This morning I received a marketing email from Hertz car rental. Marketing emails are fine if I like the product and use it often. But in this case, I simply don't rent nearly enough cars to warrant registering in one of their rewards program. Somehow I had gotten on Hertz's email marketing list and I wanted out...now.  But it seemed as though the marketing team at Hertz had other plans for my desired unsubscription. This is where I quickly changed from "Matt the happy Hertz customer" to "Matt the happy Enterprise or Alamo or Dollar or [other car rental company here] customer." 

It all started off so well

I had just taken a two week vacation driving all across Italy, and upon my return it seems that Hertz wanted to reward me for my patronage by offering me 250 of their "bonus points" if I registered for their Gold Plus Rewards program. Typical email marketing stuff. I had had an excellent experience with Hertz over in Italy, despite the fact that the massive American super-sized car that they assigned to us completely dwarfed all the tiny Italian smart cars, Vespas and other toy-sized vehicles that are ubiquitous throughout the country.  Not to mention the fact that American-sized behemoth cars are ill suited for the extremely narrow, winding roads that carve through the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast.

So the car handled well, the Hertz folks were pleasant and helpful during the initial rental, and returning the car at the Marco Polo Airport's Hertz lot was a breeze. I was a happy Hertz customer and would probably rent a car from them again, which is a pretty significant feat for any company, considering I'm brand agnostic when it comes to things like car rentals. I usually select based on price--so the cheapest vehicle with 4 wheels will do.  I don't need to travel in style--I just need to cart myself from point A to point B.

The email follow up

Whether you're a car rental company, a hotel or any other business, email marketing can be a great way to reach your customers.  They can inform customers about special offers, discounts, policy changes, company improvements, new features, helpful tips or other useful information relevant to the business.  In Hertz's case, their email offered me some loyalty points in exchange for registering for their rewards program. 

hertz-rewards-email

But here's where Hertz took a wrong turn with their marketing.

How did I end up on this marketing list?

First of all, I never recall providing my email address to Hertz for the purposes of marketing.  Now, I know that I had to provide them with my email address as part of the rental process, but it seems I must have overlooked the fine print about how they can use my information to market to me. Bad move. I, like many folks, do not like being auto-enrolled in various marketing campaigns. If you want to add me to your distribution list, ask me.  If I write my email address on a rental form, then have a checkbox next to my email address that says "Check this box if you'd like to receive special offers from our company." If I like your company enough and use your products/services frequently then I will check the box.  If I'm not interested then I won't check the box. As a business, it's probably in your best interest to ask first because sending me unsolicited emails is likely a recipe for aggravation anyway.

Ugh. So, I fell into your marketing trap. Now how do I get out of it?

Ok fine. Hertz tricked me into signing up for their email campaign. Shame on me for not reading the unintelligible legalese in 5 point font. While I hate receiving unwanted emails, at least most companies give their customers an easy out: the unsubscribe link.  Ah yes, the unsubscribe link! The last hope a company has in redeeming themselves. You've forced me onto your marketing list, but for the love of all things holy, please let me go without a struggle. In the best scenario, which is fortunately more common these days, unsubscribing can be achieved with one click. The customer clicks the unsubscribe link in their email and it automatically opens a browser window that simply says that you're no longer on their list. Problem solved.

Unfortunately, some email programs make it more difficult to unsubscribe than a single click of the mouse. Sometimes clicking the unsubscribe link takes you to a webpage that requires that you uncheck a subscription box, retype your email address to confirm that it is indeed you who is unsubscribing, or sometimes you may have to log into your online account with the company in order to change your settings. All of these are frustrating for the user who just wants to escape the clutches of your marketing campaign. One click is all it should take to opt-out of unwanted email subscriptions.

Hertz, on the other hand, decided it would rather make it's customers jump through a few hoops before they let them have their freedom.  My first clue to the challenge that lay ahead of me was this friendly little paragraph at the bottom of their marketing email:

To stop receiving any electronic mail message from The Hertz Corporation and its subsidiaries, the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or solicitation of a commercial product or service, please paste this address into your browser: unsubscribe.hertz.com.

That statement was clearly written by a lawyer. It is very formal and cumbersome, and it doesn't get to the point quickly or make it easy for the consumer to unsubscribe. The entire 39-word sentence could have easily been replaced with, "Click here to unsubscribe," and the same goal would have been achieved. 

Compare Hertz's message with the simplified version found on the MailChimp email marketing system:

This email was sent to someguy@anotherrandomdomain.com
why did I get this? | unsubscribe from this list | update subscription preferences

I removed the links from the excerpt above, but if I were to click the 3 underlined items they would take me to various options:  I can find out why I received this email; I can unsubscribe from this list; Or I can update my subscription preferences. 

If I'm ready to be done with this company once and for all, I can click the "unsubscribe from this list" link and this simple message pops up to greet me:

unsubscribe

This is perfect! One click to unsubscribe and it's over. No long, drawn out, painful goodbyes. I've made up my mind to leave and the company has opened the exit door for me. This is the way good email marketing should be done. No hassle. No frustration. No contempt for a company that tries to lock their customers into their email distribution lists. And, if I'm so inclined, I can explain my reason for unsubscribing by completing the optional survey.

Trying to escape

So, after receiving the Hertz loyalty reward email, I have decided to unsubscribe from Hertz emails altogether. I've parsed through the legalese in my Hertz promotional email and I've clicked the unsubscribe link. That's when this eyesore flashes onto my screen:

hertz-unsubscribe-form

It appears that Hertz, in an effort retain their email distribution list, has provided a 5-part unsubscribe form in hopes that customers will simply give up from exhaustion.  Let me break down for you the problems I have with this form:

  1. The title of this form is just awkward: "Control your receipt of email." Why not just call it "Email Preferences" or "Email Subscription"? This is already starting off down the wrong road.
  2. Worse yet, it's an entire form...to unsubscribe! I just want out.  If other companies can unsubscribe me in one click, surely a huge company like Hertz (and apparently its subsidiaries) should be able to do it as well.
  3. There is so much text.  If I'm already so frustrated with your email communication that I want out now, don't make this painful for me by forcing me to read 10 paragraphs of text.  The only words I should have to read are, "You have been successfully unsubscribed."
  4. In part A, why do I have to enter my email address twice? Most people don't go around unsubscribing other people just for the hell of it.
  5. In part B, there are two check boxes. I think I'm supposed to check the first box, but maybe I should check the second box too? But then it asks for my rewards number... If I don't have a rewards number, should I check it or uncheck it? Again, very vague instructions which makes it confusing to successfully unsubscribe.
  6. Part C is only relevant to travel agents, which doesn't pertain to me, so why is it even being displayed. If I unknowingly check this box and click submit I receive an error message. More confusion.
  7. Part D makes a similar statement to Part B. Why do I have to check both boxes to unsubscribe if they seem to have the same purpose? Duplicate effort, and more time wasted.
  8. Finally, the entire form is just not written in a user-friendly, customer tone. As I read this I feel as though I'm signing a contract. I'm no longer a customer. Hertz has made me feel like a threat by trying to cover all their liabilities with their legalese. Customers hate reading this crap. Write to me as though you're writing to another human being. The last paragraph (part E) highlights this confusing legal jargon perfectly. I really had to think about whether or not the information I was about to submit was being done in "good faith for purposes of accomplishing the foregoing."  "Accomplishing the foregoing"?

The consequences of trapping your customers

As a consumer, I should not have had to go through all of these unnecessary hurdles just to avoid being hassled with unwanted emails. If you run a company that uses emails to market to your customers, then remember to keep the consumer's best interests in mind throughout the entire email marketing campaign. Making it as cumbersome as possible for your customers to gracefully exit your marketing messages is not a way to grow customer databases.

We never recommend that our hotel clients purchase email distributions lists for a similar reason: those people didn't sign up to receive emails from your business. They are unqualified. And while purchasing email addresses from marketing companies can certainly inflate the size of your email distribution lists, you are ultimately marketing your company to disinterested people who may not even be familiar with your product. Making it hard for those users to then exit your marketing trap only compounds the damage you're ultimately doing to your brand reputation. And in the world of online social sharing, your reputation can change in a heartbeat.

If you present your customers with the option to join your email distribution list (rather than forcing them onto your email list) and if you give them an easy way to opt out of your marketing campaigns, you will prevent that person from going from a disinterested customer to a frustrated and angry former customer--and one who is now looking to your competitor as the more accommodating option. Trapping your customers is never a good solution. It only pisses them off. As the saying goes: if it's truly love, set it free; and if it returns you'll know it was meant to be. And so it goes with your customers.

So Hertz, thanks for my travels throughout Italy, but this is the last time you'll be taking me for a ride. 

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By now, you've probably heard the latest buzz from Google and it all involves a 'little' animal we call the Hummingbird. Personally, I think Google should have named their newest algorithm after a much larger animal, considering how big of a change this is for searchers everywhere. However, it’s been rumored that Google chose the name to reflect how "precise" and "fast" their new Hummingbird algorithm is.

So, what the heck is Google Hummingbird?

It is a completely new search algorithm, not just an update (Google says that it affects 90% of all searches). Hummingbird looks at a searcher's intent such as the question they ask or the problem they are trying to solve (i.e. Where is the closest hotel to Soldier Field in Chicago?) and tries to provide them the best response in the shortest amount of time. Rather than focusing on individual keywords as Google’s old algorithm did, the Hummingbird search algorithm now focuses on the entire query that a person types (or says!). This is what Google calls conversational search.

What was Google’s intent by introducing Hummingbird?

Unlike the Google Panda and Google Penguin updates, Google does not intend for Hummingbird to penalize sites. While Panda and Penguin were SPAM related algorithm updates meant to filter out black hat SEO (keyword stuffing and spammy inbound links, anyone?), Hummingbird is a brand new algorithm that takes these previous updates into consideration and creates a whole new search experience around searcher intent. Basically, Google wants to get the searcher the best information to solve their query based on their intent. Take note hotels: is the searcher looking for a hotel in your city from their phone because they are there right now or are they planning a future trip to your area from their desktop? Each of these queries has a different intent and Hummingbird will therefore display different results accordingly.

What are Hummingbird's implications on SEO and how does this change my hotel's strategy?

Now, just because Hummingbird doesn't focus on a single keyword combination that you worked so hard to research and rank for does NOT mean you should stop doing SEO. Hummingbird understands meaning - not individual words - and is looking to websites to provide meaningful content to pull from when tailoring results to a searcher's query. As a hotel, you do not need to panic! Embrace Google's brand new search engine algorithm and fine-tune your SEO tactics. Below is a list of important search engine optimization initiatives, an overview of how the Hummingbird algorithm affects each of them and suggestions on how hotels can adjust their SEO strategies to improve their rankings:

Link Building

Implications for SEO: If Google sees that relevant, related websites are linking to your hotel's site, they will see you as an authority on that particular content, thus helping them collect the best information to formulate an answer (search result) for the searcher. Google will also be looking at the type of value those links provide; for instance when people click through to your site from a referring website do they stay on the site, showing Google that it sent the visitor where they intended to go, or do they jump off of your site quickly, causing your site's bounce rate to increase? High bounce rates from numerous inbound links to your website can send signals to Google that you have a poor quality site. Hummingbird does not affect link building - it has Google Panda to take care of low quality links. So, continue to include link building as a part of your SEO efforts by focusing on relevant, quality inbound links.

Hotel SEO Strategy: Hopefully, you know not to trust SEO companies that claim they can improve your hotel's search engine ranking by obtaining a ton of links to your site in a short amount of time. What you need to do is focus on which websites would be best at driving revenue to your website. If you have an excellent water park package and you're working with the local water park to promote it, it would make sense to have a direct link on the water park's website guiding visitors to that special offer residing on your hotel’s website as it will most likely lead to bookings. Overall, focus your link building efforts on building quality links to your website and spend less time and money worrying about spammy inbound links; Google's Panda update already works hard on finding these low quality sites and often penalizes these sites by knocking them down. If, however, you do have a lot of low quality links pointing to you, here is how you can get rid of them.

Keyword Research

hummingbird-meaningImplications for SEO: Exploring the search volume and competition for your target keywords is the first step to creating relevant, quality content and cannot be ignored. If Google's Hummingbird algorithm sees a lot of traffic around a particular group of keywords, it can associate those with a particular intent based on the searcher's query. Keyword research is the starting point of building meaningful content. You need to first make sure there is actually search volume for keywords you want to be found for before developing a page around them. Continue to research the keywords that you want to rank well for, but put less emphasis on how well you rank for that one keyword. Instead, develop informative content that incorporates a tight keyword theme to show Google that your site is a relevant resource.

Hotel SEO Strategy: As a hotel, you still need to figure out what people are searching for before you create any landing pages on your hotel's site (don't blindly choose keywords). Hummingbird challenges hotel marketers to think outside the box when it comes to your hotel’s SEO strategy. Consider looking into keywords beyond the typical 'hotels in [city].' If you're writing a page that targets business travelers, ask yourself, "If I was a business traveler and needed a hotel, what type of things would I be looking for?" This might inspire you to look for a variety of keywords like 'hotels in [city] with free Wi-Fi access' or 'hotels near [insert corporate business]'. Combining these long-tail keywords specific to business travelers could really help someone intending to search for a hotel that offers free Wi-Fi and is located near McDonald's headquarters. It's important to note here that Google continues to take away our keyword data in Analytics; not only does this tell us that keywords aren’t all the rage anymore but it also forces us to focus on developing higher quality content. So, keyword themes that are naturally integrated within your well-written page copy will be more beneficial for SEO.

Local Listings

Implications for SEO: If your business information is not consistent across the web, you will confuse Google's Hummingbird algorithm. The more sources that give the same location information, the more likely your hotel will be found. Google Hummingbird works to collect enough information from various listings across the web to give the searcher the best response. Searcher intent is the key element of Hummingbird, so if someone is performing a local search it will be crucial that you have updated local listings Hummingbird can pull from. Hummingbird shouldn't affect how you optimize your hotel for local search, you just need to make sure that you still include local listing updates as part of your SEO strategy.

Hotel SEO Strategy: While it's important to check all of your local listings, I cannot stress how important it is that you verify your Google+ Page. If anything, this is the most important local listing you need. Considering Google pulls information it has from its own database (i.e. verified Google+ pages) and utilizes it in local search results through the new Google Carousel (the bar at the top of search results), you need to make sure your Google+ page is verified and updated as much as possible.

It is also important to point out here that when you click on a hotel in the carousel, Google's search results change to pull in specific pages from that hotel's website. This is important for your hotel because the person searching now sees more details about your hotel and links to the various landing pages within your website, increasing the likelihood that they will click through and book a reservation on your website. Likewise, the online travel agencies (OTAs) that may have been organically ranking above a hotel before are now pushed further down the results while the hotel's landing pages, like maps & directions or dining, fly to the top of the results.

Additionally, the knowledge graph card from the hotel's verified Google+ page pops up on the right hand side of results, providing the searcher with easy-to-read information. An example of Google’s search result page before clicking on a hotel in the carousel and after clicking on one of the hotels in the carousel is below:

Before:
carousel-before-local-listing-click
After:
carousel-after-local-listing-click

Content Writing

Implications for SEO: Use keyword research as a starting point for the topic your new content will cover. Next, build relevant, original and high quality content by taking your keyword research and constantly asking yourself: "How does this page provide answers to someone running a search for [this topic]?" Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land says it best, "Pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words." Hummingbird affects websites who have irrelevant content; If your page is simply full of keywords you want to rank for and doesn't offer helpful information to the visitor (resulting in a high bounce rate) then Hummingbird will have a hard time considering it a quality resource. While you should have already been writing great content, you now have more of a reason to do so. Focus on building each page on your website with this in mind: How is this page a great resource for someone looking for answers on [insert page topic]?

content-its-kind-of-a-big-dealHotel SEO Strategy: Remember, you need to constantly ask yourself how the landing page you are writing will provide the best answers to someone conducting a search on the topic you are covering. Let’s say you are writing an attractions page and you want people to know how close your hotel is to a particular sports arena. Rather than just writing "Our hotel is close to PNC Arena", provide the searcher with more information about how guests can get to the arena from your hotel, how visitors can purchase tickets to the game or concert, what types of packages your hotel may offer those attending an upcoming game, etc. Review your page’s content and think about what a user's intention may be for clicking your site. For example, what hotels near the [insert sports arena] have special offers and how close are they to the [sports arena]. Does the hotel offer a complimentary shuttle service?

Assuming your hotel has followed all SEO best practices and not gone down the black-hat road, Google Hummingbird should not negatively impact your hotel. It has always been extremely important for your hotel's website to have outstanding, relevant, and helpful content that answers potential guests' most common questions - not just about your hotel but also about the area and experience they would get by staying with you. Now, it is essential.

What if I have no control over the content I can provide potential guests?

If your hotel has limited control over your brand site content and SEO, Hummingbird can still help improve your standalone website traffic as long as you are following SEO best practices. By having more control over the type of information you are sharing with potential guests online (i.e. through additional landing pages with related area information), your hotel will have a better chance of being found and booked. Learn more here by understanding how your standalone website can benefit your hotel from an SEO standpoint.

I invite all of your Google Hummingbird questions, concerns, or comments, so please connect with the Blue Magnet team on Twitter at @Blue_Magnet or with me at @KNupMktg

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From the look on her face, you might think that Associate Account Manager Stephanie Hilger's grin is a result of her recently having claimed the September Blue Magneteer Award! And you would be wrong. If you look closely at the photo below you will see that she is actually staring past the Prize Wheel of Destiny and is, in fact, focusing her attention on the map of the United States. Like Alexander the Great surveying his expanding empire, Stephanie is plotting her next move, eyes gleaming with the possibility of more. Having already conquered the online world, she now hungers for the real one.

BlueMagneteerAward-StephanieHilger

That's right. Stephanie has single-handedly conquered the online world. Facebook? Twitter? Google+? She practically invented them.  In fact, Mark Zuckerberg actually calls Stephanie when he has trouble changing his Facebook privacy settings. Foursquare even has a "Stephanie Hilger badge," which you earn by just being as awesome as Stephanie at online marketing--you don't even have to check in anywhere! Legend has it, Stephanie was also the one who convinced Twitter to use the number sign instead of the ampersand for trending Twitter topics. And, as far as I can tell, it was Stephanie who was chic enough to then start referring to the "number sign" as the "hashtag." Until she came around to class it up, Twitter was still referring to it as the number sign and was #totallylost...or as they would have called it: number sign totallylost.

Besides rewriting online history as though it were nothing more than a Wikipedia page, what lead Stephanie down this path to glory and the cherished Blue Magneteer Award? Well, it all started with a client's social media campaign. The goal was to generate consumer interest in a portfolio of hotels by encouraging the social community to vote on their favorite hotel in various categories. Her social media wizardry generated the following impressive stats for the 6 week promotion:

  • Over 1,400 "votes" for the participating hotels
  • 44 new Twitter followers
  • 1,100 new Facebook fans
  • 469% YOY increase in people talking about the campaign

Not only did Stephanie bring new ideas to the table this year, but she was very proactive in setting up the campaign and also very organized in managing the reporting throughout. In addition, once the campaign was over she put together an incredibly thorough report that truly shows how much analysis and thought she puts into every campaign that she manages.

Congratulations to Stephanie Hilger, champion of the September 2013 Blue Magneteer Award! Thank you, Stephanie, for all your hard work and for your drive and determination to conquer any online challenge that crosses your path! 

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Times are changing - the pound sign is now a hashtag, tweets aren't just for birds, and brands want things shared more than a kindergarten teacher. This past week, the Blue Magnet Interactive team set off to explore several educational seminars hosted by Chicago's Social Media Week to stay on the forefront of the everchanging online social landscape. Our online marketing team is eager to share how their key takeaways from these sessions can translate into successful hotel social media marketing campaigns.

What Social Media Week Chicago 2013 session did you attend?

Abby stopped by Google’s Chicago office for their Google MapMaker Workshop.

At this session…

The Google MapMaker team explained the importance of Google Maps for small business owners. Not many folks know that they are able to edit information on Google Maps, whether it's updating an address, marking a business as closed or updating a street name. It's important for business owners especially to be aware of how their information is displayed on Google Maps. This is the information that leads potential clients, customers and guests straight to your doors. This session went step-by-step through the Google MapMaker interface and showed how to update business information on Google Maps.

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

The more accurate you are with your MapMaker edits and the more often you make quality edits, the more trusted you become in the Google Maps community. Each edit is reviewed by the MapMaker team and if your MapMaker account has a good history of edits, your future suggestions will be taken at a higher priority and your edits are more likely to be approved.

So, why should a hotel use MapMaker?

It's not only vitally important to have the correct information for your individual hotel on Google Maps, but it's important that guests are getting a good idea of what they will find in the surrounding area. As a hotel owner, you can claim your own hotel on Google Maps and have control over your information. As a member of your community, you can make updates to surrounding businesses, parks and attractions. Did a new winery open up just a block away from your hotel? Check to see if it's on Google Maps! Did a popular bakery next door close it's doors? Make sure to report it as closed so guests don't find themselves in front of an empty building. Remember to always make sure your business information is correct on Google Maps. If your hotel looks great online, go ahead and take a peek at your neighbors and make sure your community looks great!

Read more BMI highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2013 sessions.

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Times are changing - the pound sign is now a hashtag, tweets aren't just for birds, and brands want things shared more than a kindergarten teacher. This past week, the Blue Magnet Interactive team set off to explore several educational seminars hosted by Chicago's Social Media Week to stay on the forefront of the everchanging online social landscape. Our online marketing team is eager to share how their key takeaways from these sessions can translate into successful hotel social media marketing campaigns.

What Social Media Week Chicago 2013 session did you attend?

Brittany, Stephanie, and Matt stopped by Google’s Chicago office to learn about maximizing opportunities with Google+ and Brands.

At this session…

Stephanie: The Google team explained how brands can make the most out of Google+, from getting discovered to generating engagement and driving performance across the web.

Brittany: From small, local businesses to international organizations, Google+ allows brands to engage with their customers in various ways, including reviews, hangouts, communities, and profile content. One significant feature of this channel is that brands and individuals are able to categorize their audiences and distribute content more effectively to the appropriate “groups”.

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

Brittany: 1 in 4 search results for the world’s twenty largest brands are links to user generated content. Pairing this statistic with the added data that about 1 in 5 searches are local, it is critical for brands to establish transparent online relationships. Listening to what users are saying online and providing the best possible experience online and offline will only enhance your overall brand presence.

Stephanie: Much like individuals on Google+, brands can also write reviews. Brands are also able to start and join communities on Google+. I also found it interesting that you can use shortcuts to emphasize words and enhance the formatting on Google+ status updates - *word* = word and _word_ = word.

So, why should a hotel use Google+?

Brittany: According to Google, Google+ social annotations in search engines are responsible for a 5-10% uplift in CTR (about 11% in the travel industry)! This statistic goes beyond just Google+ though, Facebook likes, TripAdvisor reviews, and other social annotations are all important facets in the search engine results. As online hotel reviews are feeding into various websites and search results, reputation management (beyond just Tripadvisor) needs to continue to be a major focus for hoteliers.

Stephanie: Brands can (and should) take advantage of being more social. Google+ features users with the highest number of reviews; brands should look at this opportunity as an additional way to reach their target audience. As a hotel, what better way to become an "online concierge" than by reviewing local restaurants, hot spots, and attractions in order to position yourself as an expert in your area and get in front of people who are researching your location? Come up with innovative ways to interact with your customers on social media in order to achieve success!

Read more BMI highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2013 sessions.

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Times are changing - the pound sign is now a hashtag, tweets aren't just for birds, and brands want things shared more than a kindergarten teacher. This past week, the Blue Magnet Interactive team set off to explore several educational seminars hosted by Chicago's Social Media Week to stay on the forefront of the everchanging online social landscape. Our online marketing team is eager to share how their key takeaways from these sessions can translate into successful hotel social media marketing campaigns.

What Social Media Week Chicago 2013 session did you attend?

Brittany, Stephanie, and Tim attended Content Marketing That Wins: Making Brands, Readers AND Google Happy to explore high-quality content that will strengthen your brand, give the consumers what they want, and look enticing to search engines.

At this session…

Brittany: The social media and online landscape allows organizations to communicate with individuals on a new, exciting level. But, rather than crafting valuable and engaging social media content, many brands just throw nonsense into the social realm that is completely irrelevant to their brand or audience. As a brand, creating great content comes from understanding who your audience is, assessing what the readers want from the company, managing what action your brand wants readers to take, utilizing the assets that you have, and understanding how the readers talk about the brand or product when they think the brand isn’t listening.

Tim: I think Brittany covered the session overview pretty well. As an industry, we need to reevaluate the content that we post to social media, recall what makes content great, and craft valuable, engaging content for our specific audiences. Great content builds trust, drives measurable consumer action, satisfies a brand’s needs, and is organized around a centralized idea

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

Stephanie: Build a community that makes sense for your brand and demonstrate interest in your user's need to create a value exchange. Look at social media content from a long term perspective and not just a "tweet-based need”.

Brittany: Based on the questions and feedback from individuals in the audience, determining a client-approved ROI for social media marketing and content creation is still difficult for all social media marketers. Attribution modeling is key to how we review social media analytics and performance, but it will certainly take time for this reporting to be more of a norm when working with clients in almost any industry.

Tim: The speakers brought up some really great content examples from the past and compared it to the typical social media content of today. While creativity is almost certain to drop off in social media because of the sheer volume of content, that doesn’t mean that the content should stray from your brand’s centralized idea. Great content is found at the intersection of what a brand can do for their consumers and what their consumers need from the brand. It spurs actions rather than bullying users into conversations.

So, how can a hotelier create winning social media content that drives engagement?

Stephanie: The ROI on social media is not straightforward; you should aim to measure the user’s entire journey. Track your guest from the beginning of the hotel shopping process to the end conversion when they book a room. For example, it’s likely that somebody started clicking around on your hotel’s Facebook page and had their "community experience," then spent  a few minutes on your hotel’s website to learn more information, and several days later when they needed to finalize their trip details, the Facebook fan returned to the site directly to book a room.

Brittany: A majority of people connect with a brand online because they actually want to follow the brands’ posts. Perhaps a fan enjoyed a past hotel stay, are planning a future vacation, are connected to the industry, etc. But, the point is that they sought out the brand or clicked on the content that is being advertised by the hotel. Therefore, it is critical for hotels to serve their audiences with the information they are looking to read. From hotel news to photography and travel advice, taking advantage of your hotel’s resources and crafting a useful, unique story or perspective is the key to social media marketing.

Tim: Social media is an opt-in channel. Therefore, it’s critical for brands to provide content that actually provides value to its users. A strong social media presence builds the brand equity for that specific hotel. The brand equity is an important part of that consumer journey and needs to be considered when discussing ROI.

Read more BMI highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2013 sessions.

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Digg!Reddit!Facebook!StumbleUpon! Twitter

Times are changing - the pound sign is now a hashtag, tweets aren't just for birds, and brands want things shared more than a kindergarten teacher. This past week, the Blue Magnet Interactive team set off to explore several educational seminars hosted by Chicago's Social Media Week to stay on the forefront of the everchanging online social landscape. Our online marketing team is eager to share how their key takeaways from these sessions can translate into successful hotel social media marketing campaigns.

What Social Media Week Chicago 2013 session did you attend?

Stephanie attended Good Habits of Successful Social Media Managers to learn new strategies and best practices for delivering successful social media campaigns from other industry professionals.

Chicago Social Media Week 2013

At this session…

Sprout Social moderated a panel made up of social media managers from Divvy Bikes, Grub Hub, and Social Ogilvy. Each social media manager shared their opinions on various topics such as choosing what social networks your brand should be active on, various tools to measure social media performance, and tips for responding to negative comments.

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

A great way to expand your social community organically is to team up with other brands that are relevant to your own. For example, a hotel might want to cross promote (on their social networks) with local vendors they often use for meetings, weddings, etc. This might come as a surprise to many social media managers, but a negative comment is not always a bad thing! It can often provide an opportunity to turn someone who is upset into an evangelist for your brand.

So, what is a best social media practice that the hotel industry should adopt?

Don't feel obligated to be on every social media channel! Before deciding what social networks to be active on, understand the strengths and weaknesses of each channel and how the user behavior differs. Every hotel’s strategy will differ depending on the market, target audience, and resources. So, the channels that work well for one hotel may not be necessary for another hotel.

Read more BMI highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2013 sessions.

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Times are changing - the pound sign is now a hashtag, tweets aren't just for birds, and brands want things shared more than a kindergarten teacher. This past week, the Blue Magnet Interactive team set off to explore several educational seminars hosted by Chicago's Social Media Week to stay on the forefront of the everchanging online social landscape. Our online marketing team is eager to share how their key takeaways from these sessions can translate into successful hotel social media marketing campaigns.

What Social Media Week Chicago 2013 session did you attend?

Kelsey, Matt, and Andrea attended Improving Social Media with SEO to glean insight from other marketing professionals on how to integrate SEO tactics into their social media strategy.

At this session…

Carolyn Shelby gave insider tips on how to optimize your online strategy by using SEO to effectively improve the reach of your social media campaigns. One of the key things Carolyn wanted to emphasize was to constantly use the words for which you want to be found. Whether you're posting a blog, a Facebook post, or even describing a Pinterest 'pin', you must consistently use the same primary keywords in all of your online marketing efforts. 

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

Kelsey Nupnau: Google+, Facebook and Pinterest are the top three social media channels that signal cues to the various search engines.

Andrea Mann: When posting social media content on Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest, do not use ambiguous copy! Be descriptive and use the full search term with which you want to be associated. You should be able to take each important keyword out of context and still understand the premise. All social networks have search functionality built in, so by including your full keywords within the copy or description, you are increasing your brand's exposure for relevant searches on that social channel.

So, how can the hotel industry benefit from improving their social media strategy with SEO?

Kelsey Nupnau: If your hotel is allowed to use vanity email addresses based on your vanity (standalone) domain, use them rather than using a gmail or yahoo account. The more exposure you can give to your website's domain name, the better! Also, if your hotel has outstanding photography, get it on Pinterest and be sure to describe each picture well, use the word hotel, and link to a relevant page of your website in case someone wants to click-through to learn more information.

Andrea Mann: Hotels should reinforce their messaging online and offline to be consistent with how they want to be found by shoppers. A hotel marketing team should decide whether they want to brand themselves as the "hotel overlooking Navy Pier" versus the "hotel within walking distance to Navy Pier" and then remain uniform in all marketing efforts. If a hotel coordinates every message sent to shoppers through all of the various online channels, they will create a longer lasting impression and they can eventually impact the way people search for the hotel.

Read more BMI highlights from other Social Media Week Chicago 2013 sessions.

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Digg!Reddit!Facebook!StumbleUpon! Twitter

Times are changing - the pound sign is now a hashtag, tweets aren't just for birds, and brands want things shared more than a kindergarten teacher. This past week, the Blue Magnet Interactive team set off to explore several educational seminars hosted by Chicago's Social Media Week to stay on the forefront of the everchanging online social landscape. Our online marketing team is eager to share how their key takeaways from these sessions can translate into successful hotel social media marketing campaigns.

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Read BMI's highlights from our Social Media Week adventures below:

 

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At Blue Magnet Interactive, we are passionate about hotel online marketing and we care tremendously about the success of our clients' online marketing campaigns. As one of the founders of Blue Magnet, my primary focus is company growth and new business development. While it's easy to get labeled as "that sales guy," I am not in the practice of throwing out a bunch of BS to get the sale; rather, I try to express Blue Magnet's true goal of positively impacting the hotel's bottom line by being honest and transparent about what they will need to be successful. Blue Magnet is not the type of marketing company that will sell you excessive full-scope packages that are unnecessary for your hotel, nor will we nickel and dime you every time you request an update to your hotel's website. That's never in your best interest, and, consequently, it's not in ours either. Because we know that hotel online marketing is rarely a one-size-fits all approach, we analyze your needs and then create a custom online marketing plan that maximizes your success AND fits within your hotel's budget. 

As many hoteliers have learned through past negative experiences working with the wrong online marketing companies, hotels need to exercise caution in selecting an online marketing partner. Every online marketing vendor operates differently, but being able to spot the warning signs of a bad partnership before you sign on the dotted line can save you a lot of headaches in the end.

When did you last speak to your hotel online marketing vendor?

Here are 7 warning signs that your hotel may be working with the wrong marketing agency:

  1. Lack of Transparency – Avoid vendors who fail to disclose how much time they commit to your account each month and don't provide details regarding the actual tasks they are performing. We're in the service industry, and we are providing our time and that must be budgeted each month. I can't tell you how many times I've spoken with a potential client who is comparing us to a competitor and they say, "Well they're providing the same services, but their cost is $200 per month." The response that is immediately triggered in my mind is: "Really!?! Hmmm. Something doesn't add up. How it is possible that my competitor is providing the exact same services each month yet can execute the services in a fourth of the time Blue Magnet is budgeting?" I've been in the marketing business a long time and I will tell you that for $200/month, they are not putting in the hours necessary for your hotel to be successful in any one online marketing channel (SEO, social, website management, etc), let alone a campaign that focuses on all channels. The bottom line is that this stuff takes time and there is NO automated system that completes all these tasks at a push of a button. 
  2. Spread Too Thin – Avoid vendors that assign you to an account manager who services 15+ other hotels. Unless the account manager is providing an extremely focused level of services for 15+ hotels (i.e. just link building), there is no way your campaign is going to receive the level of dedication needed for success. My advice is to ask your potential vendor if you will have a dedicated account manager and how many accounts each manager handles at any given time.
  3. Proprietary Content Management Systems – Avoid vendors that box you into a proprietary content management system. Most likely you will need a scalable and transferable solution. Over time, the needs of your organization will change, and potentially so could your online marketing vendor. If your website is powered by a proprietary CMS, should you need to transition to a new vendor or bring website management in-house, you will likely have to rebuild your entire website since you will be extremely limited in the content, aesthetic, and SEO updates that you can make on the proprietary CMS. Stick with open source CMS solutions like Joomla, Drupal, or Wordpress instead--they're flexible and can be migrated anywhere you decide to move your business.
  4. Expensive Website Hosting Fees – Be careful with vendors that charge you $200+ for their in-house hosting solution. Instead, ask your marketing agency to consider using a 3rd party hosting provider which could cost as little as $10-$50/month depending on your needs. In most cases your hotel website will only require basic hosting services. For $10-$50/month, this cost includes all the server maintenance, account login, and customer service support that you need. More demanding sites will certainly require more powerful hosting needs, but many basic hotel websites can succeed with some of the more inexpensive options.
  5. Unrealistic Guarantees – Avoid vendors that guarantee first place organic rankings in the major search engines. There are no guarantees in SEO and any company that offers them is likely using spammy/black-hat SEO tactics that will hurt your site's search engine ranking in the long run. While Blue Magnet has years of experience understanding how a hotel website can gain high rankings on search engines, no vendor has ultimate control of how Google displays and ranks hotel websites. That will continue to be in the hands of Google. A reputable vendor will be upfront about the personalization of search and the constant changes that the search engines institute which will affect your rank. For this reason, your SEO strategy should not be a "set it and forget it" strategy. Success comes from consistent and continual focus on all aspects of SEO.
  6. Automation Only – It is true that there are many wonderful tools that hotel internet marketers use as a means to maximize the potential of our internet marketing campaigns and in some instances streamline/automate our efforts. This, however, in no way means that these tools remove the necessity of the human element in implementing successful hotel internet marketing campaigns. As I stated above, there are no tools that will successfully automate your entire online marketing campaign.
  7. Level of Service/Response Time – This doesn't take a lot of explanation. If it is taking your vendor 7+ days to respond to you, I wouldn't consider that a true partnership. Blue Magnet account managers typically respond same day or at least within 24 hours. More importantly, it is not all about your vendor waiting for you to contact them. I think it is important for a vendor to be proactive in their account management, which means that in more cases than not, the vendor is reaching out to you even when you have not made a request. Blue Magnet always ensures that our team is proactive in its management of your account, consistent in our communication with your hotel, and innovative in the way we test new marketing channels and strategies. 

Above all, a successful online marketing partnership should be mutually beneficial for both the hotel and the vendor. It is crucial that you choose a vendor that will become a long-term partner for you and your online marketing crusades. Turning over vendors frequently will only stall your success, as you look to build your campaign back up from where the old vendor left off. Looking for the right online marketing vendor is much like looking for the right life partner--you want someone who is honest and transparent, someone who makes time for you, and someone who always sticks to their word. When those conditions are met, the revenue will be sure to follow...and, of course, the love.

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