What Social Media Week Chicago 2014 session did you attend?

Anna attended Under The Influence: 5 Ways Shoppers Are Using Social Media to Discover, Research and Buy.

At this session…

Molly Garris of Leo Burnett explained that as shoppers continue to spend more time on social media, they are inadvertently being influenced by their networks’ opinions, recommendations, deals, tips, and news. Marketers need to get ahead of this behavior to drive traffic, sales, and loyalty and become the ultimate influencer. Molly broke it down into 5 concepts:

1. Passive Discovery: Content being posted and shared by friends, family, celebrities, brands, and influencers inadvertently sways your brand preferences and buying decisions. Therefore, brands that publish more content increase the likelihood of it being socialized through multiple channels and organically influencing other users outside of their original reach.

2. Researching: More shoppers start their product research on Amazon than through Google because the ratings and reviews given by customers are trusted and valued more than advertising. Brands should share feedback from experts and influencers, and publish user-generated content across channels to reach shoppers and influence purchases.

3. Buying: In-store shopping can be inconsistent and boring, whereas online shopping allows for fun, fresh experiences. By tailoring online deals, coupons, and incentives to your customers, they'll enjoy the purchasing process and be more likely to share their experience on social media and support your brand.

4. Getting Support: Don't abandon your customers after they've had an awesome, share-worthy purchasing experience. Offer support and solutions for customers by using simplified and visual content that's helpful and easy to scan. Listen to your customers and respond in a real, conversational tone.

5. Advocating: Give your customers a reason to be proud of their purchases. Be helpful and award differently. Turn online shoppers into brand advocates by listening, responding, and thanking them. By supporting your customers, you also build support for your brand.

One of the most interesting things I learned at this session is…

92% of customers trust user-generated content and world-of-mouth over advertising, which means brands need to focus on listening and responding to customers so they can in turn influence the people in their social circles. Providing an optimized, memorable online experience for shoppers will not only gain loyalty, but also encourage them to share their feedback and be a voice for your brand.

How can a hotel use social influencers to enhance their social media strategy and drive bookings?

Just as online shoppers research products, travelers research flights, hotels, and city attractions online. As guests share photos and reviews from their hotel stay, they are influencing others within their networks. Transform your guests into online brand advocates by encouraging them to share their positive experiences, responding to their comments on Facebook or Twitter, providing solutions to their questions, and rewarding them for their online engagement. Your hotel can become a top influencer by:

• Consistently posting relevant content that followers will want to share
• Publishing user-generated content from your guests
• Encouraging guests to post highlights from their stay
• Listening to guests and responding to their questions, complaints, and feedback in a non-robotic, friendly manner
• Making online booking an easy, exciting experience
• Offering unique deals or incentive to returning guests

Read more highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2014 sessions.

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What Social Media Week Chicago 2014 session did you attend?

Cat and Nicole attended Get Heard Above the Noise on Social Media

At this session…

Marcie Hill, Marki Lemons, Toure Muhammad, and Scott Steward discussed their insights on how to get your Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook posts noticed amongst the clutter and competition.

Marcie Hill's thoughts on Twitter:

  • The key to Twitter is to listen to what people are saying.
  • Take advantage of social share buttons located on articles. This is a great way to increase followers.
  • Create a relationship with followers by acknowledging their presence and content through hashtags, mentions, and retweets.
    • For example, use #FollowFriday to give shout-outs to your followers that you have been interacting with that week.
    • Acknowledge people just because. People are more likely to Retweet your messages if you frequently interact with them.

Marki Lemons' thoughts on Instagram:

  • Your followers want to get a feel for who you are so they can get to know you.
  • Photos create more engagement on social media than text-only posts. But, make your photos more appealing with different filters, borders, and text overlays.
  • People digest words much faster on a picture than they would separately.
  • Instagram is an easy way to leverage the rest of the internet with one simple app. You can easily share your photo with audiences on 5 social networking channels (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flicker, and Instagram) with the click of a button.
    • Usually your Instagram photos will receive five times more engagement on Facebook than they do on Instagram.

Toure Muhammad's thoughts on Facebook:

  • On Facebook, the most shareable messages are images.
  • Make your content short and concise, but outstanding.
  • An effective Facebook post should include: short but interesting copy with a call to action, an intriguing high quality photo, and a visible name, logo, or website.
  • 75% of posts should be entertaining or informative to your audience. 
  • Be transparent and have a personality on Facebook. People want to interact with humans!
  • Understand why your audience is on social media and what they want to see. Analyze the Facebook insights to see what content people are engaging with.

One of the most interesting things I learned at this session is…

Cat: Simply having just text or just images in a social media post is not enough! People interact most with images that have a text overlay and are able to digest words on photos quicker than if the words were on their own.

Nicole: When it comes to social media, just understand who your audience is and make sure your hotel's content is relevant to them. By knowing who you are posting for, you’ll be able to create effective content. Social media is meant to be fun so have fun with it!

So, how can a hotelier ensure their message is seen on social media when there is so much competiton?

Cat: All businesses, including hotels, should be posting no more than 25% promotional or salesy content. People use social media to network, socialize, entertain, and stay informed and NOT to be sold too. If your hotel limits the amount of “salesy” posts, you will be more likely to retain fans and followers and have more fan engagement.

Nicole: A hotel will be able to tell their story better when they understand what their audience is looking for on that platform. Not all social media channels are meant to have the same message. Each channel has a different audience with different user-intentions, so your hotel should tailor its content for each network to create more effective messages.

Read more highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2014 sessions.

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What Social Media Week Chicago 2014 session did you attend?

Nicole and Anna attended Advanced Brain Science Web Marketing and Social Media Tools to Get Your Marketing on Track to explore how brain science and web marketing work together to create successful online marketing strategies.

At this session…

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media reviewed research, case studies, and specific web marketing tactics that work with natural, human behavioral tendencies.

  • Serial Position Effect: Users have higher attention and retention at the beginning and end of lists, menus, websites. Translation: place the good stuff at the beginning and the end to make sure it gets read.
  • Keep content short and simple. Write marketing content at an 8th grade reading level to ensure all users understand the message presented. 
  • Format content for scanners, not readers. Break large chunks of content into smaller sections that are easier to digest.
  • Use color contrasts for call to action. Create an invisible arrow showing your audience where to look. For example, if the girl is looking left in a picture, then the text should be on the left.
  • A case study presented at the session showed that Baskerville is the most credible font.

Hope Bertram of Digital Megaphone and Katy Lynch of Manifest Digital shared free and paid digital marketing tools that help increase traffic and customer engagement.

  • canva.com - allows you to visually enhance imagery for social media posts
  • followerwonk.com - analyzes your Twitter followers, compares them to selected competitors, and shows Twitter bios, interestss and location
  • fakers.statuspeople.com - shows how many fake, inactive, and good users are following your Twitter handle
  • imgflip.com - creates memes, gifs, and pie charts
  • piktochart.com - creates interactive infographics

One of the most interesting things I learned at this session is…

Nicole: When writing blogs, it is most effective for your paragraphs to be 3-4 lines because your readers are most likely just scanning the information. This is something that your hotel should keep in mind when writing landing pages for your website.

Anna: There are several free social media tools, such as fakers.statuspeople.com and followerwonk.com, that can help you research which users your hotels should or should not follow. They are also beneficial tools for eliminating fake and inactive users that spam your hotel's newsfeed or interfere with genuine engagement.

How can a hotelier use brain science, web marketing tactics, and social media tools to produce a successful online marketing strategy?

Nicole: When writing content for your hotel, it’s important to understand how your target audience is reading and understanding the information. Most people have a short attention span, so your hotel's content will be more effective when it is short, simple, and direct. Your hotel's information will also be more effective when it is sent out at the right time and to the right people. Your hotel should be taking advantage of these free or inexpensive social media tools to engage with relevant followers and measure your social media campaigns.

Anna: These behavior tendencies and social media tools can help your hotel properly engage with followers, establish loyalty, and increase guest-retention.

Read more highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2014 sessions.

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All social media and internet startups continually refine their products and services to stay current and meet the ever-growing needs and demands of their users. Typically those refinements are aesthetic changes to the layout or added functionality within the current framework to enhance the user-experience. Foursquare's latest changes to their app are much more controversial; Foursquare is completely rebranding and altering the purpose of their current app while also introducing a second app called Swarm. At first glance, this massive overhaul to Foursquare's structure seems rather insane, but it may just be pure brilliance. In the paragraphs to follow, I will explore the difference between Foursquare and Swarm and provide insight into how your hotel should cope with the recent changes.

Why is Foursquare splitting into two apps?

Foursquare's Vice President, Noah Weiss, recently told The Verge that they conducted a study to see how users were interacting with Foursquare and discovered that only 5% of users were opening up the app to find both friends and restaurants. This data inspired them to split Foursquare into two apps, each with a different purpose - Foursquare for finding places in the user's vicinity and Swarm for finding friends via check-ins. By doing so, they simplified the experience for 95% of users, and the small margin of users who use the app for both functions will be able to easily switch back and forth between Foursquare and Swarm as long as they have both apps installed on their device.

 foursquare-vs-swarm

So, what exactly is Swarm and what changes can we expect to see?

  • Swarm is a one-stop-shop for checking-in at certain places (e.g. stores, restaurants, and landmarks) and finding friends who have checked-in somewhere nearby.
  • It allows users to broadcast a post to Swarm friends within their city, helping them facilitate plans with friends. Users can ask vague questions such as, "Beer?" or be more specific and tag a location such as, Anyone want to meet @Steve and me @thetavern at 7:30 for the Chicago Bears game?"
  • It features neighborhood sharing, which shows the user's Swarm friends what neighborhood they are in, even if the user hasn't checked in anywhere. This broad location-sharing feature can be toggled on and off by swiping across the profile picture on the top of the app.
  • It has a modified version of Foursquare's Mayorship guidelines. Users are now only in competition with their Swarm friends and not the entire world, making it more feasible to be crowned the Mayor of their most visited places.
  • Swarm replaces badges, which were intangible rewards users received for various activities, with stickers. Users now attach their own mood or category stickers when they check-in at places to virtually supplement their physical emotions or actions.

What implications does Foursquare's split have on your hotel's social strategy?

With the recent changes, users can no longer check-in to places on Foursquare, so if your hotel has used check-in functionality in the past, you (or your hotel's social media manager) should download the Swarm app immediately. You don't need to do anything else on property to set up your hotel's Swarm account other than downloading the app. Even though Foursquare and Swarm are separate apps, all information that is updated on Foursquare will automatically push through to Swarm. Therefore, you don't need to worry about having to update each app individually; the update process is very efficient for business owners. For example, updating your hotel's address on Foursquare will automatically update the address on Swarm. If your hotel does not currently have a Foursquare or Swarm account, simply set up a Foursquare account online and then download both apps.

Moving forward, it will be important to monitor user activity on both apps. Foursquare will now serve as a local search tool like Yelp. Users will be able to leave reviews about their experience and upload pictures. So, as with any online review site, it is imperative to actively monitor guest reviews on Foursquare and respond accordingly to both the positive and the negative comments. While users cannot leave feedback or reviews on Swarm, they will be checking-in to your hotel's location to let their friends know their whereabouts. If the user chooses to connect their Swarm account to other social media networks, like Twitter, it will share Swarm check-ins on the user's Twitter account. Just as your hotel monitored Twitter for Foursquare check-ins in the past, you should now monitor Swarm check-ins and initiate a one-on-one conversation to personalize users' experiences.


Although the apps will likely continue to evolve, I anticipate that you will spend more time managing your hotel's Foursquare presence than Swarm since that is where users are going to be leaving reviews, asking questions, and posting pictures. Your hotel should ensure that it has a strategy in place to monitor Foursquare regularly and take any necessary actions. Swarm should not require as much time and effort to maintain or monitor, as users will be interacting with nearby friends rather than exploring nearby places. But your hotel should make sure to encourage guests to use Swarm to check into the property because that will help extend your reach into their network of Swarm friends.

Will Swarm be a success?

While Swarm is still in its infancy, Foursquare has stated that over 75% of its users have already downloaded Swarm and are actively using both apps. As far as what the future holds for Foursquare, I will defer to what Will Smith first told Eminem when he began growing in popularity: "You will either be the biggest flop, or the biggest thing we've ever seen." While that may be a slight exaggeration as to the fate of both Foursquare and Swarm, it also may be spot on. If Foursquare is able to contend with Yelp in the local search market and Swarm goes toe to toe with the check-in features of Facebook, Foursquare and Swarm could both be heading for success.

While the fate of Foursquare and Swarm remains in the air, one thing is certain, all restaurants, hotels, and entertainment establishments would be remise not to utilize both apps to their full extent. Both apps serve an important purpose to consumers, so as long as consumers are searching for information, leaving reviews, and checking-in on both Foursquare and Swarm, business owners must ensure that users are finding correct and relevant information. Over the next few months as we begin to see how both apps mature and grow, we will be able to provide a more in-depth look into the opportunities for hotels on both apps, but for now we highly recommend downloading Swarm and seeing what all the buzz is about!

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Earlier this month, my colleague and I had the pleasure of attending WeddingWire World Chicago on behalf of Blue Magnet Interactive. The event intended to educate vendors about different strategies for successfully marketing their wedding business online. After a fun-filled day attending panel discussions and presentations by industry experts, we walked away armed with the latest trends and insightful tips for marketing your hotel's wedding business. In this blog, we'll share our key takeaways from WeddingWire's event, including facts and figures provided by the speakers, to ensure that you are well-equipped to market your hotel as an ideal venue for weddings and receptions.

Top 4 takeaways from WeddingWire World Chicago

1. Implement a social media strategy. Today's potential wedding client is social.
2. Take wedding reviews seriously. Today's potential wedding client does their homework.
3. Ensure your website is mobile-optimized. Today's potential wedding client is mobile. 
4. Revamp marketing materials and contracts to be inclusive of same-sex couples. Today's potential wedding client is attuned to social issues and perceptions.

wedding wire chicago

 

Social Media: As a wedding vendor, why should you implement a social media strategy?

Did you know that 1 out of every 4 minutes spent online is specifically spent on a social networking site? Today's engaged couple is extremely social, and typically begins the research phase of selecting a wedding reception site by browsing your social media pages and looking for things like pictures, reviews and the vendor's personality. The speakers offered countless tips for sharing wedding content on social media to help generate more engagement and sell your services as a wedding vendor.

Some of our favorite recommendations that can be applied to your hotel's social strategy include:

  • Sell your area and features. If a highlight of your hotel is the stunning view of the bay from the rooms on the top floor, ask your followers a no-brainer question. For example, ask: What view do you want to wake up to after your special day?
  • Ask open ended questions. It's easy to answer yes or no, so challenge your followers to engage with your hotel by asking a question that elicits an emotion. For example, ask: Where do you want your first dance to be, and why?
  • Get specific. Find out the key elements that your guests look for when planning their wedding so you can tailor your content to their interests. For example, ask: What is the top thing you need to make your wedding a success?
  • Utilize thank you cards and photos from previous weddings. Ask the couple if you can "show them off" on your social channels to give your followers a better visual of what they can expect at their own wedding. Showing remnants from a happy couple's wedding will resonate with followers more so than images from a staged photo shoot.

Online Reviews: Why should your hotel develop an online wedding review strategy?

If you haven't been encouraging your previous clients to share their experience through a review yet, this needs to be one of your top priorities! In fact, 95% of engaged couples use online reviews to select wedding vendors. In addition, younger generations are very inclined to read reviews; If your hotel does not have a positive reputation on various online review sites, it will probably struggle to attract any millennial shoppers.

Some key tips to ensure your hotel acquires valuable wedding reviews or testimonials include:

  • Give your clients a reason to write a review. Did you do something extraordinary to make their big day special? Did you exceed their expectations? What makes your location unique versus other places they could have held their wedding or reception?
  • Where can people find reviews of weddings at your hotel? Do you utilize a service like WeddingWire to specifically collect reviews on weddings and receptions at your hotel? Are you getting reviews on Facebook? Google+? Through email? One way to help with collecting reviews is to ask guests who mail or email you a review if they could share what they wrote on your preferred review site. Be sure to send them a link to your hotel's listing when you ask!
  • Capture the essence of your hotel's wedding venue with video reviews. Do you have a wedding planner who really connects with the couple on their wedding day? Ask the couple if it would be alright to catch them in a happy moment and ask them a fun question. This way, the couple doesn't have to worry about writing something later, and you can actually capture the experience you are trying to sell.

Mobile Strategy: Why must your hotel have a mobile-optimized website (or at the very least, a mobile-optimized micro-site specifically for weddings)?

81% of people leave a website when they have a bad mobile experience. A bad experience is typically a result of the website not being properly optimized for mobile users. While Blue Magnet Interactive has strongly encouraged hotel websites to be mobile-optimized since the beginning of the "mobile trend," it was pretty astonishing to hear this statistic at WeddingWire World!

Hotels that use email marketing to promote their wedding space need to be especially aware of mobile optimization because 65% of people open emails on their phone. The industry pros at the WeddingWire event recommended checking that the emails you send out are mobile-optimized, providing content that is to the point, and ensuring that the email itself is free of overwhelming amounts of text and images. More so, the links embedded in your email campaigns are likely pointing to your website, so if a user comes straight from a mobile-optimized email to a website that is not mobile-optimized, you are more likely to lose that potential client.

One of the speakers shared an interesting perspective regards to websites, pointing out that: "You don't get business from your website but rather through your website." We felt this was important because your website doesn't necessarily yield direct business; often times it's the information you provide on your website, and the experience you provide guests that generates client interest. They see the information on your website and then decide to connect with you, whether it be through your website's contact form, by phone, or through email. At Blue Magnet, we know that a hotel's website is specifically designed to help answer any questions a potential client or engaged couple may have, and often is an important resource towards the beginning of the shopping phase; so, by the time a client is ready to book a wedding at your hotel they've gained the necessary information through your website and are ready to contact you to move onto the next step.

LGBTQ Community: Does your hotel's marketing material and contracts contain inclusive language? How should your hotel be connecting with same-sex couples?

Kathryn Hamm from Gayweddings.com gave an outstanding overview of the growth the LGBTQ community has seen over the years and why vendors should be connecting with this segment now more than ever before. To start, Hamm mentioned that 77% of people under the age of 30 support gay marriage, meaning, acceptance is continuously growing. Additionally, she explained that 46% of same sex marriages wed in the couple's home state. The remainder of same sex couples travel, usually due to the restrictions of their home state. Therefore, if your hotel is located in a state that currently allows gay marriage, you should be actively marketing your wedding space to target the LGBTQ community, as there are likely more out-of-state wedding shoppers..

Kathryn also reminded the audience to avoid "vendor awkwardness." Believe it or not, one of the biggest concerns that LGBTQ couples face when planning their wedding is not due to cost, but rather anxiety: "When I call, is the vendor going to hang up on me?" To avoid vendor awkwardness and assure all clients that their queries will be well-received make sure your hotel markets itself as being inclusive and accepting.

A few ways you can ensure your hotel's marketing materials are inclusive of all couples include reviewing your:

  • Wedding Photos - Are the photos on your website and marketing materials only showing a traditional wedding, with a bride and groom? Add some wedding photos featuring all types of couples to show that your venue is not exclusive. This allows all engaged couples to truly envision their wedding or reception at your hotel.
  • Marketing Materials & Contracts - What type of language are you using across your website, marketing materials and contracts? Does it still use presumptuous language like "bride and groom?" Replace any instances of exclusivity with more inclusive terms like "engaged couple" or "partner".
  • Your Resource List - Do the professionals that you work with support gay marriage? Make sure your recommended and preferred vendors also support the LGBTQ community so you don't accidentally send a client astray.

Based on the changes happening across the country, particularly in Congress, Hamm left us all with one final question: Will your business be ready to support same-sex marriages by June 2015?

Overall, we gained some great insight into the wedding industry and learned several helpful tips to help hotels market their wedding space more effectively, all while having an awesome time mingling and networking! To learn more about WeddingWire World Chicago, be sure to search the hashtag #WWWorld. We welcome your questions and feedback so be sure to connect with us on Twitter @Blue_Magnet!

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Having a successful social media campaign can boost your hotel's awareness, increase visits to your site, and ultimately drive engaged followers to book a room. However, getting your hotel's social media activity off the ground can be challenging and not getting your desired reach and engagement can be frustrating. So, how can you give your hotel's social media presence an added boost to increase reach without spending ad money? You may not realize this, but your hotel already has social media ambassadors on hand to help your hotel increase social engagement. You see them every day. They are already putting their heart and soul into your hotel's offline marketing efforts by providing great service on property. Your social media ambassadors are your team. Getting team members involved in social media may sound intimidating or time-consuming at first; however, your hard-working team's engagement and support can be a crucial factor in obtaining social media success.

Why are your team members the secret ingredient to improving your hotel's social media performance?

For starters, they most likely are already active on social media sites. Team members that enjoy coming to work and truly love their brand are prone to spreading that adoration on Facebook, Twitter, and other popular networks. Additionally, if someone on your team shares your hotel's Facebook post, their entire network will be exposed to that post. If someone in their network then shares the Facebook post again, a new pool of Facebook users can now see the post. When your team engages with your brand, they present the opportunity to organically increase your hotel's reach into a much wider audience.

How do you get your team involved in your hotel's social media campaign?

There are plenty of ways to make it fun and easy for them. Your management team should cultivate an encouraging environment and set guidelines on what type of information is beneficial to share.

In fact, your team members that are active on social media are likely already checking into the hotel on Facebook, posting about upcoming events, and sharing their day to day experiences. Therefore, it is imperative that you provide your team with proper social media training and tools to facilitate involvement. Train your hotel team on best practices, common terminology, and how they can best assist in establishing your online community.

In this Slideshare, Blue Magnet Interactive highlights why team involvement is important for your hotel, how your property can foster their participation, and what your team can be doing to help your hotel reach its social media goals.


If your want to improve your hotel's social media strategy, please contact us to learn about our social media marketing services. Tweet your questions or comments to @Blue_Magnet.

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TripAdvisor’s newest feature, Questions & Answers, is a trip-planning tool that offers an easy way for your hotel to interact with potential guests. When browsing a hotel on TripAdvisor, travelers can scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter a question in the designated box.

 
TripAdvisor's Questions & Answers Box 
 

A representative of your hotel, past reviewers, and other members of the TripAdvisor community can then provide timely answers and feedback. This gives your hotel the opportunity to set travelers’ expectations by giving them all the information they need to choose your property for their next trip. The tool basically offers a more personalized version of the already popular TripAdvisor forum. Travelers can ask questions specific to your hotel like, “What time is breakfast served on weekdays?” or “We are planning to visit in December, will the renovations be complete by then?”

How Your Hotel Can Get Involved

When a new question comes in, your property’s registered TripAdvisor email will receive a notification. Login to your hotel’s TripAdvisor page to address the traveler’s inquiry as directly and concisely as possible. Responses must be family-friendly, original, and cannot include links or contact information. As a property representative, your response will automatically go to the top of the responses, giving it priority and authority over the comments from the rest of the TripAdvisor community. TripAdvisor community comments are sorted based on upward and downward votes by the rest of the users. As a hotel representative, you can answer the same question multiple times if something has changed at your property over time.

Other hoteliers in the same market will not be able to answer traveler questions for your hotel.  Additionally, competing hotels in the area cannot ask questions about your hotel. These rules have been implemented by TripAdvisor to combat spam on the site.

5 Ways TripAdvisor Questions & Answers Benefits Hoteliers

  1. Hoteliers can engage with potential guests before the purchasing stage
  2. Hoteliers have the ability to answer questions more than once, keeping the information as correct and up-to-date as possible. This is particularly useful because OTAs and local listings are not always updated every time there is a change on property, which can confuse shoppers. This platform allows travelers to get clarification on necessary information and eliminate confusion.
  3. Hoteliers can help humanize the hotel brand by showing guests that the hotel cares about their questions and concerns and takes the time to respond. Guests appreciate personal interaction!
  4. Hoteliers can improve their overall image by being honest and proactive. Not only does the person who asked the question appreciate the response, but other hotel shoppers will respect the hotel for responding as well. 
  5. Hoteliers can essentially audit their communication. What messages are clear across their channels and which messages need to be reworked?
 

In the first example below, the Marriott Oakland City Center effectively uses the Questions & Answers tool to communicate with potential guests. The hotel representative provides a brief but detailed answer to the traveler’s question in a timely manner. Now that the guest is well-informed, she can book an accessible room at the hotel with confidence.

 
TripAdvisor's Questions & Answers Positive Example
 

In the example below, the hotel has the opportunity to reassure a guest so he does not cancel a block of rooms. However, no one from the property has responded to the guest, who asked the question 7 days ago. The hotel’s failure to respond is detrimental to the hotel, since they will likely lose this reservation.  Plus, as you can see in the screenshot below, another TripAdvisor community member responded with her own warning to avoid the hotel, so the hotel’s silence will likely negatively impact the hotel’s reputation.

 
TripAdvisor's Questions & Answers Negative Example
 

5 Things to Keep in Mind before Getting Started

  1. Make sure your property is registered and that you have a designated staff member to answer questions in a timely manner. If travelers are inquiring about your property, they are probably ready to book. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to convert shoppers into guests!
  2. Balance your answers with brevity and helpfulness. Readers don’t want to sift through a lengthy response to find the answer to their question.
  3. Emphasize the positive. If the answer to a traveler’s question is “no”, supplement it with a positive remark. For example, if a guest asks whether you have a spa on-site and the answer is no, let them know that you have two top-rated spas less than 5 minutes from the hotel and that your concierge is more than happy to assist with scheduling and directions.
  4. If you are seeing travelers ask the same question time and time again, think about how you can display the information more clearly on your website, OTAs, and social media. 
  5. Although you want to respond to questions quickly, make sure you also evaluate your answers carefully before posting them. Answers can receive positive and negative votes from the community, so think about rephrasing your answers to ensure they are viewed as helpful and the votes are positive. 

TripAdvisor’s new Questions & Answers feature is a valuable tool for your hotel and potential guests since it opens up a direct line of communication. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to engage with travelers, improve your property’s online reputation, and convert shoppers into hotel guests.

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Have you started noticing descriptive phrases showing up next to your hotel's name in Google Maps? On local search results pages, there is a relatively new section called "People talk about" which highlights commonly used phrases found in your hotel's online reviews. As seen on the screenshot below, these phrases can show up in two spots on your hotel's Google Maps listing:

  1. On the map under your hotel's name
  2. In the "People talk about" section on the left results panel of desktop searches

google-maps-overview

When relevant and accurate, these phrases can act as a great sales feature by helping your hotel stand out among competitors in the area. When inaccurate or negative, these phrases can potentially confuse or discourage online shoppers and ultimately hurt your hotel's bottom line.

Blue Magnet analyzed fifty Google Maps listings for hotels across the US and noticed a few noteworthy trends. In this blog, I will explain how these phrases appear on desktop vs. mobile, where these phrases come from, and what you can do to control the phrases on your hotel's Google Maps listing. If you'd like to jump ahead to view our sample findings, click here.

How do the descriptive phrases appear in Google Maps search results?

Google Maps listings vary depending on how zoomed-in the user is, and the type of device they are using. Searches for hotels in a general area (e.g. "hotels in [city]") typically result in several hotels in the area, all with descriptive phrases listed beneath each hotel's name. The main difference between Desktop and Mobile results appears when someone searches for a specific hotel (e.g. "variation of hotel's name"). On Mobile devices, Google typically does not display any descriptive phrases. Rather, the results include the hotel's star rating, number of Google Plus reviews, hotel rates, and a button for directions to the hotel. When the same search is done on a desktop, the results typically include two descriptive phrases for that specific hotel. One explanation for why these results vary by device can be attributed to the intentions of the searcher. People searching on mobile devices may be looking for a quick but comprehensive snapshot about the hotel, whereas desktop searchers may be more willing to click around and perform additional searches after seeing the descriptive phrases.

google-maps-mobile

Above: Google Maps results on mobile device for search queries "hotels in [city]" and "hotel name"

google-maps-desktop-area

Above: Google Maps results on desktop for search query "hotels in [city]" 

google-maps-desktop-name

Above: Google Maps results on desktop for search query "hotel name"

Where do these phrases come from?

Google pulls these phrases from a variety of online reviews, namely Google Plus reviews. Google's algorithm searches through your hotel's reviews looking for common phrases, and then includes a couple of those phrases that Google deems most "interesting, specific, and unique" directly on your hotel's Google Maps listing.

How can this help my hotel?

Since online shoppers place so much importance on reviews, having positive and relevant phrases associated with your hotel's Google listing can help influence purchase behavior. If reviewers rave about your "free wifi" or "delicious breakfast", and your Google Maps listing pulls in those keywords, people searching for hotels in your area are more likely to click over to your website and book at your hotel.

How can this hurt my hotel?

Though the majority of the phrases that Google displays in the Maps listings are neutral in their sentiment, every now and then Google may highlight a negative phrase. If your hotel's Google Plus reviews include several mentions of "noisy" or "uncomfortable", and Google's algorithm decides that those phrases are the ones it should display on your Maps listing... well, you can probably guess that online shoppers seeing those phrases likely won't rush to stay at your hotel.

As part of our testing, Blue Magnet also came across one instance of a competitor's name appearing in the "People talk about" section. In this particular case, the hotel had recently changed brands and old Google Plus reviews about their previous brand were still appearing on the hotel's Google Plus page. Therefore, Google's algorithm was still displaying these old phrases on the hotel's current Maps listing. Though this instance seemed to be an exception, if it happened once, it can happen again!

Can I update or choose the phrases that are displayed?

While there is not currently a way for online marketers to directly choose or update the phrases that Google displays, it is possible to influence the results. As a general rule of thumb, the more Google Plus reviews your hotel has, the better the chances that Google will display relevant, helpful phrases on your Maps listing. This is just one of the many reasons why Blue Magnet recommends that hotels encourage satisfied guests to write Google Plus reviews about their positive experience.

How can my hotel get more Google reviews?

If you aren't sure how to get more guest reviews on your Google Plus page, here are a few ideas:

  1. Leave an iPad at the front desk and asks guests to review your hotel while they are checking out. Keep in mind, guests will need to sign in to their own Google accounts in order to leave a Google Plus review, so have a note nearby reminding them to sign out when they are finished.
  2. Add a "Review Us on Google" button to your website's "Contact" page that links directly to your hotel's Google Plus page.
  3. Add a "Review Us on Google" button to the very first webpage that guests see when they sign into your hotel's WiFi system.

How can my hotel deal with unfavorable phrases?

Sometimes hoteliers may not be crazy about the phrases that Google chooses to display. Don't fret! While you are working on encouraging guests to leave Google Reviews, another simple fix is to update the map that displays on your website. Oftentimes, "Contact" or "Directions" pages on hotel websites will use the Google Maps plugin to include an interactive map showing where the hotel is located. At Blue Magnet, our account managers can work their magic to change your website from showing the Google Listings (and its associated phrases) to simply showing your hotel's address, all without altering the functionality or usability for your website visitors. See below for an example:

before-copyafter-copy

So what's the bottom line?

Though these phrases are not something that you can directly control, it is important to be aware of how your hotel appears in Google Maps search results. Blue Magnet recommends checking your hotel's Google Maps listing at least once per month to make sure it is optimized with relevant and accurate information.

 

Google Maps Sample Test Findings

Blue Magnet surveyed fifty hotels from various markets throughout the continental US. We looked at each hotel's Google Maps listing, noting the phrases we saw both on the map and on the left panel in the "People talk about" section (in desktop mode) and whether those phrases were the same or different in those two areas of the listing. We also recorded the total number of reviews each hotel had, each hotel's overall star rating, and whether the descriptive phrases were positive, negative, or neutral in their sentiment. Below are the results.

Summary of hotels in sample:

50 hotels from 6 hotel groups (below) comprising of 15 total brands, and 1 independent hotel.

hotel-groups

Total Google reviews per hotel:

Average: 22
Lowest: 4
Highest: 67

Hotel's Google star rating:

Average: 3.6 / 5.0
Lowest: 2.5 / 5.0
Highest: 4.6 / 5.0

What were the top 5 most common phrases?

  1. High speed internet access
  2. Front desk staff
  3. Breakfast
  4. Happy hour
  5. [Specific local attraction]

How many total phrases displayed on map?

phrases-on-map

90% of listings featured two phrases on the map.

How many total phrases displayed in sidebar?

phrases-in-sidebar

Two-thirds of the listings displayed two descriptive phrases in the sidebar.

Were phrases the same in map and sidebar?

same-phrases

Nearly all phrases were the same in both parts of the listing, though a few had varying phrases.

Was phrase sentiment positive or negative?

phrase-sentiment

Most phrases were neutral in sentiment and based on amenities or the local area.

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When it comes to your hotel's website, there are likely a number of online marketing tactics you're aware of such as content updates to your website and promoting your site on social media. What you may not know is that there are many non-visible online marketing initiatives and updates that go into producing and maintaining a website. These essential marketing initiatives have a tremendous impact on the overall performance of a site, but, as they are "behind-the-scenes," they often go unnoticed by the naked eye. Our team at Blue Magnet Interactive works so hard on these "behind-the-scenes" features because we know how important they are to the success of your hotel's website and, ultimately, your hotel's bottom line.

In an attempt to spare you a lengthy blog post full of technical jargon, below is a summary of 7 extremely important, but lesser known, elements that go into improving the performance of your hotel's website and making it a major revenue driver for your hotel.

1. Site Speed Optimization

Google has explicitly stated that improving your website's speed improves how you rank in search engines and that a quicker site can improve overall user experience. Think about it: How many times have you left a site because you can't spend another second waiting for it to load? The Blue Magnet team regularly audits our hotel websites to benchmark site speed and discover ways to improve page load time. Creating a faster web experience usually requires technical skills, such as updating the size of images and javascript or CSS files and numerous other technical updates. These updates can take anywhere from a couple hours to a week to implement, and since you continue to add content and images to your site, it's important to reevaluate site speed on a monthly and quarterly basis.

Pro Tip: Use a free tool like GT Metrix or Google PageSpeed Insights to analyze your hotel's site speed performance.

2. Link Profile Cleanup

Link building has proven to be valuable for improving the credibility and ranking of a website. In addition to making sure we seek out relevant, quality links to support (link to) a hotel's website, Blue Magnet audits the hotel's current inbound link profile and flags spammy sites or poor links pointing to the hotel's site. Then, we consolidate all poor, low-quality links (especially those that come from link directories) and submit them to Google through a link disavowal request. Ultimately, a hotel with a strong link profile full of links from sites that are relevant to the hotel can generate more traffic and a better conversion rate. For instance, winery tour or wine-related websites pointing to a hotel in the center of wine country will not only make the most sense for the hotel but could improve the chances of generating more booked revenue from someone looking to stay in wine country.

Pro Tip: Use a free tool like Open Site Explorer or Webmaster Tools to pull your site's inbound link profile. Export the link profile into an Excel document to organize and analyze.

3. Robots.txt

Having a robots.txt file is crucial to making sure Google and other search engines are able to crawl your site effectively. If your robots.txt file is not properly configured to only allow crawling of the most important pages on your site, you're going to have a hard time getting people to find your hotel website in the first place (and make search bots pretty frustrated). Likewise, if you allow crawling of too many files (particularly the technical ones that are often part of the structure of your site), you could end up having files you don't want indexed and make it even harder for search engines to piece together the important content of your site. For example, most robots.txt files will block the page that contains the administrator login from appearing in search engines (see below). While this page must exist so the webmaster can login to the backend of the site, search engines don't need to index that page and show it in the search results.

Example Robots.txt

Pro Tip: Don't use your robots.txt file to get pages removed from a search engine's index. Rather, use it to stop these pages from being indexed in the first place.

4. Sitemap Creation & Maintenance

If you don't tell Google about the pages on your website, it may not crawl and index them - meaning no one searching the web will be able to find your hotel's website via search results! It is essential that you create a sitemap for your hotel's website which lists all relevant pages on your website that you want searchers to access. It is also extremely important to update the sitemap on a regular basis since you are likely adding new pages and PDFs or removing old pages and PDFs on a regular basis. At Blue Magnet Interactive, we keep track of new landing pages added to your website, update your hotel's sitemap and re-submit it to both Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools to make sure they index new pages right away. We also ensure that a link to your sitemap is provided at the end of your robots.txt file to further help search bots understand the content and structure of your website.

Pro Tip: Run a "site:domain.com" search on Google to see what pages and PDFs on your website are indexed.

5. Site Backups

If your site crashes or goes down, your hotel risks losing potential online bookings, so it is imperative that you proactively back up your website on a regular basis. Blue Magnet pulls backups of a hotel's website database and server files on a weekly and monthly basis, just in case we need to revive your website or pull old files from previous versions.

Pro Tip: Set a recurring calendar reminder on the same day of every month and create a website backup checklist to ensure that you are routinely covering your bases.

6. Crawl Errors

Crawl Errors can be detrimental to the SEO and usability of your website in many ways, including: Googlebot and other search engines could have trouble crawling your website Your website could be pegged as being lower quality by search engines due to the number of crawl errors your website generates Users visiting your website can run into "dead ends" when one of your pages doesn't work or if you link to a page that no longer exists. At Blue Magnet, we regularly check for broken links on your website, in addition to broken links on other sites pointing to your hotel's website. Have you ever come across a 404 Error page (see one of my favorite 404 pages from The Huffington Post below) and had to click the back button or try your search query again to find the information elsewhere?

404 Error Example

Aside from causing SEO issues, crawl errors negatively impact the visitor's user experience, so we strive to find and fix these errors before others run into them. If a link on your website breaks or if someone links to a page on your website that no longer exists, we can work on the backend of your website to redirect old pages to newer, relevant pages. We also reach out to webmasters from other sites and ask them to update their websites to point to the correct URL for your hotel.

Pro Tip: Use a free tool like Google Webmaster Tools or Screaming Frog to check crawl errors regularly.

7. Responsive Testing

The Blue Magnet team strongly supports responsive website design which means your hotel's website will adapt to the size of a user's device screen, whether it's a desktop computer, tablet, or mobile device. Since responsive website design uses the same page for all devices, it's necessary to perform regular testing to make sure that a visitor has a flawless user experiencewhen using any version of any browser type (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, etc.) on any type of device (iPhone, Android, iPad, Kindle Fire). Additional testing should also be conducted to make sure forms (contact, request for proposal, email sign-ups, etc.) can be submitted on any screen size and that all elements of the website (font styles, copy, images, etc.) automatically adjust to the user's screen size. Making sure that all elements of a responsive site work together cohesively will drastically improve the user experience of your website and the overall conversion rate. At Blue Magnet, we perform "Mom Tests" before new responsive sites launch. This entails having a dedicated QA person perform various website tasks on different browsers and devices to provide feedback.

Pro Tip: Use a free tool like quirktools.com/screenfly for screen-size testing before your hotel's website launches. Ask colleagues, friends, and family to test out the site on their preferred browser and device.

Are you feeling tech savvy now?

As you can see, there is a lot more that goes into the upkeep and performance of your website than what meets the eye. While on-page SEO efforts are often easy to explain since you can see the physical changes being made, off-page and technical SEO and user experience efforts are often just as (if not more) time-consuming and important as more visible updates. I challenge you, hotelier, to ask your online marketing account manager what they are doing behind-the-scenes to improve the performance of your website. What types of updates and reporting are they providing you to show these under-the-radar efforts? Are you seeing an increase in overall traffic to your hotel website and booked revenue because of these updates and maintenance? Hopefully they are working on all of these essential elements, and if not, run, don't walk to Blue Magnet Interactive!

Did I miss anything? Connect with @Blue_Magnet or @KNupMktg on Twitter and let me know your thoughts!  

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What if there were simple changes to your website that could increase online revenue dramatically? You would make those changes, right? Well a site is never complete, and there is always room for improvement. All you need to do is follow a process that helps determine what changes will improve your site’s performance. By implementing A/B testing, marketers can experiment with various changes to a site and measure the impact of each change.

A/B Testing Success Story

One of Blue Magnet’s clients, a hotel in Florida, was experiencing a period of low occupancy. As their Internet marketing manager, I was tasked with the challenge of increasing reservations during the hotel’s need period. To begin, I took a step back and examined the hotel’s website as a consumer, rather than a marketer. Working with a website day in and day out can sometimes make marketers overlook issues obvious to visitors. Since the hotel’s challenge dealt with online reservations, I decided that a closer look at the hotel website’s booking widget was probably a valid starting point.

The original reservation widget contained a white and green call-to-action button reading “Check Availability.” Since the entire site’s color scheme is white and green, it seemed like the button was getting lost in the background. As a visitor to this website, I would expect the most important button on the site to command much more attention. As a marketer for this site, I wanted to see if a different color button might prove more compelling.

After some initial research, I chose red for the alternate version of the button. From what I gathered and inferred, red is a highly visible color. That’s why stop signs, fire trucks, and other things that need to be noticed quickly are painted that color. Contrasted with the green background, a red “Check Availability” button seemed like it would pop off the page, catch the eye of visitors quickly, and draw more clicks, but I needed to be sure before I made such a significant change to the site. Enter A/B testing.

Original White Button (A) 

White Button

 

Red Button Variation (B) 

Red Button 

I set up an A/B test to show the original button to some users and the alternate red button to others, and let me tell you, the results were exciting. After just a few weeks, the new red button was reveiving 13% more clicks than the white button. After reaching the 95% confidence threshold, I switched the button over to the red version permanently and monitored the next month’s performance. In 30 days, the total number of people clicking the button to check rate for this particular hotel improved 38% YOY which translated into 65% increase in booked revenue YOY.

Percentage Graph

Percentage of visitors that checked rate on variation A vs. variation B during the experiment.

This simple color change contributed to thousands of dollars of revenue for the hotel. If you want to make some quality changes to your own website, read on, and I’ll teach you how to implement A/B tests to improve your site’s performance.

What is A/B Testing?

A/B testing is a randomized experiment that takes two (or more) variants of a web page (A and B), presents them both to different members of the audience, and then tracks the differences in performance.

How to Implement A/B Testing

Before you decide what feature to change on a specific page, you need to determine how you want the site to improve. Think about the goal of that particular page. What purpose does it serve to your website as a whole, and what metrics indicate how the page is performing? For example, if you are trying to generate more revenue from a specific special offer, you may look at how many clicks that particular offer has compared to other offers in the same time period. If the offer has fewer clicks than you’d expect, start thinking about different page elements that could be affecting its results. Is the copy compelling? Can users clearly see where to click? Is the page layout confusing or cluttered, making it difficult to find the offer? Once you have determined what aspect of the page you want to improve, follow this simple 5 step A/B Testing process to produce a higher converting site:

  1. Make an educated change to the page
  2. Set up an A/B test
  3. Track how the change impacts visitor behavior
  4. Implement the improved version
  5. Repeat

1. Making an Educated Change to the Page

Once you determine what the goal of your page is, decide what the “B” in the A/B test will entail. This decision requires some thought. Don’t make a rash judgment, but don’t let this step bog you down either. Spend some time considering what changes on the page will fuel changes in site performance. Try to view your website from a visitor’s perspective. How does this page look to you if you landed on it for a specific search query? Is the information you’re searching for easy to find? If you were directed to this particular page from another page in the site, what would you expect to see? As a visitor, is there an action that you can take to accomplish your goals (e.g. contact for more information, click a button to check out, etc)? If this exercise does not help you discover an element to change, it may be useful to get a fresh set of eyes on the page and hear from an outside perspective. Ask a friend, family member, or some of your top customers for their valuable feedback.

As a fellow marketer, I know your time is valuable. I wouldn’t want you to read this article and then set up A/B tests that make little to no improvement to your site’s performance. Do your initial research and use your best judgment to determine your “B.” Whatever you decide to change, it doesn’t always have to be huge, but it should be purposeful.

2. Setting Up an A/B Test

Google Analytics makes setting up A/B tests simple. First, you need to create a duplicate page to test against the original. This duplicate page should contain your variation(s). While your duplicate page is still being tested, I would recommend that you set it up with a meta noindex, nofollow tag so it doesn’t appear in search results.

Once you have the duplicate page ready:

  1. Go to the Behavior tab in your Google Analytics account
    BehaviorTab
  2. Select "Experiements"
  3. Click "Create New Experiment"
    create new experiment
  4. Follow along with the questions
    a/b experiment questions

The objective you select to measure for the experiment should be a metric that indicates the page’s strength. Google Analytics allows you to pick from your present goals, some site usage statistics such as bounces, pageviews, and session duration, or you can create a new goal for the experiment (e.g. contact form completions, check availability clicks, wedding form RFP submissions, etc.).

There are a few other options to determine how your experiment will be run and measured. You can choose the percentage of traffic you want to participate in the experiment, and you can also choose how the two pages will be distributed to your site’s traffic. Google’s default will show the page that is performing better more often, but if you wish, you can choose to show the two pages evenly. Finally, select the confidence threshold you want to reach before the experiment is stopped. The higher the threshold, the more confident you can be that the changes you are making will produce improved results.

Next, paste the URL of the original page and the URL of the test page into the provided boxes. I suggest naming them something that reflects the variation of that page, such as White Button vs. Red Button.

Finally, Google will provide you with a snippet of code that you need to paste into the header of your original page. This code will redirect certain visitors to page B, your test page. You may need to have some technical knowledge or work with your developer to implement these changes into your Content Management System, such as Joomla or Wordpress.

Once you have set up your A/B test, you can sit back and analyze the visitor behavior!

3. Tracking How the Site Change Impacts Visitor Behavior

Google does a great job of clearly laying out the experiment statistics. The data will include the number of sessions (visits) for each page version, the number of conversions, the conversion rate, the difference in conversion rate compared to the original page, and the probability of outperforming the original page (that’s your confidence threshold). It’s fun and useful to monitor this fairly frequently. If your test page is not producing improved results, you may want to end the experiment earlier than you had intended and try implementing a different change instead of holding out hope for months on end. If you changed the color of a “Check Availability” button and didn’t see an increase in number of click in two weeks, maybe you want to keep the original button color and try different verbiage, such as “Book Now."

4. Implementing the Improved Version

This is a no brainer. Once the A/B experiment is finished, pick the version that performed better (depending on what your goals are) and make that the default page. Voila! You have just made your site better and will soon have the measurable results to prove it!

5. Repeating the Process

It is awesome that your site is performing better, but the job of an online marketer is never done. Now that your page is producing improved results, set up another test to beat the new version or take what you have learned from this experiment and apply it to a similar A/B test for another page. Winston Churchill said it best: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. “

Have you tried A/B testing on your website? Tweet us at @Blue_Magnet and tell us about your experiments.

  

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