook Strategy with Page Insights

As hotels begin realizing the importance of online marketing, they are also starting to see how social media fits into the big picture. Not only does social media create a community around your hotel’s brand, act as a customer service outlet, provide a place to showcase your property and its accomplishments, among many other aspects, but it also can have an impact on where your property shows up on Google. 75% of web browsers never click past the first page of search results, so in order to increase direct bookings, it is imperative that hotels appear as high as possible on Google. Social media marketing will only help this process.

Marketing with social media can be relatively low-cost, which is perfect for independent or boutique hotels without some of the same resources as big brand name properties. There are many tools available that can help make the most of your hotel’s social media strategy. The release of Facebook’s Graph Search brought enhanced Page Insights to brand pages, and while there is endless data to be studied on there, there are a couple new tools included that can be especially useful if applied correctly.

When Your Fans Are Online
The When Your Fans Are Online tab is accessed under Page Insights in the admin tab, and then under Posts. The top stat shows the average number of fans who saw your Facebook posts per day of the week. Take note of these numbers and see why one day had more views than another. Was the content you posted that day the most relevant to your fans? Make sure you see how many engagements and interactions that specific post actually received as well.

Below that, Times shows the average number of fans who saw your posts per hour. This can give you insight into the best time to post content to your page. Applying this data can be a great way to take advantage of organic traffic, especially if your budget is small and you aren’t utilizing Promoted Posts. If you come into work on a Monday and post a photo right when you log into your computer, yet the majority of your fans tend to be online at 3pm, it might be time to switch up your routine.

When your fans are online

Best Post Types
The next tab to notice is Best Post Types. The data supplied shows the various types of content posted and what the average engagement is on each type. This data was available on Facebook’s Insights before the recent changes, but it needed to be inferred as it was not displayed as clearly as it is now. Especially in travel, it is true that photos generally resonate the most with fans, but it is still worth looking to see what types of content receive the most engagement and what kinds of engagement. Do the links you post receive a lot of clicks, but not as many likes, comments, or shares? If so, try refining your content strategy into something more relevant to your fans.

Content types

Click around the other tabs under Page Insights to see what other analytics might be useful to you. If you’re not taking advantage of the breakdown of your fan demographics, you are missing out. You never know how your social media strategy can evolve based on who your fans are! It’s true there is a lot of paid data available out there, but there is also a lot of low-cost and free data as well that hotels need to be utilizing. Make the most of what you have!

Incorporate Local Attractions into your Hotel’s Social Media Strategy

It should not be news by now that an optimized Facebook page can have an impact on organic search results. However, beyond tagging photos, filling out the short and long descriptions, general information, and other fields available for optimization on the Facebook page info tab, there is even more hotel marketers can actively do to organically rank their hotels higher on Google, not to mention bring in more fans to the Facebook page. The following should act as a suggestion for refining your social media marketing strategy, in hopes that this idea stirs up other online marketing ideas specific to your property.

1. Choose a local attraction near your property.
The obvious choice is to pick an attraction or event with which your hotel is already partnered, whether it is through a special offers package or some other form of partnership. If you are a smaller, independent property without any strong ties to a local establishment, find something relevant to your property. For example, if your property hosts many families with kids, consider your nearby theme park or other prominent family-friendly attraction. Pick something that draws people to your area so it receives a lot of search engine traffic.

2. Bring the attraction into your online conversations.
Seek out the establishment’s business page and Like the page. Share its Facebook content directly with your fans by using the Share button on the post – this will alert the attraction’s page that you shared its content and the post on your page will still show the brand as the original author. This can put you on the radar of the page’s managers, thus opening the door for possible future promotions or parternships. If your hotel has a blog, write a post about something exciting going on with the attraction, and then post that to your Facebook page and tag the page. Don’t forget to include hashtags. Promoting the specific post can be a great, cost-effective way to increase site traffic and direct bookings! Consider using keywords in your posts such as “near [name of theme park],” but make sure to creatively incorporate the keywords and provide value to your fans, as it could be easy to come across as spammy.

3. Utilize Facebook’s paid opportunities.
Facebook provides many ways to get your content viewed by more people, and it can work with budgets both small and large. Running paid ads on Facebook can be a great way to increase your fan base or site traffic, depending on the destination URL. Try running ads drawing people to your hotel because of its proximity to the local attraction. If you have a special, mention it in the ad. Try paying to boost the specific post mentioning the attraction. Play around with the different paid advertising options on Facebook and see what works the best, depending on your specific campaign goals.

Some potential results of incorporating a local attraction into your social media marketing are potential partnerships with the attraction, improved search results, and higher engagement and reach on your Facebook page. Of course, this can all lead to an increase in bookings! Think of the possibilities if you incorporate not only Facebook but Google+, Twitter, or more into the same overall plan. The key is to be natural and not to seem forced, as well as not to push too much of the same content at one time. Make sure to monitor Unlikes as this can be a useful performance indicator. Social media marketing is an important element of any hotel’s online marketing strategy, and depending on the hotel’s budget and resources, there are varying degrees of how involved to get with social media. Think outside of the box and try something new with your online marketing…you never know what results you may see until you try!

Aug 7

The struggle continues as many hotels look to reduce reliance on Online Travel Agencies and increase direct bookings. This may seem daunting, but in reality there are many ways to win back some of the revenue lost to OTAs. One small improvement or differentiating factor might not make the case, but when many small adjustments are made the impact altogether can be great. Social media is a great medium which with to start in order to gain more bookings directly on your hotel’s website. Your hotel has control over your social media pages, so it’s important to take advantage of this marketing medium.

One impactful channel that is still gaining in popularity and importance is Google+. While it may not seem to be the most relevant social network currently, it’s imperative for hotels to join the network and optimize their pages. Listings and postings from Google+ influence Google rankings and this of course can impact how people find and book with your hotel. The following are a few key elements for optimizing your Google+ page effectively:

  • Make sure to complete the business information listing for your page. Use keywords to describe your property, but remember not to stuff them in irrelevantly. The Google+ Dashboard will show what the “Top Searches” are that take users to your page. Using some of these keywords creatively in your posts will help drive users to your Google+ page as opposed to your hotel’s page on an OTA.
  • Post enticing content from your hotel’s blog or website to your Google+ page. This will help take users from your social page directly to your website. Use hashtags to ensure searchers will find you!
  • Join communities to help stir conversation. Position your hotel as experts in your local area!
  • Create special offers that provide something worthwhile. With rate parity, hotels cannot offer lower booking prices on their own websites when compared to the prices on OTAs, but hotels can put together special offers packages that will entice guests to book directly with them instead of through a third-party player. Post about these special offers on your Google+ page!

Google+ is a great tool to utilize and when part of a bigger social media and online marketing strategy, can be very effective. What other tips can you offer for using social media to mitigate dependence on OTAs?

Mastering Local Search for Hotels: 2013 Edition

The following blog post was written by our friend, Jeremy, who discusses how hotels can take full advantage of local SEO.

Due in large part to the ongoing mobile revolution, local businesses have found that it’s easier than ever to court customers online. For hotels in particular, local SEO presents its own unique set of challenges. As a result of the 24/7 nature of the hotel industry, hoteliers can’t afford to let their guard down for a second. The following tips will greatly improve your chances of SEO success:

Get Your Mobile House In Order
According to recent research data, 19% of hotel searches are performed on a mobile device. While searchers may default to the social media platforms like Yelp and Google+ for intelligence quite often, there’s a good chance they’ll hit up your mobile site for booking and so forth. Make sure that your mobile site provides an adequate experience for Android and iOS users.

Master Your Local Social Listings
Search engines like Google have become quite adept at indexing businesses based on available web data in recent years. You can help to flesh out your hotel’s online profile by ensuring that your NAP or Name, Address and Phone Number data are correct. Establish profiles for your hotel with accurate data on Facebook and Google+ Local. Square away these details and the organic backlinks will follow.

Focus On Niche Keyword Targeting
While search engines can generally index your business rather accurately, it’s up to you to make sure that your site is properly categorized via keywords. Do a little research on your current clientele to see who your hotel appeals to most and adjust the keywords used in your local listings and social media profiles accordingly to boost bookings.

Attract & Manage User Reviews
These days, natural user reviews that end up on sites like Yelp, Foursquare and Google+ will sway potential lodgers more than the descriptions found on your main site. And with blogging sites such as Tumblr, WordPress and Empower Network making it uber simple for everyone to own a blog, customer service rants have never been so prevalent. In other words: protect your brand! You should be encouraging as many customers as possible to leave reviews on your social media profiles whether positive or negative. If you get a bad review, personally address it and demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction. (This is huge right now!)

Go Paperless
Instead of inking hotel deals via paperwork (fax, telephone or in person) opt to have your website to take hotel bookings. Or even better, design an app that books the hotel. How does this effect your SEO, you ask? Bounce rate. The longer people stay on your website, the more relative your website becomes in that niche. At minimum, don’t ever ask people to do old fashioned methods such as printing out an invoice or sending in a fax. Offer online fax services if needed (TopTenReviews has a few of them here), but an online checkout or an app compatible for smartphones and tablets would be the ideal way to go.

Push Media to the Fore
If you’ve ever shopped for anything on Craigslist, you’ll notice that the posts with multiple photos get far more attention than those that don’t. Using videos and high-quality photos on your main page and on your social media profiles will instantly improve your local SEO by increasing traffic and bookings. Nowadays, the savvy web user expects a visual representation of what they’ll be buying beforehand.

Seize the Day on the Local Web
The leveling of the business playing field as facilitated by the Internet isn’t just an international commercial phenomenon. Local markets in every corner of the world are being reinvigorated by the possibilities presented by local SEO.

Businesses that operate in the hospitality industry are uniquely poised to profit from this new reality if they’re willing to invest a bit of effort into managing their online presences.

Jeremy Page is an internet entrepreneur and world traveler. He lives outside Salt Lake City, Utah.

(Source: e-marketingassociates.com)