Category Archives: Online Resources

Defining the Role of Social Media Manager

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When creating the coming year’s marketing plan, the ever expanding presence of social media platforms must enter the discussion.  Specifically, the role of the Social Media Manager and what the ideal candidate should look like.  Are you going to hire these services out to a third-party company that will manage these platforms on your behalf?  Will this be a junior or senior position?  These questions and more are addressed by Julie Lepp, Director of Marketing for White Oaks Resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, in a recent HotelExecutive.com article.

The current trend seems to be heading towards companies bringing on a social media manager as a junior position, typically a new graduate satisfied with a lower pay scale and very familiar with the various platforms.  You’ll be able to take care of what you perceive as more pressing marketing tasks knowing that the social media issue is under control.

The Voice of Your Brand

You should take into consideration that the voice in the conversation between guest and hotel should be warm and welcoming, presenting a friendly place to do business.  Is it right to trust the voice of the brand, with the potential to reach the entire world, to a new hire right out of school who has little to no experience with your hotel, customer service and the way you handle complaints?

Customer comment cards need to be taken very seriously in the travel industry.  They are an indirect way of having a conversation with your guests which may lead to return business in the future.  Print comment cards are still circulated to guests throughout their stay, but your new social media manager may, in a sense, be conducting online comment cards on a daily basis in the form of tweets, reviews and social media posts.

Because the return on investment is perceived to be low from social media, there has been some hesitance to hire Social Media Managers as key strategists in the hospitality industry.  The position is handed off to a junior person to simply manage.  The potential for a PR disaster with so little control or supervision is unprecedented.

The Social Media/Customer Service Relationship

Customer service is the cornerstone of the travel space, and social media should be seen as an extension of good customer service rather than some ambiguous marketing element that produces little ROI.  Conversations on social media platforms include anecdotes about the excitement of arrival to your property, disappointment in something that has gone wrong and even promoting the brand.  Because of this, the main criteria for managing your social brand is not just being familiar with these platforms, but having a strong understanding of the strategic plan for your company.  How, when and what you post, and how you respond to guest posts, should all reflect the company’s position, beliefs and goals.

Lepp points out that the argument can be made that a person interacting daily with your customers, who is directly affecting your sales and presentation to the world, should be a senior experienced member of your team.  At the same time, no experienced marketer is going to take on social media management for a junior salary, or be seen to be taking a step backward in their career development.

Until social media is seen and understood as a flexible marketing and communication tool as well as an extension of the customer service standards, little will change.  So you may just continue to see “Sally from the front desk” tweeting and posting away on behalf of major brands, composing whatever Sally dreams up that day.

5 Social Media Strategies for 2014

Taiga-Site_Social-Media-StrategyAs the calendar turns from 2013 to 2014, many companies have new goals and strategies ready to be implemented.  The evolving world of social media is no different.  However, the ultimate goal of those strategies remains the same:  to increase brand awareness, to enhance guest satisfaction and to drive revenue.

To help hoteliers reach these goals, Daniel Edward Craig, founder of the online reputation management firm Reknown, and his panel shared a list of social media strategies to adopt in 2014.

1. Identify and Target Social Media Personas

Historically, hotel marketers have been quick to segment guests into familiar buckets that commonly included group, transient and business.  However, these groupings are simply too broad to reach with a targeted, captivating message via social media according to RockCheetah’s CEO Robert Cole.

The who, what, when, where and how still matter, but the real question to delve into is why.  Why are travelers visiting a certain destination under certain parameters?  Why should they choose to stay with you?

To find those answers, it helps to create personas that represent a subset of travelers, giving each persona a name and detailed characteristics or traits.  Things to consider include age, income levels, interests and where your personas live.  With all of this specificity, marketers are able to tailor communications that are more likely to drive engagement with a specific cohort.

Although this example may represent a deviation from the high-volume aspirations of most hotel marketers, there is one thing to keep in mind:  You can’t be all things to all people on social media.

2. Integrate Paid, Owned and Earned Content

Paid content, including display ads, cost-per-click campaigns and online travel agency listings give marketers a high degree of control.  However, it typically has a low influence on traveler booking choices.

Owned content, such as a brand website, Facebook page or Twitter feed allows you to connect with a wide range of potentials customers, but still packs a rather feeble punch.

The third and most influential content is earned content such as user-generated reviews, views, media coverage and blogs.  Although traditional marketing has focused around owned and paid content, there needs to be a shift towards developing strategies around earned content.

To garner exceptional earned content, hoteliers must provide exceptional guest experiences.  Another way to encourage feedback is throwing out small pieces of content designed for engagement with guests and can be shared easily across multiple channels.

3. Make Reviews the Priority

Reviews, both good and bad, can be used as a tool to improve the guest experience for all of your future customers.  Imagine the type of reviews you want to have and become the hotel that inspires those reviews.

Positive reviews can act as a free advertisement for your property and encourage additional travelers to stay in the future.  If guests have negative feedback, changes should be made to remedy this issue immediately so that the same reviews are not recurring.

4. Get Social with Google

Google’s algorithm is currently placing an increasing emphasis on user-generated content, including reviews.  With the development of Google+ and Google Places, the company now has its own social media brand they can use in the search engine’s organic search results.  For example, if you want your hotel to feature more prominently, marketers should focus on capturing at least five reviews through Google+

Keep in mind that you can’t simply create a Google+ account and be done with it.  Like Twitter and Facebook, Google’s platform requires a constant stream of fresh content that will continue to drive traffic to your site.

5. Optimize Facebook for Graph Search

A number of recent changes have turned Facebook into a very important marketing tool for hoteliers.  Graph Search, one of the newer developments in the social network, is like a search engine within a user’s friend network.  For example, a user can use Graph Search to look for friends who have “liked” resorts in Cancun.

How do you get your properties showcased higher on these results pages?  The more guests who visit a hotel’s Facebook page, leave comments, take photos or just mention that page elsewhere, the more likely it will show up on Graph Search.

To see the rest of this list, click here.

5 Blog Post Options When You’re Out of Ideas

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All bloggers have been in this situation at one point or another: You’re facing an impending deadline with nothing to write.  Putting it off for a day or two just does not seem like a solid solution.  So what are your options?

According to Search Engine Watch’s Simon Heseltine, the important thing to remember is that no matter which type of content you decide to write, quality is the key ingredient.  It’s not always helpful to just throw a post together that adds nothing to the communal knowledge or is purely derivative.  Heseltine came up with a list of 10 blog post types that will save the day of bloggers who are simply out of ideas.

1. The Informative Post

You are knowledgeable about your industry, so you should have some idea of what would be an interesting read for your audience.  Think about challenges you have dealt with recently; there is a good chance that your readers have had similar experiences.  You may not consider this something worthy of a post, but it can act as an affirmation for your audience as you discuss how you’ve been impacted, how you’ve dealt with it and perhaps how it has impacted them.  Customers can realize they are not alone in going through these issues and it can even lead to someone commenting a solution you had not considered.

2. The How-To Post

The How-To Post falls under the same category as the Informative Post, but it can be an easy way to be seen as an educational resource for your customers.  Explaining how to use the latest technology, or new multi-channel applications will be helpful for you readers, and will remind them they need to keep coming back to learn more in the future.

3. The Timely Post

Timing is everything in the business world.  It’s difficult to break news weeks or months after events occur.  Your editorial calendar should tell you about upcoming events that may generate some great content ideas for you.  These events should be of interest to your audience while providing some crossover interest for readers searching for information about the event you are covering.

4. The Humorous Post

Knowing your audience fairly well gives you some insight as to what content is likely to tickle their funny bone.  Tell an amusing anecdote of a recent guest visit, or a story about your own recent travel experience.  Keep your audiences laughing and there is a very good chance they’ll visit your site again to see if you have another side-splitter.

5. The List Post

A list can be easily digestible to your audience with small pockets of information on a given topic.  If you are ranking items, your readers also have the opportunity to give feedback about your rankings, and the potential to dispute them in the comments section.  Building that connection with your readers gives them a feeling of value and will likely encourage them to return in the future.  Just remember to keep your list centered on a theme.

To read the rest of Heseltine’s list, click here.

Debunking Online Hotel Distribution Myths

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Erik Munoz, Siteminder’s head of strategic sales and global partnerships, shed some light on the truth behind many common myths in online hotel distribution.  Let’s take a look at some of this information focusing on online distribution channels.

Myth: Hotels Should Reduce Their Reliance on Online Travel Agency Bookings.

Munoz explains that there are many hoteliers who feel strongly about avoiding OTAs unless absolutely necessary.  Most of this stems from high commissions that these sites charge.  Although commissions can be high, many of these OTAs have larger marketing budgets which will help drive traffic and conversions more effectively than an independent hotel could to their own website.

For those markets that are geographically out of reach to the average independent hotel or regional chain, OTAs can be especially useful.  Emerging, local OTAs can be more effective channels to secure booking from outbound travelers in some markets.  If your hotel is not using these OTAs to market your property, you are missing out on bookings and revenues from these potentially lucrative source markets.

Munoz offers three keys when planning your distribution strategy:

1.  Make sure to select the right mix of OTAs on which to list your property.  The key here is not putting all of your “eggs” into one basket.  Try implementing a broad, far-reaching online distribution strategy.

2. Technology is an important part of leveraging the OTA channel most effectively.  Make sure you are not increasing your costs when choosing multiple, varied OTA sites.

3. Ensure you integrate your online distribution channels for maximum reach and minimal risk of inconsistent pricing or overbooking.

Myth: Metasearch is Most Useful for the Marketing Department, not the Online Distribution Team.

Historically, marketing and online distribution departments in many hotels have worked autonomously.  However, since metasearch providers started to connect directly to the hotel booking engine or CRS (Central Reservation System), the two teams now will need to work together in ensuring the best possible results from all channels.

A solid marketing team must be in charge of managing the pay-per-click and keyword bidding, while online distribution teams manage the live rates, availability and deep links from metasearch partners back to the hotel booking website.

Myth: All Channel Managers are the Same.

As online distribution becomes more complex, technology is being created that allows hoteliers to effectively manage online distribution channels.  Key components to look for when identifying the best channel managers include dynamic pooled inventory, two-way SML connectivity and self-mapping tools for faster speed to market with new offers.

Applying these core features from market-leading channel manager products will quickly make you realize that not all channel managers are the same.

Myth: The Global Distribution System is an Overly Expensive Channel that is Only Beneficial for Big Chains or Regional Hotel Groups.

The GDS is not only for big chains or multi-property hotels groups.  Regardless of your size, if you are a hotel in key corporate destination, the GDS channel can be an extremely lucrative booking source.  In addition, GDS bookings have a longer average length of stay and a higher average daily rate than bookings originating for other channels, as has been the case historically.

The perception of high costs from “middle men” that do business between the hotel and GDS booker, and the varying price models that exist from CRS and connectivity providers create a cloud that can be cleared up by doing some research before signing up with a provider.

4 Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

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Social media has become a tremendous tool for companies looking to generate traffic to websites, but what are you risking in your social media presence with a misstep?  Does your reputation become tarnished in some unknown way?  Are you failing to reap the full rewards of social media?

Social marketing is changing so quickly that everyone is bound to make a mistake or two along the way.  Here are four common mistakes related to the travel industry and ways to avoid making them.

Mistake #1: A Strict Business Focus

Focusing social media posts on company sales, promotions and news updates is fine, but it is also important to add a personal touch and a bit of fun and whimsy.  A general guideline to keep in mind is that a business page is successful when relevant information from others is shared 80% of the time. Focus on a balance between selling and marketing your travel products by sharing links, photos, video and content from suppliers, clients and destinations.

Let your personality and that of your business shine through!  Give your clients the opportunity to indulge in their travel dreams and they will reward you with their loyalty and hard earned money.

Mistake #2: Missed Opportunities

After spending an hour writing a blog post and another hour constructing your weekly newsletter, you realize that you never got around to writing any Facebook posts or Tweets.  Many travel professionals make the mistake of showcasing unique content on only one social platform.

When you are writing that blog article, take time to break it down into posts, tweets and pins, and make sure to link these back to your original blog post.  Repurposing your material allows your fans and potential new clients the opportunity to see your work on a variety of platforms.  If they miss your Facebook post because they were in a meeting, they can catch your tweet later in the day and have access to your newest blog post.

Mistake #3: Thinking Likes Equal Sales

Everyone is looking for fans, followers and contacts, but the focus still needs to be on keeping these people engaged so they remain loyal, revenue-generating clients.  Be vigilant about responding, listening and being pro-active to create new business.  People are always looking to do business with those who they really like – not just companies they “like” on Facebook.

Mistake #4: Not Having a Plan

Because social media plays such an over-abundant role in most people’s lives, you may be under the impression that you really do not need a plan for handling all of your accounts.  However, when it comes to professional marketing and communication expertise, you’ll want to leverage your success with a well-thought out long-term strategy.

A media calendar is essential and allows you to plan out your social posting themes so that they coordinate with your sales cycle.  You will also be able to integrate your social media posts, Tweets and pins with your traditional marketing.

When you sidestep these common mistakes, you’ll find that your social media presence will evolve and flourish.

Raising the Bar in a Multi-Channel Travel World

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Customer experience in the hotel industry, as in any industry, is about consistency.  It’s not enough to have the newest self-service tools, mobile apps or improved services.  Individually, these initiatives can work, but there needs to be consistency across all touch points based on guest requirements to ensure satisfaction.

Hotels are currently attempting to generate solutions that address not only customer service issues, but user experience issues as well.  Creating an unambiguous cross-channel experience is of paramount importance.  Stan Kreydin, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Wyndham Exchange and Rentals explained his views on the subject:

 “Where possible, we want our customers to have a similar experience with our products via self-service channels such as the web as they do with our contact center agents for our assisted service channels.”

For most hotel guests, the experience enjoyed with the hotel staff is engaging in streamlined.  It must also be a top priority for consumers to feel the same way when interacting with a website or mobile app.  Some companies, including the Morgans Hotel Group, have made significant changes to websites including the ability to make reservations in a limited number of clicks, tour the city they’re visiting with a curated Google Map and access an Instagram feed populated with photos from guests staying at the property.

It’s always important to recognize your target demographic when utilizing new technologies.  Pullman Hotels and Resort focuses on delivering a cosmopolitan, vibrant and in-style experience for guests.  The company has worked on a unique guest technology ecosystem centered on synchronizing various screens – TV, smartphone and table – in order to create a unified network of entertainment services.

However, the multi-device phenomenon does not only affect the online experience offered by Pullman.  The hotels and resorts have multiplied IP addresses, which has allowed the company to increase the bandwidth at all Pullman properties.  Multiple power sockets placed near beds allows guests easy access to devices throughout their stay.

Hotels worldwide are currently all trying to match guests’ rising expectations.  Check-in and check-out is one area where guests do not like wasting time and expect immediate service.  The same goes for free WiFi which they expect to have access to as soon as they enter the property.  Amenities that were once considered luxuries have now become an expectation among travelers, and hotels need to adapt or will find themselves left behind.

The Evolution of Online Search: SEO, SEM and Keyword Bidding

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Search engine optimization and search engine marketing can be very effective ways for hotels to reach prospective guests, but as the “keyword world” changes, hoteliers need to keep pace.  As online search features continue to change, there must be a greater focus on developing higher quality content for guests to compete against online travel agencies.

OTAs’ ads outnumber hotel brands’ ads on Google, Bing and AOL, but not on Google Mobile according to a recent BrandVerity study titled “Hotel Brands, OTAs and paid search: How do these relationships unfold on the SERP?”

According to the study, each Google Search Engine Results Page included almost two OTA ads.  Bing and AOL had considerably more, with 4.77 and 5.27 OTA ads per SERP, respectively.  The number of OTA ads per SERP on Google Mobile was only .49.

It is important to nail down the art and science of keyword bidding, and this is evident in the case of Expedia. They spent a substantial amount of time studying the science, and as a result their “quality score” translates to less expensive cost-per-click prices.  You can learn more about keyword bidding here.

Budgeting for SEO and SEM can vary across the spectrum of hotels.  Budget and economy hotels do not need to spend as much time on SEO because they rely more heavily on brand traffic, walk-in traffic and ratings and reviews sites.  However, If the return on ad spend is positive and you are getting better returns than spending with OTAs, meta-search, meeting planners or travel agents, the investment should be considered worthwhile and continued.

Are Hotel Brands Doing Enough to Stay Relevant?

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In a travel industry that is constantly undergoing some sort of change or improvement, it is important for companies to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack.  There was a time when having a common brand flag was a necessity to keep your reservation books full.  Now, it is the independent and boutique hotels that are in their best position in years.

Search engines and third-part distribution partners are leveling the sales-and-marketing playing field.  Independent hotels now have the tools to get just as much exposure and recognition as brands, while targeting the right mix of customers.

The up-and-coming generation of travelers – those traveling today, not years from now – are far more brand agnostic than former generations according to a study by travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt.  His study showed that even consumers considered “elite” loyalty members will not remain blindly loyal, and often times these guests will choose a hotel based on the promotions as opposed to loyalty.

Protean Strategies also conducted a recent study showing that hotel brands are not making it clear enough to consumers what segment they are playing in and what kind of experience guests should expect for that price point.

So, what can individuals brands do differently to stand out amongst an increasingly crowded landscape?

To capture most travelers’ attention, just be at the top of the list when they do a Google search for “hotels in the Poconos”, have a comparative price and good guest reviews.  Today’s consumers simply don’t care about the “feel good factor”.

Brands should focus more resources toward optimizing those technological necessities and further assist property managers in key areas including online reputation management, search engine marketing and dynamic pricing.  Do not waste your time commissioning studies that reveal mind blowing facts like contemporary travelers are looking for WiFi internet access in their hotel rooms.