Email Marketing campaigns have been around for a while in the hotel industry. It may not be the newest or shiniest tool in your marketing mix utility belt, but it has been tried, tested, and proven to be beneficial.  Older does not necessarily mean easier, though. There are many tips, tricks, and traps to be mindful of when planning and executing your hotel’s email marketing strategy, particularly in light of new and improved spam filters from popular email clients like Gmail and Outlook.com.  Scroll through our Blue Magnet Interactive infographic to learn how to build strong, effective, and meaningful campaigns. 

Download a larger version of the infographic (PDF).

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Click the infographic below to enlarge the image.

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MapQuest recently announced a new partnership with Priceline, which will give users the ability to book hotels directly from MapQuest search results. Per their April press release, this update includes "the ability to search, compare and book published-price hotel rooms at thousands of quality chain and independent hotels around the world. MapQuest travelers will also have access to Priceline’s database of hotel specials, including instant discounts, free breakfast, free Internet access and more".

If you never thought MapQuest was a channel to pay attention to for your hotel, now is the time to change your tune.

MapQuest: Playing Favorites

It seems as though MapQuest has partnered with a number of hotel brands to specifically highlight as a user searches for hotels.

MapQuest Hotels

 

When you choose a specific brand above, it shows you the nearest hotels to your current location:

Holiday Inn Mapquest

 

At this point, a user can get directions to the hotel, go directly to the hotel's website or book a room. These sponsored listings are pretty straight forward and take the user to the brand website to book.

What About the Other Hotel Brands on MapQuest?

If a guest is looking for a hotel outside of those sponsored brands, there is an option to search for all of the area hotels. This is more of a lion's den - and where the Priceline partnership and the optimization of your hotel's listing come into play.

Using Priceline's inventory, MapQuest shows price comparisons in search results for all area hotels:

Mapquest prices

 

A user can dive even deeper into a specific hotel by clicking on the hotel name to view its full MapQuest profile, which has photos, a description, Check-In/Check-Out information and more:

Mapquest hotel listing

 

There are 2 ways to book from here - through the hotel website by clicking "Website" or through the Priceline network by clicking "Book Now".

hotel listing mapquest

 

In a perfect world, if a user was looking to book a hotel room from MapQuest, they would find their way to your hotel website and book directly with no cut of the revenue going to an OTA. However, the Book Now button is so much prettier! And it's telling me exactly what to do! By clicking the Book Now button, a user will be taken to the Priceline/Mapquest network at bookings.mapquest.com. The hotel information found on this network pulls directly from a hotel's listing on Priceline and Booking.com (a Priceline affiliate).

So, How Do I Make My Hotel Stand Out?

Great question! In order to be fully optimized on MapQuest, hoteliers need to do 3 things.

1. Claim & update your hotel listing on MapQuest

Search for your hotel on MapQuest. If it hasn't been claimed already, you'll have the option to Claim this Business:

claim hotel on mapquest

Once you've gone through the steps to claim your business, be sure all of your hotel information is correct and up to date. Take this opportunity to add a hotel description, photos and a YouTube video from your perfectly optimized YouTube channel.

2. Update your hotel information on Priceline

If you need to remove outdated photos, add new amenities or update any of your hotel information on Priceline, just drop them a line. There is no extranet to manage your Priceline listings, but the content team can make any neccessary updates. Shoot an email with your updated hotel details to merchantupdates@priceline.com,  and you'll be that much closer to full optimization!

3. Update your hotel information on Booking.com

Login to the Booking.com Extranet to update your hotel information. From here, you can submit new photos or remove outdated photos, add hotel amenities, update room descriptions and details or request updates to your hotel description. The description that displays on your hotel's bookings.mapquest.com listing pulls directly from Booking.com, so be sure all of the information is correct.

Now you're set! Your hotel is going to look great on MapQuest, and hopefully you'll get a boost on your Priceline and Booking.com listings as well. The more complete and up to date your hotel listings are across the web, the more appealing your hotel will be to potential guests during their online research and booking phases. The OTA and Local Search landscape is always changing, so hoteliers need to be aware of how their hotel looks on the different channels and keep its information up to date. No one wants to lose business to a competitor across the street for something as simple as an out-of-date MapQuest listing!

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Happy Independence Day, fellow readers! As you celebrate our country's indepedence this July 4th with your friends, family, flags, fireworks, food and 'freshments, please remember what makes this country great: our freedom.

I was always raised to believe that the United States was the land of freedom--freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. As a country, we choose the government leaders we want to lead us. We don't torture people. And our government certainly does not spy on its citizens or engage in unnecessary search and seizure. Other countries do that--countries with oppressive regimes and tyrannical dictators, who monitor their citizens in an effort to crush all opposition and torture dissenters to keep the public in line. Those were examples of how not to run a country...and certainly not the American way.

Sadly, with the recent unveiling of the NSA's massive survellience of the American public, the US government has placed our country's safety above our liberty. This mass spying effort is most certainly unconstitutional under the "unreasonable search and seizure" language of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. The government has forced companies like Google, Verizon, Microsoft and other major internet and telecommunications companies to hand over private data about you (emails, phone records, etc) to the NSA, all in the name of fighting terrorism. As founding father Benjamin Franklin once said, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Let's make sure we keep our essential liberties intact this July 4th and bring back the America that we all learned about in grade school. Keeping America safe shouldn't mean turning this country into a police state, nor should it involve sacrificing liberties granted to us by the constitution.

Please make your voices heard to your congressperson to let them know that these actions against the American public are unacceptable.  Click the image below to send a message to congress now!

Happy 4th of July, NSA!

 

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Get ready hoteliers! Now more than ever, hotels will need to adjust their business model based on the influx of business coming in from Chinese travelers. In order to prepare for this excellent source of additional revenue, I'll give you some ideas of how your hotel can welcome Chinese travelers and all their precious revenue dollars...or should I say their precious revenue yuan.

Show me the money! ...and other numbers

According to the World Tourism Organization, the number of international travelers coming from China will increase from 10 million in 2000 to more than 100 million by 2020.

show-me-the-moneyReports are showing a positive trend in the number of Chinese visitors coming to the states and Chinese tourists are now the world's largest spenders. This April, CNN shared a United Nations World Tourism Organization report, stating that Chinese travelers spent $102 billion in 2012, an average of $1,230 per trip! More recently, the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries reported that Chinese tourists spend an average of $2,900 per trip when visiting California, which has become one of the fastest growing locations for Chinese tourism.

So why the United States? What attracts the Chinese traveler?

In the last 10 years, the earning power has increased for Chinese citizens and various policy changes have gone into effect, making it easier for the Chinese to travel to the U.S. and even obtain visas.

So other than increased travel budgets and the ability to travel easily, what are they interested in when they actually visit the U.S.?

Luxury Goods! According to Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, “Luxury goods are 20% to 30% cheaper in other global cities. If you plan to spend $10,000 on shopping and only spend $1,000 on airfare, it’s much cheaper for Chinese tourists to fly abroad to shop.”

How do I market to the Chinese tourist?

There are a LOT of tactics you can put into action as a hotel to make sure you are reaching the Chinese traveler effectively and ultimately get them to book with you. Below is a list of recommendations:

  • Optimize Your OTA Listings: Is your hotel listed on Ctrip, one of the largest Chinese OTAs on the web? If not, make sure you add or update your listing right away. Plus, you can work with your OTA market manager and come up with a solution to market to these travelers through an advertisement campaign that will make sense for your hotel. When optimizing your listing, make sure you expand upon amenities available at your hotel and note any local shopping centers or attractions that would attract Chinese travelers. Hotels marketing to Chinese travelers should also verify that their hotel is listed and optimized on eLong (part of Expedia) which is the second most popular Chinese OTA.
  • Go Social: Consider testing and advertising on Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging service that looks similar to Facebook and Twitter. This set of slides will teach you how to setup an account on Weibo and you can see how brands, like Pizza Hut, use it effectively here. Below is an example of China Daily's (Chinese newspaper) Weibo account:
    Weibo Profile
  • Make Them Comfortable: Promote various on-property amenities that will welcome Chinese tourists, such as Mandarin-speaking staff members, in-room tea kettles and slippers, and that you accept international payments. Another big amenity is Wi-Fi. Chinese travelers, like all modern travelers, use their mobile phones regularly, so providing access to the Internet is a must!
  • Extended Stay & Advanced Purchased Packages: Chinese travelers tend to book longer stays, well in advance. Do you have some sort of extended stay package or an advance purchase offer that rewards visitors for booking ahead of time and actualizing their stay?
  • Shopping Packages: Since many Chinese tourists may be coming to the U.S. to indulge in a shopping vacation, why not provide them a package that encourages them to visit the luxury mall near your hotel?
  • Create a Mandarin Version of your Website: One thing I've heard from various hotels, especially those without Mandarin-speaking staff, is that Chinese speaking travelers do not communicate with the hotel, primarily due to the language barrier. Why not make your guests feel more comfortable by directing them to a custom version of your website that provides answers to any questions they have during their stay with you, or even before booking? Not only will this encourage communication between you and your Chinese guests, but it will put you on the market as a hotel that welcomes the Chinese traveler!

So, what are you waiting for? Take a look at your revenue over the last two years - have you noticed an increase in revenue from China? Do you tend to see many Chinese guests come through your hotel? Is your competition already marketing to the Chinese travel market? These are all questions that your management team should sit down and discuss, and then proceed in developing a marketing plan to target this growing traveler segment!

 

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One of the keys to tackling social media is staying ahead of the game. Are you paying attention to social media channels that are up and coming? Social networks that are seeing users multiply as fast as Blackhawks fans during playoff season? Most importantly, if you are in the travel industry, are you tackling those niche social media sites that cater to travel enthusiasts?

Enter Gogobot: Travel in the Know. The site launched in 2010 and has not slowed down since. We wrote about it back in 2011, but since then Gogobot has reported over 2 million registered users, a growth of 650% YOY, and they are currently gaining a new member every 15 seconds.  In 2011,Time Magazine named Gogobot as one of its “50 Best Websites” and the Gogobot iPhone application was awarded Apple’s "Editor’s Choice" in 2012 in addition to being listed byThe Huffington Post as one of the “Top 12 Social Media Apps for Travel."

Gogobot Home Page

Gogo-what?

Gogobot is comparable to sites such as Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram – combined! You can connect with friends, add places to different categories within your profile, and create “postcards” within the mobile app. Being an avid traveler myself, I’d say Gogobot is a travel lover’s dream combination of a social network and an online travel agency – a place where they can both get and share recommendations from friends and experts AND find the best rates on hotels and airfare. Unlike sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor which contain reviews from random users, Gogobot provides users with advice on where to stay, what attractions to see, places to eat, and everything in between from friends in their social networks (including Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare) as well as vetted travel experts.

Straight From the Source

I reached out to Connie Chang, Gogobot's Community Development Manager, to get the inside scoop. Here’s what she had to say:

Blue Magnet Interactive: What would you describe as Gogobot's main mission?
Connie Chang:Our goal is to be the go-to travel site for trusted travel advice from trusted experts and friends. We want to be the site that will make people say when they use it, "How did I ever travel without this service?"

BMI: Any tips for users?
CC:We recently launched group trip planning, which makes it more easy and fun to create trip plans with the people you are traveling with.

BMI: Any exciting upcoming changes? New features?
CC:We just launched a way for users to tag their reviews [see image below] to help others see which traveler types (aka Tribes) they think places are good for. I've tagged Millenium Park as good for Arts & Culture, Family Travel, and Outdoors & Adventure. If you scan the reviews, you'll see that we also show the reviewer's expertise level in that destination (e.g. I'm an expert in Chicago)--a great signal to help travelers browsing our site for info.

Gogobot Review Tag

BMI: What is your personal favorite feature on Gogobot?
CC: "Ask a Question" is my favorite feature on the site. I've found great gems recommended by fellow travelers that I probably would not have found if just researching on my own.  

BMI: What are some of the Gogobot App highlights?
CC:Probably the most notable feature is our integration with Google Street View for Android, which uses the phone’s compass to turn your Android device into a virtual window, with 360-degree panoramic views of any location within our database. We also offer versions of our Android app in Japanese, Italian, German, Portuguese and Hebrew.

BMI: What do you want people to know about Gogobot?
CC: We are nearing the 1M review milestone!

BMI: What do you feel are the benefits of being a Gogobot user?
CC: Not only do Gogobot users receive the most personalized and trusted travel advice from experts and friends, they are recognized for their contribution on the site. Our most active users are acknowledged as our Gogobot Pros, and they receive exclusive invites to fun community events and cool swag.

Why Gogobot is Your Hotel’s New Best Friend

Hotel social networkers take note! Creating your own profile is a great opportunity to become the “expert” in your area. Think of your account as an online concierge service. Recommend the best places to eat outside, must see landmarks, pet friendly places, best places to take your kids, summer hotspots, and more through “Gogobot Guides.” Guides can easily be shared with guests if your hotel has a custom website by creating a widget and adding it to the site. In addition to sharing a wealth of area-related information, pay attention to your business’s details on the actual property page. Is your website listed? Are the amenities correct?  Do you have high quality photos to add? Right now, these issues can be fixed by emailing the Gogobot team; however, Gogobot has announced that admin tools and the ability to “claim” your business page are in the works! Once these launch, you will be able to make your own edits to your business listing. Users are able to check prices and availability right then and there on property pages, so ensure yours is optimized.

Furthermore, Gogobot Guides and postcards convert into great content for your other social media networks. Have you seen a great guide that mentions an attraction or restaurant nearby your hotel? Did you create a guide to Atlanta or earn any Gogobot badges? Tweet about it or share it on your Facebook page!

Gogobot Social Media Example

Trip Planning Made Easy

Once you’ve logged in, there are plenty of ways to get involved in Gogobot’s online travel community. Plan a trip directly on the site, write a review of somewhere you’ve been, explore destinations and the hot spots within them, or ask the Gogobot community a question (i.e. “I’m heading to Chicago and need advice on places to stay near Wrigley Field - any suggestions?”). As you come across different restaurants and hotels, you are able to add those places to your profile under categories such as “Been Here,” “Want to Go,” or “Add to My Trip.”  Within the network, search for people or places at the top of every page, follow your friends, follow city experts, search for destinations & hot spots based on the type of traveler you are (luxury, foodies, families – you name it), and create custom guides & postcards.

There’s An App For That

Within the Gogobot iOS and Android app, users can access trip plans while on the go, create digital postcards, and search for and book hotels, restaurants, and activities in over 60,000 global travel destinations. Newer additions to the Android App grant mobile users the capacity to search & book a hotel on the fly - complete with filters for real time hotel pricing and availability, user rankings, and hotel class.  

Now What?

One of the online marketing challenges that hotels often face is staying ahead of the constantly changing social media scene, especially when working with limited budgets and resources. From Pinterest to Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and everything in between, how does your hotel decide which networks are priorities? According to ustravel.org, the internet is used by 90 million Americans to plan travel, making it the most widely-used information source to plan trips. A quarter of travelers use friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers as a travel planning source. Why is this information relevant? Gogobot is personalized such that reviews of particular places by the user's friends appear higher in search results. By encouraging guests to review your hotel on Gogobot, you better your hotel’s chances at automatically appearing in searches. In turn, recommendations from friends, who are typically a trusted source, are more likely to transfer into new business for your hotel.

While Facebook and Twitter remain the most popular social networks and should be a hotel’s primary focus, if your hotel has a dedicated online marketing team or additional room in the budget for social media marketing, Gogobot is a worthwhile investment. Their niche travel-focused audience gives hotels ample opportunity to stay at the front of the trip planner/ travel lover’s mind and provide a call-to-action to boost conversions.

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Last week, Google took another step in encouraging site owners to properly optimize their mobile websites. And by "encouraging" I mean "forcing site owners do so under penalty of mobile search obscurity." But Google's not one to penalize indiscriminately (ha, almost typed that with a straight face), and has offered to set us wayward webfolk on the right track with their guide to building mobile-optimized websites and their list of common mistakes in smartphone sites.  But it looks like this is just the beginning, as Google continues to impress upon the web world the importance of properly optimizing your mobile website.  And in true Google fashion, failure to heed their warnings can result in a dark void where your mobile traffic used to be.

Yes, yes, we get it: mobile is important

falling pianoLike many of you, my mobile phone is always with me. When I'm eating breakfast I'm scrolling through tech blogs; On my train commute to work I'm checking my emails; During the day it sits next to my laptop, alerting me to dinner plans via text messaging; and at night it's perched on the edge of my nightstand like a gargoyle, its cycloptic "charging light" eye casting a faint green glow across my pillow, watching me as I sleep.

I spend so much time with my smartphone that if the cell radiation FUD stories are true, someday my phone and I may literally be joined at the hip in some sort of biological mutant technomonstrosity.  And I know I'm not alone, because I see others out there that spend even more time on their smartphones than I do: texting while driving, walking while browsing, Facebooking while intoxicated, playing Angry Birds under a falling piano, and any number of potentially hilarious and deadly situations...well, funny if they were cartoon characters. 

Yes indeed, mobile optimized sites are important.  Especially for those businesses in the travel industry (I'm looking at you, hotels). After all, travelers tend to do what they do best: travel. And that means their on-the-go lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with mobile website accessibilty.

Website success 3 years ago ≠ Mobile site success this year

In the past your hotel might have been able to get by with a poor mobile presence. Maybe your standard website performed admirably in the search results, plus it was a few years back so mobile wasn't as ubiquitous as it is today. In those days--the good old days, you remind yourself--a mobile site for your hotel was just another bit of eye candy for the main attraction: your standard desktop site.

And let's face it, you just didn't have the budget this year to create a mobile-optimized site anyway. It happens. And in the good ol' days, you could always plead ignorance to the SEO gods and beg for forgiveness if your hotel's website performed poorly on smartphones and other mobile devices. You knew the search giants didn't really scrutinize mobile sites the way they do your normal desktop site, so you focused your energy on those standard webpages instead. Plus, maybe mobile traffic to your site was still in its infancy. Still, seeing this the SEO gods would shake their heads from on high and tsk-tsk your decision to remain mobile-averse, like a parent does their reckless teen.  "Foolish mortals," they'd mutter with arms crossed, all the while planning your site's impending doom with a swift and righteous algorithm change that would quickly smite your site's humble existence from the face of the internet.

The SEO gods are angry, my friends.  And only an offering of a well-optimized mobile site will quell their tempestuous rage!

Evaluating your website using common sense

Sure, none of your website's Flash videos play on iPhone or Android phones--replaced instead by an imposing white block smack dab in the middle of your homepage--but at least the text still shows up, you assure yourself. And despite the fact that your webpages take 5 minutes to load on a 4G smartphone, you shrug your shoulders and rationalize that patience truly is an underappreciated virtue, and your website is simply giving your visitors a chance to appreciate that virtue more than they ever have before. Use common sense--if those things drive you crazy on others' mobile sites, then why would you force the same horrible user experience on guests of your own site?  It's bad for business.

It's time to change your ways before it's too late. By now you should have some form of smartphone presence, but is it truly optimized for smaller screens and slower internet speeds? Fortunately, Google provides a roadmap of sorts to help you sort through your mobile site issues.  Let's have a look.

Explaining the common mistakes on smartphone websites

Check out Google's official developers portal for the full list of common mistakes you'll find in your smartphone website, but here's a quick breakdown with a few explanations and images:

  1. Flash videos and other unplayable videos - iPhones don't play Flash videos.  Neither do Android phones.  This means that if your beautiful desktop website has an amazing Flash slideshow at the top of your page, your mobile guests will see a big white void in its place.  It's annoying to mobile visitors. Plus, with HTML5 taking shape with specific tags for video, there's no reason you have to rely on Flash for slideshows or videos. Avoid providing crappy usability for your mobile guests.
    Adobe Flash fail on smartphone
  2. Redirecting mobile users to the wrong page - Your website can be set up to detect whether a user is arriving from a mobile browser or a desktop browser.  Depending on which is detected, your site can present a different page to guests (mobile vs desktop).  Are guests looking for your hotel's wedding page on their mobile devices? Set up the site so that it redirects those visitors to the mobile wedding page instead of sending them to the mobile homepage, like so:
    Correct mobile redirectsOn the other hand, let's say you only have a single mobile page.  And let's say your mobile guests try to access your dining, accommodations and wedding pages.  If you redirected all these visitors to your mobile homepage because you didn't have a mobile version of your dining, accommodations and wedding pages, then you are guilty of a faulty redirect and your site will likely be punished.  Don't do this:
    Incorrect mobile redirects
  3. "This page can't be found" errors - Commonly known in the biz as 404 errors, some sites have been improperly configured so that if a user visits your site on their smartphone it displays the dreaded "404 error: This page cannot be found" message. Your site visitors have reached a dead end and are now lost and confused. Looking for directions to the hotel? Well, I'll just click on this little map link and...404 error?! What the heck? How am I supposed to find what I'm looking for on the site if the pages won't even display properly? Fix these 404 errors and save your visitors the headache.

  4. Keep mobile users on the correct site - Google refers to this as "Irrelevant cross-linking."  It just means that if a user comes to your mobile site on their mobile device then all the links on that mobile webpage should point to other pages within the mobile version of your site.  You wouldn't want users on your mobile site to click the Accommodations link and suddenly end up on the desktop version of the site! Why would you do that? Most likely it's an accident, but it should be cleaned up. In fact, it's likely that the only place you'll really cross over from mobile site to desktop or vice versa is if you have a "view desktop site" on your mobile pages or a "view mobile site" link featured on your desktop site. 

  5. Page speed - I, like many of my mobile-equipped brethren, have no patience for slow loading sites.  This is true in the world of standard websites, but it's crucial in the smartphone world. If a page doesn't load on my smartphone within 10 seconds it's dead to me.  I have so many feeds and photos and games and apps on my smartphone that if I'm given 10 seconds of downtime my scrolling finger doesn't know what to do with itself and instantly seeks other areas of my phone to explore.  There are lots of ways to make your mobile site load faster: decrease image file sizes, use browser caching, minify your code and more. If you don't, you'll soon find faster loading competitor sites smacking your site down to lower search rankings.

Instant narcolepsy: slow loading mobile webpages

Fix your mobile problems now!

Make sure you or your hotel online marketing team take a good look at your hotel's mobile website and address any of the issues identified by Google as explained above.  Failure to do so will likely result in your site ranking lower in Google's mobile or smartphone search results. And while you may have shirked off mobile as a viable traffic source in the past, today, smartphones have become the computers we're connected to 24/7. We've seen mobile traffic compose about 20-30% of our hotel websites on average, and that number is steadily rising each year. Neglecting mobile is a good way to ignore about a third of your potential visitor base. And just keep in mind that it's much easier to fix mobile website issues now, rather than trying to recover from a massive Google penalty smackdown later. And while Google has announced these fixable items on their blog, you can bet the same smartphone policies apply to Bing's search results as well.  

The goal of the two search engine titans, Google and Bing, is the same: provide the most relevant, most authoritative search results to its user base. If your site loads slowly on smartphones it's no longer relevant because you haven't updated your site's structure to keep up with the on-the-go smartphone user.  And if your site is no longer relevant, it's no longer an authority in the online marketplace. Just be sure to take care of your mobile site and the search engines will take care of you.

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Instagram has taken the social sharing world by storm and this visual platform is not about to slow down, so it’s time for you to determine how your hotel can get with the picture, literally, and start taking advantage of the benefits that this social media marketing channel has to offer.

Pictures are worth a thousand words

Before I get into what you should be doing, I think it’s important to know why you should be doing it. With all of the social media platforms placing such an emphasis on photo sharing it is no wonder Instagram grew in popularity so quickly -- it was the fastest social media network to hit 100 million monthly active users! With 8500 likes and 1000 comments a second, it is obvious that this social sharing network can be very influential. When Facebook purchased the photo sharing app in 2012, founder Mark Zuckerberg said, “Providing the best photo-sharing experience is one reason why so many people love Facebook, and we knew it would be worth bringing these two companies together.”

Let’s face it, we live in a visual world where judging a book by its cover is the norm. With Instagram, you have the ability to control how your “book” is judged. Therefore, Instagram should be incorporated as a part of a hotel’s marketing strategy, working in unison with all channels and presenting a brand image that is appealing to your market. Yet, just like any hotel marketing campaign, Instagram requires a thoughtful strategy to ensure that it is used effectively.

Follow these 6 tips to ensure that your hotel effectively utilizes Instagram to capture and engage with your target audience.

Snap Your Way to Social Media Success

Where to begin? Start looking at relevant content that is already on "the gram," which can help you generate your own unique ideas. Take a look at what your competitors are doing. What photos are they posting and what kind of engagement are they getting? Additionally, search your hotel name using a hashtag to see if anyone has already tagged your hotel in a photo on Instagram. For example, although The Emily Morgan Hotel - a DoubleTree by Hilton does not have its own Instagram account, several guests have documented their stay at the hotel and ensured that it was searchable by using the hashtag #emilymorganhotel in the caption.

Emily Morgan Hotel Exterior

Photos of the Hotel

Emily Morgan Hotel and Alamo

Area Attractions

 

The Oro Restaurant at The Emily Morgan Hotel

Hotel Restaurant

 

The Oro Restaurant at The Emily Morgan Hotel

Local Flavor

It is important to keep in mind that the photos that your hotel shares should be completely unique and true to your property's personality. If your hotel is in the middle of downtown Chicago your content is going to be completely different than a hotel that is in the midst of a mountain range. As with all social media outlets, Instagram allows the hotel an opportunity to put a face to the hotel. Based on the content that you are sharing you can enhance your hip and trendy image or confirm your hotel as a peaceful, quiet retreat.

  1. Extend your photo gallery - Consider Instagram another outlet for a hotel photo gallery. Highlight your amenities, but make sure to keep content entertaining and constantly changing to show the dynamic life at the hotel!
  2. Thompsons Hotel

    Stay trendy - Instagramming your hotel's restaurant is another great way to stimulate connections. Not only will you be able to show off another aspect of your hotel, but taking pictures of food is all the rage! Stay on top of the trend by showing off the exceptional food art that your chef's create.

    Morgans Hotel Dining Room

    Morgans Hotel Restaurant Food

    Morgans Hotel Group highlights their restaurant by snapping beautiful foodie photos

  3. Go behind the scenes - Giving your followers a behind-the-scenes look at your hotel will not only provide for interesting content, but will also humanize your hotel. It shows the hardworking people and dedicated staff that help make a guest’s stay as seamless as possible.
  4. Bakers at The Morgans Hotel

    Share a behind-the-scenes look at your chef preparing a meal

  5. Highlight your local area - Engagement through area attractions is another excellent way to increase interest in your hotel and its surroundings. Pictures from around the town, exciting area attractions, and local hidden gems will highlight what your town has to offer and will provide an interesting visual area guide for followers. By showcasing things to do in your city, people may be more inclined to plan their next trip to visit you.
  6. Hollywood Sign outside the Thompson Hotel

    An iconic tourist attraction in Los Angeles

  7. Use the users - Stay current with user-generated content. Your guests can be an excellent photo resource for you to tap into, as we saw above for The Emily Morgan Hotel – a DoubleTree by Hilton. For instance, the image below was taken by a guest staying at Matakauri Lodge in New Zealand. Although this Instagram may not immediately lead to someone staying at the hotel, this picture is so inviting that it will stay in peoples’ minds and provide a likely lead for the future.
  8. Matakauri Lodge New Zealand

  9. Interact with customers - Use Instagram to engage with customers by hosting an Instagram contest or asking users to vote on their favorite Instagram photo. W New York – Times Square recently took Instagramming to a new level by organizing an exhibit in their lobby with only Instagram pictures! Check out their great collection of photos.

As with any marketing strategy, staying active on Instagram is key! Instagram should be included as a regular update for social media and requires a proactive strategy as well as daily management. Also, the hashtag is your friend! It will make your content searchable, creating a viral effect that will extend your reach among Instagram users.

The Instagram Effect

Social media is a great way to reach your clients on a personal level, so it is important for hotels to stay current with the new social media trends. Although you may not see an immediate increase in revenue, Instagram provides an outlet to enhance the brands personality and a way to better relate to and connect with guests. Instagram should be factored into a hotels overall marketing campaign and with regular attention, interesting content, and a creative mindset, the marketing benefit will be seen in the long run.

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Vine is the newest application to sprout from the Twitter family and into the social media scene. The free mobile app is to video what Twitter is to text: a platform built around a content constraint that promotes creativity and viral sharing. Vine’s six seconds of video (and sound! Take that animated gifs!) creates a plethora of possibilities for rapid reach, engagement and influence. High profile Vines include everything from comedy...

to sports...

 and even the White House!

Why Vine?

Blue Magnet has previously covered strategies and tactics for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Foursquare. With a robust market of social media apps, why should hotels consider adding Vine to their social media marketing mix? Social applications are developing into increasingly influential factors of consumers’ brand affinity and purchasing decisions as digital and mobile technology become more pervasive in our daily lives. A 2012 Nielson study of 28,000 global consumers found that the top two most trusted forms of media are earned media (word-of-mouth, recommendations from friends, etc.) and online consumer reviews. These two sources garnered a 92% and 70% trust rating respectively compared to approximately a 45% trust rating for traditional media such as television, magazines and newspapers. Consumers are listening to their friends and family and their friends and family are highly engaged in social media. Digital Marketing Ramblings has a post regarding recent (May 2013) social media usage stats. The numbers may shock you (hello 1.11 BILLION Facebook users)!

With this in mind, marketers need to focus on tactics and platforms which best reach their audience. Regardless of the target, video is the clear cut king when it comes to influence across social networks. A new study from Adobe reports social video engagement has risen to 70% from 42% the previous year. Video content accounts for 77% of all viral reach. Hubspot has posted an excellent infograph which shows that videos on Facebook are shared twelve times more than all text and link posts combined. As the Adobe report points out, offering more video should be the prime objective to fully realize social media potential.

Size It Up: The Good & The Bad of Vine

PROS 

  •  Easy to use!
  •  Consumers love video
  •  Easily shared on Facebook and Twitter
  •  Guests generate buzz about your hotel
  •  Engaging content

CONS

  •  Challenging to consistently create good content
  •  Cannot edit what guests are saying
  •  Another channel to monitor and manage

Let’s Get It Started!

Download the app and start creating video content right away! When setting up a Vine account, a user can link their Twitter and/or Facebook account. Once registered, on the home screen, select the camera icon to begin. When the viewfinder opens, simply tap and hold the screen to begin recording. Release the screen to stop. After capturing six seconds of video, checkboxes allow you to easily integrate your snippet of video with your Twitter or Facebook profiles.

Vine post screen shot

For a more in-depth look at setting up a Vine account see the CNet video tutorial below or here if you can't view the video:

 

One Hotel’s Vine Success Story

The hospitality industry has already made its mark on the Vine scene. The Cavendish London Hotel’s #ValentineVine contest has been recognized as the first ever Vine contest:

valentinevine competition

The contest asked for romantic submissions via Twitter to @Cavendish_Hotel tagged with #ValentineVine. The winning Vine received an overnight stay at the London hotel along with cocktails, dinner, and breakfast. This contest was a great way to engage potential customers. It created a call to action, engaged consumers’ creativity, incorporated a popular holiday, and highlighted the property. In addition, it also generated a significant amount of international press, inherently creating powerful backlinks (from blogs like this one!) to the hotel’s website. 

Wow! Neato! But How Can I Use Vine For My Hotel?

Vine’s fledgling landscape is still untapped. Your hotel marketing team can utilize this opportunity to showcase their imagination, the uniqueness of the property and become a pioneering leader of this social media channel. There are several additional ways in which hotels can differentiate themselves and exercise their creativity by maximizing Vine’s video platform:

  • Renovations - Has your property recently undergone renovations? Provide a mini-tour or sneak peeks and build excitement for the new additions.
  • In-House Restaurants - Do you have a restaurant you would like to highlight? Use Vine to showcase new dishes, weekly specials, Chef profiles, catering, or events recently hosted at the restaurant.
  • Welcome Guests & Groups - Filming a “welcome” Vine for visiting conferences, business meetings, wedding receptions, or family reunions is a great way to show your hospitality, engage attendees, and hopefully receive shares in their social circles.
  • Unique Selling Features - On a cold, snowy day, maybe your Denver hotel shows off the crackling fire in the lobby to warm guests up, on a hot day, maybe your resort would do a video of kids splashing in the pool – how else can your hotel show off their best assets and evoke envy on people who are not at the hotel?
  • Live Events - Showcase live events at your hotel or bar to use for promotional material. Do you have a live band playing weekly? A themed happy hour during certain holidays like Cinco De Mayo or Halloween?
  • Pet Policies - Are pets allowed at the hotel? Show this off with a video of pets checking in!

Be sure to include hastags on every Vine post! People can search for your posts (using tags such as #HotelName) directly on Vine as well as Twitter.

The Future of Vine

Although Vine was only launched in late January 2013, it has enjoyed a more rapid and sustained growth in its first four months than other less robust competitors. According to Onavo Insights, April alone saw Vine take nearly an 8% market share and a 96% active user increase from March! Similar offerings from Gifboom and Cinemagram have seen their user base steadily decline during this same period.

2013 US iphone market share

Active Vine users will stay on the rise if developers remain responsive and continue making improvements based on feedback from the community. For example, an April 29 update included user mentions and the much clamored for support of the iPhone’s front facing camera. At the writing of this post, Vine is the #3 free app on iTunes. 

Vine is the next step in social media. The statistics support this--users crave and share videos! Many major hotel brands currently have Vine accounts, but beyond a couple initial posts, few are active. Local properties, such as Cavendish London Hotel, which utilize Vine in its infancy, will likely garner extra buzz and credibility for being early adaptors. This novel new app, with the muscle of Twitter behind it, has the potential to be the next ubiquitous piece of the social media landscape.

Bringing It All Back Home

Consumers have always trusted friends and family when it comes to purchase recommendations, but with the increased reach of social media this source is becoming even more influential. Video is the most significant medium on social media when it comes to viral marketing. Users are drawn to brief, easily shared video clips. Vine is all of the above, essentially everything today’s social media users are looking for. Hotels can use the platform to highlight amenities, renovations, restaurant offerings, special events, and engage customers in contests, promotions, or reviews. Vine, with an appealing and engaging content offering, can raise the profile of your hotel, build a stronger reputation, start earning recommendations from travelers and, over time, drive more bookings!

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SEO can be confusing and arcane, so SEOs often find themselves using analogies to explain the mysteries of the industry. Recognizing this trend, the good folks over at Internet Marketing Ninja recently put together an article featuring nine of their favorite SEO analogies that they have seen on various different SEO sites and blogs. The list features some excellent and entertaining analogies, but it does not include my SEO analogy of choice, so I have set out to bring the joy of this splendid simile to the great unwashed SEO masses and their considerably cleaner hospitality brethren.

Please keep off the grass Great Court Trinity College Cambridge

What is this miraculous SEO metaphor, you ask?

Spoiler alert: Look at the title. In the course of my SEO journeys, I have encountered various personages (salesmen, clients, reclusive uncles named Švejk) with tangential connections to the SEO industry who require elucidation of the philosophy of SEO in what the settlers called “plain words.” Drawing on my boundless gift for mixing instruction with nonsense, I concocted the perfect analogy: SEO is like mowing your lawn. Am I mad, you ask? Far from it, my friend. Let me explain and expand…

SEO = Lawn Mower

“Why can’t you just do SEO once and then be done with it?”

This is a question that follows SEO specialists around like a confused chicken. When faced with this question, I remove my spectacles from my nose, wipe my forehead, and in my most unctuously ingratiating manner reply, “Why can’t you just mow your lawn one time and then be done with it?” And before my unsuspecting interrogator can reply, I respond to my own question.

“Because things change. Your grass grows. There is a drought. A car drives over your lawn. Squirrels do things (I don’t know anything about squirrels). In order to keep your lawn in proper order, you have to “maintain” it, which involves doing the same things (watering, mowing, raking, planting) over and over again in different situations. Treat SEO the same way you treat your grass. Google changes its algorithm 500-600 times a year. Technological disruption is constant (e.g mobile devices). Just because you decide not to maintain your website/SEO (lawn), does not mean that your competitors (half-witted neighbor Gary et all) won’t. SEO (lawn maintenance) is not carried out in a vacuum. Search rankings (Best Lawn of the Year awards) are the result of Google (the neighborhood council) comparing different sites (lawns) and ranking them in the order they feel is most valuable for their users (constituents).

Mow, Edge, & Trim the Competition

If your competitors continue to optimize their site and adapt to the changing search world while you perform ‘SEO’ once and then consider it finished, you will fall lower and lower in the rankings as your site becomes out-dated and irrelevant. SEO is a continual process that involves maintaining your online presence, and just like maintaining your lawn, it involves the repetition of certain tasks (such as link building, content creation, performance optimization, etc.) as situations change and evolve, as well as monitoring the world of search and technology to make sure that when game changers come along (mobile, leaf blowers), you are able to take advantage of these new technologies in order to stay ahead.

Now, I understand that some people live in a desert where there is no grass and some hotels are the only game in town, and I admit that these people and hotels probably don’t need to maintain their lawns or their SEO campaign as frequently as others, but for the rest of the world, if you want to not annoy your neighbors/not get fined by the municipal board/not have a failing hotel, I strongly advise that you maintain both your lawn and your SEO. Take it away, Harry:

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When the slogan, "There's an app for that" debuted in 2008, its intent was to suggest mobile devices were capable of catering to our every need. Apps, short for applications, are various software programs that users can download to their smart phone or tablets and appear on their device's home page (very similarly to that of a desktop computer). In recent years, the slogan has become far more literal. With apps that simulate bubble wrap, ensure weight loss by vibrating the pounds away, and more, the slogan has transformed to "There's an app for THAT?!"

The influx of apps lead many, including those in the hospitality industry, to contemplate the need for a personalized app for their individual properties. At this point, I'd like to enlist the phrase my mother and many others have used throughout the centuries to discourage hopeful, yet misguided souls: "If so-and-so jumped off a bridge, would you do it?" The same applies to apps - not all industries should take the leap. In most instances, individual hotels simply do not and should not need to create a mobile app.

Strength of Mobile Users

Basic Breakdown: Hotel Seekers are Searching, Not Downloading

According to Business Insider, mobile usage is expected to surpass desktops by 2014. Capturing those mobile users that are looking for a, "hotel in your City, State" doesn't necessarily translate into a need for your own app. It is more accurate to say that it is an indication as to how best to tailor your overall mobile strategy. 

Oftentimes, the desire for mobile apps stems from a misunderstanding of the difference between the apps and a mobile-friendly site. A mobile-friendly site is an extension of your current webpage that is not only accessible via a mobile phone's browser, but it is easy to navigate and a good experience for the end user. A mobile app, on the other hand, stands alone and must be downloaded and accessed as its own entity. Once downloaded, it will appear as an icon on a mobile phone desktop. Let's take a look at some helpful statistics that give us insight on how the general public uses their smart phones and how that applies to you as a hotel marketer:

73% of Smartphone users said they used the mobile web to shop rather than an app (Source: Yahoo)

The term a traveler would use in a search engine is far different than what one would use in the app store. Apps are tools used to find information, much like a search engine - finding an app is a different conquest in itself. For example, a traveler wouldn't go to the app store and search for "Hotel near Wrigley Field". Instead, they would search for general hotel finders like Expedia or TripAdvisor, or brand specific hotel finders like Hilton or Marriott apps. In the process, they will likely bypass your hotel's individual app. Optimizing a website that all mobile users, Android, iPhone or otherwise can find, rather than an app they may or may not find, let alone invest the data to download, is a better investment of time and resources.

68% of users only use five or fewer apps at least once a week (Source: USA Today | Money)

Just because there is an app for that doesn't mean we need it. The novelty of a new app wears off quickly when its daily value dissipates. There is a small niche of professions that require regular hotel usage, so when the time comes for the leisure traveler to book again, they may forget they even have the app or deleted it from lack of use or memory space.

The Truth: You Already HAVE an App

Many major hotel brands, like Hilton or Marriott, have their own mobile app for guests. Your investment is better spent capturing the business that you normally wouldn't get rather than people who are loyal to your brand. The brand app provides an enhanced user-experience to easily select dates and book guest rooms, and therefore already has your brand loyal guests hooked. It's the users that are searching for more general key phrases, such as "Hotels in your City, State" that you want to target.

Oftentimes, if someone is running this search on their mobile rather than their desktop, they are a business traveler or someone on the go looking to book that night. If the person isn’t a loyal brand follower (or said brand isn’t in that particular market) and they run that search on mobile phone, it’s incredibly important that the hotel has a website visible and easy for a shopper to connect with, book immediately, and locate the hotel to physically check-in. Individual apps do not have the reach needed for these sorts of last-minute bookers, but a mobile-friendly website will provide more opportunities.

Brand apps aside, hotels also have one other travel titan in their corner: TripAdvisor. Second in "travel apps" only to Google Maps, TripAdvisor reigns in all the rogue searchers and allows them to find hotels and reviews. So, even if a potential guest is not a brand loyalist but prefers apps over a browser search, they are still more likely to use the TripAdvisor app than commit to a mobile app assigned solely to one hotel.

APPly Your Marketing Strategy into Mobile-Friendly: Your Next Steps

While apps can be helpful tools in the booking process, they don't translate into getting heads in beds the way that a mobile-friendly hotel website will. There are many aspects to making your site as mobile-friendly as you can. Here is a list of things you can do to make sure your page is optimized for mobile users and gives your potential guests the best experience on your page.

  • Is your site compatible with mobile devices right now?

Responsive sites and mobile friendly sites benefit travelers, and as a result, benefit your hotel. Responsive sites, or sites that recognize tablets and mobiles and reconfigure to those screen layouts, give you the flexibility to update your site as frequently as you'd like. Hotels can include upcoming specials, renovation updates, and any other relevant information at the drop of a hat on their individual mobile site.

  • Can your potential guest find your information seamlessly?

Make sure that the ability to book from your mobile site is as simple as possible. The first thing listed on your page should be all of your contact info and/or the ability to check availability right away. The potential guest may have been researching with other apps like TripAdvisor and may be ready to book by the time they arrive at your site. Remeber: most people looking to book with their mobile phones are most likely already in our city and are looking for a quick solution. Give them that solution with your mobile-friendly, easy to use website.

  • Are your other listings optimized?

When potential guests use search engines to find your hotel, you want to ensure that the correct information is displayed for your local listing. Make sure that the address and phone number are correct so that there are no errors in navigation or in an attempt to call the hotel to book. Make sure that the lisitng points back to your mobile-friendly page as well.

The influence of mobile phones is growing and shows no signs of slowing down. Make sure you can capture those potential guests by creating a great mobile experience on your website, rather than spending considerably more on a standalone mobile app.

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