Posted in Online Travel Agencies on September 06, 2012 by Katharyn Molinaro
Depending on your strategy and needs, using OTAs is an easy yet effective marketing tool that can really boost your online presence and occupancy. While OTAs are not the best approach for building ADR, having complete, up-to-date listings across OTAs is crucial for taking advantage of the "Billboard Effect" and for having a holistic hotel online marketing strategy. That said, here are five simple steps that you can follow to further increase your hotel’s presence on these important channels.
1. Update Content Regularly
Make sure that your listing contains content that is up-to-date, complete, and compelling. Your most recent hotel information, photos, room amenities, and policies should be accurately displayed on each of your listings. This will not only help visitors make informed decisions about your hotel, but it will also ensure that you show up in the proper search results when visitors use filters. For example, if a hotel that previously charged $10 for parking per day, now offers it for free and does not update this information across OTAs, the hotel will not be listed when the Free Parking filter is used to refine search results. These updates and changes may seem minor but can make a big difference to ensure that your hotel can be found easily in an OTA depending on the visitor’s needs and search behaviors.
To increase visibility in the search results, work with your market manager to add a tag to highlight a hotel special and draw visitors’ eyes to your listing. Depending on the OTA, market managers will allow you to submit the tag copy to emphasize your hotel’s recent renovation, a weekday discount, or simply your advance purchase rate.
2. Open Up Availability and Ensure Rate Parity
While larger hotel brands rely on brand agreements for availability and parity, smaller properties should keep an eye on rates and inventory. By having open availability and all rates within parity, you will inherently achieve a higher user experience for travelers looking to book, and market managers will be more willing to strategize and work with you to achieve your goals. Having infrequent parity issues is rewarded by increased ranking as well, so by ensuring that your hotel listing is in parity with your brand reservations and other OTAs, you will help increase your listing visibility organically too. In addition, to maximize exposure and take advantage of the different booking opportunities on OTAs, hotels should load vacation package rates to display for visitors looking to book air + hotel or hotel + car. Participating in opaque channels is another opportunity that hoteliers can utilize. Having a presence in an OTA’s variety of booking options will maximize your exposure and give you a fuller OTA strategy.
3. Evaluate Distressed Inventory
OTAs are often associated with distressed inventory, but having a strong strategy to tackle your occupancy issues will help your online campaign beyond your need dates in addition to increasing your exposure. If you are trying to target sales over the next 24-hours, use channels and mobile app sites that specialize in this type of booking and travel window, such as HotelTonight. Hoteliers can also increase exposure by opting into 24-hour sales. The short booking window drives a strong call to action, and you can still target a longer travel window, depending on the sale and OTA.
OTAs will also promote particular markets, so if your region is being highlighted in the next Last Minute Sale, make sure you are listed in the email blast if you need the extra exposure. There is a good chance that some of your competitors will be listed here as well, so opting into Last Minute Deals will not only increase your exposure from having just the organic listing, but it will also ensure that you are taking advantage of all the OTA opportunities that will put you on par with your competitors’ presence.
4. Use Targeted Ads
Bidding for ad space in OTA search results is a very straightforward way to increase exposure in these channels. Specifically, it is a very effective strategy for targeting precise booking and travel windows. Ads such as Expedia TravelAds or Sponsored Search on Travelocity and Orbitz are very effective for hotels, regardless of whether your hotel's organic ranking in the OTA search results is high or low. On the one end, if you rank poorly for your market, ads will give you the opportunity to be listed higher than your organic listing in that OTA. On the other end, if you already rank high on the page, running ads will double your real estate on the search results page, increasing the chance of a user clicking on your ad or listing over a competitor listing.
5. Communication with Your Market Managers
Lastly, one of your greatest resources for maximizing your presence and strategy in OTA channels is your market managers. Make sure to keep open lines of communication with your market managers since they are going to be consistently aware of booking patterns and trends within your market. Communicate and verbalize any need dates and your desired goals, and allow them to help you strategize accordingly. While market managers often come into play to let you know that your rates are outside parity, they sometimes will have effective strategies and opportunities for you that would be worthwhile to look into. They can be quite a help in navigating all the different OTA opportunities, and in finding which strategies will work best for your campaign.
While OTA strategies cannot stand alone as your online marketing strategy, they can be exceedingly helpful in creating a wide-ranging, full-scale online campaign. A Cornell study showed that a hotel that receives 10% of its overall contribution from OTAs also received another 10% in direct web bookings through their official brand website by being promoted on the OTAs. Having a full, complete presence across OTAs will not only result in an increase in OTA bookings, but it will also result in an increase in direct, brand.com bookings due to the increase in awareness of your hotel.
Need help with OTAs for your hotel?
Give us a call at 877-361-1177 x202 or send us a note if you are interested in finding out more about independent websites or how Blue Magnet can help you achieve your hotel's ecommerce goals.
Posted in Social Media on August 31, 2012 by Andrea Mann
Google knows how to generate buzz for their new products from the get-go, even if that particular endeavor isn't being rolled out to the public until much later. So, while it may seem like all that hype about Google+ back in June 2011 was anticlimactic, Google had a master plan brewing. With Google's strategic approach to put Google+ on the map (both literally and figuratively), it's time to make your hotel's Google+ presence shine above that of your competitors.
In recent months we have slowly but surely witnessed the subtle integration of some Google+ suggestions into organic search results. Soon after, Google announced a big change to local search: business listings on Google Places (the standard business listings that appear on a Google Map search) were automatically merging with Google+ Local listings.
This transition reorganized the layout of the photos, content and reviews to align more closely with other Google+ initiatives. It also established a unique plus.google.com URL for each local listing, which allowed for business owners to provide a link directly to the listing. Additionally, it abolished anonymous reviews by requiring that customers log into a Gmail account before leaving a review, adding an element of authority.
Google then proceeded to announce that any local businesses that had joined Google's social network by creating a Google+ Page could finally merge their Google+ Page with their Google+ Local listing. Combining all of these various Google platforms allows businesses to have one standard listing that unifies content and photos across all Google search results, map listings and social channels. Business owners will no longer need to visit multiple local and social pages to monitor their reviews, edit content, upload photos or post announcements. Customers will benefit from businesses establishing one all-encompassing listing because they are more likely to receive accurate information that comes directly from the business itself.
We hope you followed our advice several months ago when we recommended that your hotel jump on the Google+ bandwagon because, now that Google's social media platform is gaining momentum, it's time to ensure that your hotel's Google+ Page is standing out among the pages of your competitors. Follow our suggestions to ensure that you are effectively marketing your hotel on Google+.
Create a Google+ Page for your hotel
Merge your hotel's Google+ Page with your hotel's Google+ Local Listing
Ensure your hotel stands out from the crowd
Just by merging your listings this early in the game you will automatically be ahead of most of your competitors, but don't sit around waiting for the rest of the not-so-tech-savvy world to catch up. Make sure you optimize your listing with relevant information and incorporate creativity to highlight your hotel's unique personality.
Optimize the content
Begin optimizing your hotel's Google+ page by filling in the fields under the about tab such as: Introduction, Hours, Website, Contact Info and Address. In comparison to many other social networks, Google+ provides the business with a liberal amount of creative control when describing the hotel in the Introduction section. For starters, you will probably be relieved to find that there is no character limitation forcing you to pick and choose what information guests may need to know. You can keep your Introduction short and to the point or you can add flowery language and innate details.
As you're inserting the text, take advantage of the basic formatting tools that Google+ provides, such as bolding or italics, to call attention to key phrases, organize your content or insert hyperlinks. In the example below, the hotel uses a bullet point list to make the amenities easily readable and incorporates two direct links throughout the copy to send potential guests to their brand.com home page and the hotel's restaurant page.
In addition to providing a link to the hotel's website, brands can create a list of other URLs they want to link to on their Google+ page, including social media pages. Hotels can use these additional links to grow their social media followers on Facebook or Twitter, to showcase their hotel's photography on Flickr or to captivate guests with video tours on YouTube. If the hotel's restaurant publishes its menu online or takes reservations via opentable, publicize it here! Since this Google+ page is now acting as the Google+ Local page as well, the listing is ideal for capturing customers that search for hotels or restaurants by location on their mobile devices.
Showcase your hotel's personality
Now that you've got the content in there, it's time to get creative! Similar to Facebook pages, Google+ uses a standard thumbnail image (250 x 250) accompanied by a rectangular cover photo (940w x 180h). If you haven't yet opted in to the cover photo, you may still be privy to the 5 square thumbnails in a horizontal row. (It's important to note, once your curiosity gets the best of you and you switch over to the single horizontal cover photo, you will not be able to revert back to the 5 horizontal images.)
As both an hotelier and as a guest, you are probably well aware that hotel photography can be a powerful "make-it-or-break-it" factor when deciding between 2 or more comparably priced hotels. So, take advantage of these first-impression photos on Google+ and provide alluring images that show guests why your hotel should be added to their Google+ circles. To get your creative wheels spinning, think about what sets your hotel apart from others. What do guests repeatedly comment on or why do guests keep coming back? Does your hotel have a distinct personality due to the location (i.e. Nashville's country music scene)? Do your rooms offer spectacular views of the city, the lake or the mountains? Do guests choose your hotel for a particular amenity? Does your hotel pride itself on being pet-friendly? Does your hotel mostly cater to business and meeting guests? Are you known for being an amazing wedding or reception venue in the area? Determine what your hotel's strengths are and highlight them at the forefront of your Google+ Page. Think about your cover photo as a billboard.
For example, the hotel below, which is widely recognized as a landmark in San Antonio and is nicknamed the "Official Hotel of the Alamo," thrives on the city's rich history and culture. Due to its unique architecture and proximity to the Alamo, the hotel captures a big leisure and tourist audience, so the Google+ Page draws on Texan authenticity and must-see nearby tourist attractions.
While the polaroid-inspired montage above may take some extra creative skills that require time, effort and even possibly outsourcing, it very clearly sets the hotel apart from the typical Google+ page -even a hotel that has great, high-res photography. If you use a design program, you can even add text on top of the photos for additional branding opportunities, as in the example below.
Respond to your reviews
Reviews, which were previously found on your hotel's Google Places listing, are now hosted on your Google+ page. In an attempt to weed out false reviews or spammers, Google requires reviewers to be logged into a Gmail account. As an hotelier, you already know how important it is to respond to most of your reviews, whether good, bad or mediocre. Reviews on Google+ are no exception. Crafting a well-written response and putting a positive-spin on any negative feedback will show the reviewer as well as any other potential guests on Google+ that the hotel has a caring management team and appreciates guest comments.
Google+ makes it easy page admins to respond. When you are logged into your Google+ Page, select the About tab and scroll down to see the reviews. Make sure they are sorted by "Latest" so you are responding to the most relevant reviews. Hit "Respond" and enter a quick, personal note of gratitude for their positive feedback or mention the steps the hotel is taking to improve upon whatever the complaint may be.
What's next for Google+?
In related news, Google+ is now allowing page owners to invite up to 50 additional admins to co-manage the Google+ page. This lets multiple people monitor and edit Google+ pages without having to share confidential login information. Although only one person can be the actual owner of the page, ownership can be easily transferred to another person.
In typical Google fashion, Google+ has finally announced that it is rolling out vanity URLs to select brands, celebrities or public personalities that are in a large amount of peoples' circles. While most of the Google+ world will have to wait it out, some fortunate folks are now able to select a unique URL where the brand name replaces the long string of numbers in the standard plus.google.com URL. For example, if the Emily Morgan Hotel wanted to promote their Google+ page on printed marketing collateral, they would provide the following link: https://plus.google.com/b/118259268316760754340/118259268316760754340/posts, instead of something more concise such as: plus.google.com/emilymorganhotel. Having key phrases, like your brand name, in the URL will be beneficial for both SEO efforts and for marketing your Google+ Page.
Don't say we didn't warn you! Google is determined to make Google+ a powerful force in the search, social and local world. Setting up, merging and managing a bold and well-optimized Google+ Page will ensure that your hotel is one step closer to dominating the search engine results!
Want more information?
Give us a call at 877-361-1177 x202 or send us a note if you are interested in finding out more about independent websites or how Blue Magnet can help you achieve your hotel's ecommerce goals.
Posted in Content on August 27, 2012 by Matt Bitzer
If you've never been to the beautiful Poconos Islands in the tropical turquoise waters of the Caribbean you should definitely add it to your list of top places in the world to visit. A tiny, undeveloped archipelago floating lazily off the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic (see map below), The Poconos Islands are what most people envision when they dream of the quintessential beachfront paradise.
Yes, surely add it to your list of exotic, must-see destinations. In fact, you can add it right up there with El Dorado, Shangri-La, Platform 9 3/4, the lost city of Atlantis, and any other mythical destination you had your heart set on.
Sadly, there are no Poconos Islands. But that photo above sure made you think twice, didn't it?
For hoteliers, the message should be clear: the imagery on your hotel website serves as an incredibly persuasive tool for converting visitors into paying guests. When paired with a description of your property or a claim about your features and amenities, an image can actually enhance the perception of truth about that particular statement.
Dead or alive?
A recent study mentioned in Arstechnica highlights this very impact and image can have on "truthiness:"
The authors, based in New Zealand and Canada, performed an "alive or dead" test, showing the names of minor celebrities and asking undergraduates whether the person was still alive. In half the cases, they also showed a photo of the person. When the photo was present, people were more likely to answer that the statement was true.
The obvious explanation for this is that none of the photos were of a corpse, and seeing a person alive would almost certainly bias the participants toward thinking the person was alive. So, they switched the questions, asking another group whether they thought the person was dead. As it turned out, the photo also caused people to evaluate the statement as true, and answer that the person was no longer alive.
To make sure this didn't only work with people, the authors switched to true/false trivia questions, like the macadamia example mentioned above. Again, photos (in this case, images of the subject of the question) caused people to answer "true" more often than they did in a control quiz. And it wasn't just images. They could get a similar effect by reading a short description of the person in question.
Picture vs. common sense
Imagery is incredibly persuasive. In instances where even the most common of sense should prevail, imagery can cast doubt on your firmly held notions. Take the introduction of the Poconos Islands above, for instance. It's pretty convincing when you see a legitimate-looking beach photo labeled "The Poconos Islands" or a map of the Caribbean featuring the mysterious island chain. Still, you're pretty sure you were always taught that the Poconos were a popular ski destination in mountainous eastern Pennsylvania. ...on the other hand, maybe there really are Poconos Islands somewhere out there.
While there really are no Poconos Islands, many years ago I created them. Some coworkers were talking about their recent vacation in the Poconos and how great the skiing had been. Having never been to the Poconos nor having known much about the destination, the name always sounded Caribbean to me, which seemed an unlikely place to go skiing. It could be that I was simply confusing the Beach Boys' island ballad "Kokomo" with the similarly sounding Pennsylvanian Mountain range. Regardless, my followup question about skiing on some snow-capped Caribbean isle was met with a hearty round of laughter. In retrospect, it really didn't make sense to me either, but in my mind "The Poconos" could only exist as a name for an island.
The power of the picture
To save face I insisted that such an island did exist and that I was sure I could locate it on Google Maps. So I went back to my desk, opened the Caribbean map in Photoshop, created a new island by cloning Cuba, and labeled it "The Poconos Islands." I emailed the altered map to my coworkers and then made my rounds to each office to witness their confusion firsthand. It turns out I received some head shakes of disbelief, an apology, and some exclaimations of frustration from those who simply couldn't locate the fabricated islands on their own computer. But even though my coworkers remained fairly skeptical, they had trouble refuting the altered map and eventually accepted the lie. All because of an image.
These coworkers knew better, but the fact that they now had an image to support my erroneous claim caused them to abandon what they new for sure to be true (the Poconos of PA) for the uncertainty of a newly proposed fact (the Poconos of the Caribbean).
What hotels can learn from The Poconos Islands
I'm not suggesting that hoteliers should lie to customers about features of their hotel. Instead, the Poconos Islands--while an extreme example--should remind us of the power of imagery to persuade. Here are a few items for hoteliers to consider in managing their online presence:
In addition to images' ability to enhance content's truthiness, we've seen that photo gallery pages are consistently one of the top viewed pages on hotel websites. We see the same engagement on social media channels, where imagery posted on our clients' social networks always gets greater interaction than plain text status updates. When done right, professional photography can be an expensive investment but one that's well worth it, especially considering how ubiquitous imagery is in the online travel world. Those photos can be used on your hotel website, OTAs, social media, menus, brochures, blogs, TripAdvisor and other third party sites, to further support your claims about your property.
So whether your hotel is in Aruba or Jamaica, Bermuda or Bahama, or anywhere else around the globe, when it comes to the the power of your hotel's photography, just remember a little place called Poconos.
Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go
Posted in Social Media on August 20, 2012 by Matt Bitzer
As a hotelier, you rely on many different tools to sell your product: professional photography for marketing collateral, training programs for the sales team, advertising in traditional media, wining and dining potential clients, emarketing and even business cards. They all come at a price. Whether it's at the property level or supplied by the brand, someone has to pay for the tools that are essential to marketing and selling your hotel. So what is the ROI on those tools? If you've never bothered to calculate the return, why not?
Most likely you've never bothered because it's difficult to measure the ROI on things like photography, sales training and social media, but that doesn't mean there's no return on those investments. Instead of always focusing on the direct financial return on those investments, consider the other value those tools bring to your business. These might be things such as:
How do you calculate the ROI on business cards?
What always strikes me as odd and somewhat hypocritical is that many hoteliers will automatically include in their annual marketing budgets items of such nebulous ROI as business cards, printed brochures, training and traditional advertising; however, when told to budget for social media marketing suddenly the alarm bells ring, red flags go up, and the familiar scrutiny over this channel's dubious ROI suddenly rears its ugly head. Why do the hackles go up and the purse strings tighten at the mention of Twitter, Facebook and Google+?
When was the last time you questioned the ROI on business cards that you purchased for your team? Surely you know the return on investment for your hotel's photography. Were you able to isolate the ROI on that out-of-state training seminar your sales team attended? What kind of return were you able to measure from that investment?
Clearly there must be value in these investments; otherwise it's just wasteful spending for no better reason than because "it's just where hotels have always spent money." But when was the last time anyone questioned why you were spending $10,000 a year on printed brochures of your meeting space? Has it ever happened? Although the cost may be scrutinized and negotiated, my experience is that hotels see that kind of collateral (as well as many of the other aforementioned expenses) as a necessary cost of doing business as a hotel. The ROI is never questioned, even if it should be. What if every potential client that receives your $10,000 printed brochures dumps it in the trash after their thorough site visit of your hotel? It seems to me that $10,000 would be better spent elsewhere.
Why do we invest in tools that have an unknown ROI?
Most travelers--and I would hope by now, most hoteliers--would agree that professional hotel photography is a crucial component of a hotel's success in marketing itself both online and offline. Not only can we draw from our own personal experiences (I know I head straight for the photo gallery when researching various accommodations), but most hotel website analytics will point to the photo gallery page as one of the most visited pages of a hotel's website.
So how do you attribute a return on that investment? Good photography isn't cheap, so why do hotel's put money aside for it when the ROI is unknown? One possible estimate would be to say that X% of visitors that booked a room also visited the photo gallery page. It still doesn't give you an exact ROI though. Instead, it tells you that photography is important to visitors, but it doesn't tell you by how much. Of that X% that checked out your gallery before booking a room, how many would still have booked if your hotel had no photos? You don't know an exact number, but all signs point to photography being a marketing component that is important to your potential guests. Even if you assume that $1 million in revenue was generated from visitors who also access your photo gallery, you can't possibly attribute all that revenue to the effects of the photos. What if those visitors entered through your email campaign? Certainly some of that $1 million in revenue would be attributed to the ROI of the email campaign as well as the photography.
The point is, it's difficult to attribute exact ROI figures to certain necessary items like quality hotel photography or training for your sales team, despite the fact that both are crucial to the hotel's overall sales process.
It's just the way we've always done things
I get it. Social media is unfamiliar territory for many hoteliers. Business cards, printed brochures and photography are old stand-bys--tried and true friends that have been around since the day Statler first met Waldorf. Hotels have continued to invest in those tools because it's what they've always done as part of their sales process. It worked last year, so it'll work this year. ...at least, you assume it will.
When it comes to ROI for many sales and marketing investments you simply need to guess or make a guesstimate or make an educated guess, but in the end it's still a big question mark. It's just like when you purchase a billboard ad and the ad agency assures you an average of 500,000 cars pass by that billboard each month. That's great, but how many people are really looking at the billboard? Then, how many of those people actually took action after seeing that billboard? Do you ask guests at your hotel: "so did you hear about us from our billboard ad?" If not, you should...if you care about the true ROI of that ad.
But billboards are simple. Their purpose is clear. A business advertises, consumers read and consumers consume. Social media, on the other hand, can be used to benefit businesses in so many different ways that many hoteliers become overwhelmed by this open-ended channel and lack of a singular purpose. As a result, they become wary of social media's effectiveness and ultimately pull the plug, or never start at all.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
We've seen echoes of this trepidation towards new technologies and communication tools throughout the hospitality industry's past. For example, when the hospitality industry was just starting to get its feet wet on the web, there were many hoteliers that rejected building websites due to cost or because it didn't seem like a viable booking channel at the time. Or, in cases where they did have a website they may have heard about this crazy new thing called "search engine optimization," but dismissed it as another vial of snake oil cleverly marketed by those dastardly SEO companies. Looking down the barrel of hindsight we get great examples of opportunites missed.
In the end, this hesitation paved the way for the OTAs to dominate the online travel world. Their websites were designed well, provided better usability to customers and were properly optimized for the search engines. In addition, they enhanced their online visibility through paid advertising. The OTAs had embraced these online tools that many hoteliers and major hotel brands had rejected. As a result, many hotels websites are still trying to catch up to this day. As philosopher George Santayana cautioned in his famous quote in the subtitle above, the hospitality industry needs to learn from these past mistakes and realize that social media is not a passing fad. While the tools of social media may change drastically (Myspace who?), the core concept of word-of-mouth marketing will continue to be one of the most trusted marketing channels available. Hotels can't afford to be late adopters in such a competitive arena anymore.
Not only is social media unfamiliar territory, but as a hotelier, you no longer have complete control of your marketing message. In fact, your customers are now part of your marketing team, and that scares the hell out of many hotel folks. Still, sticking your head in the sand and pretending you don't need this crazy Twitter or Facebook thing, doesn't mean people will stop talking about your business. If you're rowing against the social media tide, then every day will be a public relations struggle.
It may be the case that your social media ROI remains as elusive and mysterious as the sasquatch; however, ignoring this important channel means your customers have the final say in your hotel's reputation online--not you. The goal isn't to completely control what every guest is saying, but rather to be a participatory voice to help foster loyalty, diffuse discontent, and learn from the comments of your customers.
Measuring other returns on social media success
There is a way to measure the ROI on social media, but it depends on what you consider to be the "return." While metrics such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers may not tell you exactly how much revenue social media is generating for your hotel, other social metrics can give you valuable insights (such as feedback and customer sentiment about your property).
Some savvy hotels and emarketers even assign estimated ROI values to those figures. For example, if a customer complaint is diffused by the hotel through conversations on Facebook, what is the value of that resolution? How much is it worth to you, being able to prevent that irate customer from blowing up on TripAdvisor with a full-page, scathing review of your hotel? Is it worth the value of that one customer's stay? Or do you estimate the value based on how many people you would have lost had you left that customer to fume and paint the web with expletives about your hotel? How much is that prevention worth to you?
If you are hellbent on assigning a financial return on your social media investment then you need to agree on the value of these interactions. How much is it worth to your hotel to accommodate an angry customer? To gain feedback about problem areas at your hotel? To get "billboard effect" type exposure across your social networks? To connect with potential guests interested in your city? There is a value here, but it's up to you to determine its worth.
Measuring direct financial ROI on social media
In addition to those more amorphous means of attributing ROI to social media, you can measure its direct impact on your revenue. Provided you have the appropriate analytics integrated into the backend of your website, you can see the direct contribution of various social media channels to your bottom line. That's right, exact dollar amounts! You can even see Assisted Conversions. An assisted conversion occurs when a visitor returns to your hotel website multiple times through multiple channels (Google search, email campaign, pay-per-click ad, social media, etc) before finally making a purchase.
For instance, consider this customer's path through the booking cycle:
In this example, the final step in the customer's booking funnel was a search engine, so Google gets credited with the direct conversion. However, the Facebook link was the first channel that drove the customer to your site. Facebook was the site that got that customer started down the booking funnel, and thus gets credited with an assisted conversion. These channels work together to assist each other and help move the potential customer down the sales process. So even though Facebook didn't result in a direct booking for the hotel, it did assist in the conversion and thus deserves credit for revenue booked as well.
Take a look at the Google Analytics chart below for one of our hotels. It shows that 18 Assisted Conversions generated about $4,260 for the property. In addition, if you look at the column labeled Last Interaction Conversions you will find the number of conversions that were a result of the user coming directly from a social media channel. In this case, the hotel made almost $12,000 from visitors who arrived directly from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others.
Also, keep in mind that this hotel has no active social media presence. The conversions shown above are a result of a basic presence featuring minimal engagement with their potential customer base. If this is what the hotel is generating without even trying, just imagine the potential of social media if they actually invested in an active marketing campaign!
Direct revenue from social media is low? So what?
Yes, financial return that is directly attributed to social media will likely be low for most hotels. So what? If you think about it, people don't join social networks so they can read advertisements or be spammed with special offers. If that's your idea of social media then your campaign definitely needs a new strategy. Consumers are there to connect with friends and families. Fortunately, many people also follow companies and brands they like, as long as those businesses provide interesting, valuable content, and don't spam their followers with constant advertisements.
Social media for most hotels will never be the revenue generator that organic search has been, so stop thinking of it that way. Social media is a more open, friendly communication. It's the General Manager walking around the hotel, shaking hands and asking, "So, have you had a pleasant stay with us?" It's not so much about advertising your product, but rather it's about making your product more valuable, more approachable and more accessible to your customers. Social media is that handshake with customers before they even enter your doors.
It's how your customers choose to communicate with you
Even if you completely write off social media ROI as nothing more than smoke and mirrors, social media is the way customers expect to be able to contact your hotel in the 21st century. It's not the only way customers want to connect, but it should be an option offered by the hotel. Currently people can make reservations at a hotel by calling or booking online. But if the hotel suddenly dropped its phone service and forced new customers to only book online, there would certainly be a lot of unhappy customers who would have preferred to call in their reservation. Although offering both options certainly comes at a higher cost for the hotel, it also makes it more accessible to a wider audience who might prefer one mode of communication over the other. Hotels should want to provide as many channels for their customers to communicate with them as possible.
Social media makes other features of your hotel more valuable
Your hotel would still function without a concierge, without a pool and without a bellhop, but those features add value to your overall product. Social media is the same. It doesn't function in a vacuum. This means you need to fully integrate social media into your overall marketing plan. When paired with natural search, added to your website, tied in with local events and encouraged onsite at your property, social media makes it easier for customers to connect with your hotel. Moreover, it gives them the opportunity to provide you with valuable feedback and then share their experience easily with friends and family. Best of all, it means your own customers can become the most valuable marketing tool in your entire arsenal: a positive, word-of-mouth recommendation.
Everything online has a social component these days, so don't be a wallflower
Even if you don't subscribe to the concept of "connecting with customers," consider this: search engines such as Google and Bing have quickly moved towards more socially-integrated platforms. This means that your rankings in the major search engines are already impacted by your reputation (or lack thereof) on popular social media networks. Google's local search has already been assimilated into their own social media platform, Google+. Likewise, Bing has been taking social cues from your Facebook friends and relevant experts in order to provide you with more useful search results. Even TripAdvisor has integrated Facebook, highlighting hotels that your friends and family have liked or visited. The popular travel site then uses that information to give ranking preference to those hotels more highly favored among your social network.
Social media is still important even if it never creates a single direct booking for your hotel
Even if you never know how much direct revenue is being generated by your social media campaign, at this point it should be clear that social media has a tremendous impact on your hotel's other online marketing channels. When a significant portion of your online revenue comes from search engines, and social cues are influencing search engines rankings, you can not afford to leave social media out of your marketing mix.
Although most people focus on the financial return when they consider the R in ROI, that's not always the case. The return on your investment is the additional value (different from money) that is created through your investment. The value of this return could come in the form of:
In the end, you may not know exactly how much exact revenue each of these tools generated for your hotel, but there's no question each plays a valuable part in the overall marketing of your hotel. Next time you demand to know the ROI on your social media campaign, consider the other kinds of return that will likely be realized, beyond the direct revenue. It may difficult to assess that value, but not every important investment needs to have direct financial return in order to be valuable to the growth of your business.
Want more information?
Give us a call at 877-361-1177 x202 or send us a note if you are interested in finding out more about independent websites or how Blue Magnet can help you achieve your hotel's ecommerce goals.
Posted in Social Media on August 16, 2012 by Brittany Aller
With over 20 million users, Foursquare provides businesses with a great opportunity to engage with users on a hyper-local level. Featuring a streamlined interface and growing user base, there’s no reason that your hotel shouldn’t use this social media site. Setup is easy and it there’s very little management needed on a daily or even weekly basis. In December, Blue Magnet's very own Abby Heft described how to create a Foursquare profile for your hotel. Since then, there have been a few updates to the system.
Here’s a quick overview of the redesigned Foursquare dashboard and new features that allow brands to focus on customer acquisition and retention.
New Updates & Useful Foursquare Features
6 Quick Tips for Managing Your Hotel Foursquare Profile:
Take these steps and utilize Foursquare’s new features in order to encourage engagement with your property and increase brand awareness…it’s easy!
Posted in Hotel Online Marketing on August 13, 2012 by Abby Heft
Have you ever tried to quickly update your official hotel website with time-sensitive information, but were told it would take weeks for the brand to make the change? Do you want to include links to your hotel’s social media accounts on your official website but the brand says you can’t? Has your brand ever prevented you from adding a link to a website you thought might be valuable for your visitors? Or maybe the brand has placed restrictions on the landing pages you are allowed to create within your site.
As you probably know by now, there are many additions, enhancements and optimization techniques that simply can't be made to your hotel’s official brand website. If this sounds familiar to you then your hotel’s online presence is being limited by your official brand website.
But don’t worry, you’re not alone! Many individual hotels flying big brand flags face these same challenges. Fortunately, an independent hotel website can be a boon to your overall online marketing efforts by effectively bypassing these brand limitations altogether!
Why major brands use constrictive website templates
Hotels may dislike these restrictions and limitations on what they can do with their own sites, but for the most part it's understandable why the brand maintains this control. After all, major hotel brands have massive amounts of content to manage across ALL their sites for ALL their hotels. As such, these brands often need to create strict standards and limited customizable content in order to effectively manage all the web content for their massive portfolio of properties. Imagine trying to manage online content for 2,000 different hotel websites with 2,000 different designs for 2,000 different Directors of Sales? Coordinating that process at the brand level would be a nightmare, hence, the necessity for an easy-to-manage website template with content limitations.
Your website should reflect your hotel's unique personality and destination
While the aforementioned template strategy is great for the corporate brand managers, who strive for uniform brand messaging across all properties, it fails to truly differentiate hotels in the same brand from one another. In the end, the unique personality and visual appeal of each individual hotel gets homogenized by the templated nature of the sites.
For example, consider the official hotel website for an Embassy Suites in Waikiki, Hawaii. Notice how it presents visitors with the same aesthetic appeal as the official website for an Embassy Suites in Piscataway, New Jersey. These are two hotels in very different markets: one a lush, tropical paradise known for luaus, leis and lava rock; and the other a small town in the Garden State settled in 1666 by Quakers and Baptists. It's difficult to make that distinction based solely on the screenshots of their homepages below. Online consumers are visual creatures--as evidenced by the fact that photo galleries are often one of the most visited pages of a hotel's website (after the homepage)--so it would be in each hotel's best interest to customize their site design to reflect their unique destinations.
Can you spot the difference between Hawaii and New Jersey? No? Me neither.
It is difficult to showcase the defining characteristics of your hotel and the destination in which it resides when the brand fits each hotel with the same school uniform. As a GM, DOS or hotel owner, you know your hotel stands apart from your competitors, but your official brand website is preventing you from creating this distinction in the eyes of your customers! A unique, custom, independent hotel website is often the only way to truly differentiate your hotel from others in your market. Remember, you’re not only competing with other brands in your market, in some cases you’re even competing with hotels in your same brand!
With that in mind, here are the top 7 ways an independent website can benefit your hotel:
1. Offer helpful links and additional content for SEO
With an independent website, your hotel has the authority to add any outbound links to other relevant sites. Links on landing pages and area attractions pages provide a great resource for SEO and link-building campaigns. If your hotel has a page dedicated to the wineries in the area with links to the winery websites, the wineries might be more likely to list a link to your hotel on their website. In addition, interlinking the pages of your independent site can help boost rankings for landing pages targeting niche keywords, like those for area attractions and events. Efforts like this are simple to implement with an independent hotel website, and can help rank your site for more niche keywords in search engines.
2. Cover more ground in search engine results
With both your official brand site and an independent site, your hotel is able to be fully optimized to rank for many more keywords. There are a limited number of pages of brand websites that can be optimized, targeting just a few keywords. Creating landing pages about upcoming area events, updating meta tags to target important keywords and keeping fresh, keyword optimized content on the site are just a few ways your independent hotel website will stand out in search engines for the keywords that tend to convert better.
In addition, independent websites give your hotel complete control over common SEO strategies that aren't always available on brand websites, including optimizing H1, Title tags, alt tags on photos and creating a search engine and user-friendly site structure.
3. Present a unique design and improved user experience
An independent website showcases your hotel property and can be customizable to your unique surroundings. Is your hotel on the beach? A winery? In a city center? Your unique, independent website can be customized to your hotel property type, giving you an edge over the template brand websites. Why would you want your hotel, which sits at the heart of a bustling metropolis, to have a website that looks the same as a hotel in the middle of rural America? Whether you like it or not, people do judge books by their covers, and your customers are no different. Potential guests are making snap decisions about the quality of your hotel by the way it presents itself online. If you have a poorly designed site, don't expect customers to be lining up at your reservation desk.
For a good example of this, Embassy Suites Temecula is located in the heart of Temecula wine country in the beautiful rolling hills of southern California, which is reflected by the unique background on their independent hotel website. Because of the template of their brand website, the hotel isn't visually showcased as such a great destination. As you can see, the background, photos and unique design on their independent website give visitors a snapshot of the beautiful location and everything the hotel has to offer.
Independent Hotel Website (visit site)
Along with the website design, the pages of the independent hotel website are customizable as well. If your hotel wants to promote pet-friendly rooms, on-site weddings or green accommodations, a unique landing page can easily be created to capture search traffic for those terms.
4. Make website updates more quickly
With an independent website, the hotel has complete control over the content. If your hotel recently created a special brunch menu, or took new photos of the lobby, those can be displayed on the independent hotel website within hours or even minutes. Not only do brand websites typically have a lengthy approval process, but there is not always a dedicated spot on your brand site to display important content, making it more difficult for visitors to take action on those items. Even loading simple content on some hotel brand sites can sometimes take two weeks or more--a long time to wait if you're trying to promote a last-minute special offer!
5. Showcase on-site hotel outlets
Hotels frequently ask Blue Magnet for help promoting their on-site outlets, including spas, restaurants, gift shops, fitness centers and golf courses. Although there are great strategies for promoting hotel restaurants and other on-site amenities, a branded website only allows for so much customization.
For instance, Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines wanted to be sure they highlighted their popular on-site amenities as you can see below. They specifically wanted to be sure they were actively promoting their on-site restaurant, which is frequently updated with special menus and even includes a special Meet Our Chef page.
With the freedom a hotel has with their independent website, outlet pages can include important things such as a widget for visitors to make restaurant reservations, descriptions and photos of your on-site spa services, special event flyers or the ability to view and book tee times. These can be fully optimized for local dining or local attraction keywords and can capture searches not only for guests staying at the hotel, but for non-hotel guests looking for area amenities as well.
6. Better social media integration
Hotels now realize the importance of social media in their industry and have hopefully created hotel profiles across the major social media channels. Now, how do you let your guests know that you have a Facebook page or Twitter account?
Unfortunately, many hotel brand websites don’t allow for on-site integration, thus limiting the promotion of such channels. When equipped with only a hotel brand website, visitors will likely only find your social media profiles when specifically searching for them. Independent hotel websites allow you to integrate and prominently showcase each one of your social media profiles, making it easy for visitors to follow, like and interact with your hotel.
The Hilton Bellevue Hotel has a link to their Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor listing on each page of their website, as you can see in the screenshot above. Visitors to this hotel website can easily follow the hotel on Twitter, like them on Facebook, or leave a review on TripAdvisor following their stay. The easier it is to find your social media profiles, the quicker a hotel will grow their fan base.
7. Detailed website tracking and analytics
This may be the most important benefit to having a unique, independent hotel website. With website analytics, the hotel can track how users are finding the website and can monitor visitor activity and behavior once they arrive. This invaluable information for hotels includes everything from number of visitors viewing the site on mobile devices, search terms visitors are using to find the site and popular room types or specials. New analytics tracking even allows us to see social media influences on conversions and how multiple channels (PPC, SEO, social media, etc) are working together to influence each booking. This information can only be accessed through independent websites, as many hotel brands don't provide such detailed analytics tracking to their hotels.
This hotel, for example, can see that a majority of visitors to their website are going straight to the reservation widget to book a room or check rate. They can also see that their breakfast and dinner menu on the dining page are the 2nd and 3rd most viewed events on the website, followed by the Double Queen and Standard King room types. With this insight, the hotel knows that their dining page should be fully optimized, as many people are viewing the menus. They can also see that maybe they should take another look at their lunch menu, as maybe it is not as enticing as the Breakfast and Dinner. There are many opportunities to find when you have insight such as this.
Another helpful analytics report shows what country website visits are coming from. As you can see below, this hotel has quite a few Canadian visitors. This is great insight, as the hotel can focus on making sure they are optimized online for both Canada and the United States, including updating their listings on popular Canadian travel websites or creating special offers for Canadian travelers.
Many major hotel brands provide very limited reporting to their individual hotels, making it difficult (if not impossible) for them to track and analyze user behavior as highlighted above. In the end, having access to these kinds of web reports and being able to analyze the behavior of your users can help you modify your site’s content to increase overall conversion rates.
A necessary ingredient of the online optimization pie
An independent hotel website allows for many opportunities to stand out online, above and beyond the 7 reasons above. With all the benefits and flexibility it provides, for many hotels an independent website is a necessary ingredient of their online marketing mix. With the ability to track website clicks, gain detailed keyword insight and really showcase your unique property, independent websites are a popular alternative to hotel brand websites.
That's not to say that you should ignore your official brand site! Far from it. After all, all reservations must still be directed through the official brand booking engine. But as an individual hotel you should use the Brand-provided website as a base platform--a starting point. It will allow hotels with smaller budgets and fewer resources to participate in the online marketing game, and will elevate those hotels to the same level playing field as bigger hotels flying your flag. But it won't set you apart. An independent site allows you to create your own, flexible digital marketing hub. It gives you the power to elevate your property above the brand's base efforts and experiment with exciting, new online revenue generators in which the brand may not be interested in participating.
Overall, an independent website is simply a more efficient, sexier vehicle in which to move a guest through the 5 stages of travel--from the research, to the booking, to sharing. In the end, it's hard to resist a hotel with a well-designed, unique, custom website, complete with all of the information visitors are looking for. Create one and your conversion rates will thank you for it.
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Posted in Mobile Web on August 07, 2012 by Matt Bitzer
When visitors arrive at your hotel website using their mobile phone what do they see? Is it easy for them to book a room? To find directions? To call the hotel? Or have you forced your potential customers to try to view and navigate your standard website--which was designed for large computer monitors--on a small, mobile screen about the size of a playing card?
If your customers are still pinching, zooming, scrolling through your standard website on their mobile devices, it's likely that you're losing out on room revenue from mobile visitors due to your hotel website's frustrating mobile experience. Discouraged customers will book elsewhere if it's too difficult for them to navigate your mobile website. Stop driving paying guests to your mobile-optimized competitors by creating a mobile version of your own website!
Just take a look below at how a standard website appears on your mobile phone versus the mobile-optimized version. As you can see, the mobile optimized website on the right is much easier to read and navigate right from the get-go--no zooming required!
As a hotelier, being able to communicate effectively to your potential customers on their mobile phones can have a tremendous impact on your bottom line. Unlike a standard computer, most people are tethered to their smartphones all day, every day. Think about it: if you're a smartphone owner, try to recall the last time you were separated from it for more than 10 minutes. Chances are that gadget is next to you at all times: while you eat, while you sleep, while you commute, while you're at work and maybe for some of you it's even with you in the bathroom. Your mobile phone is an always-on, omnipresent device that's connected to the internet 24 hours a day, thanks to the wonders of fast 3G/4G data streaming. The chances of someone searching for your hotel on a mobile phone are quite high when you consider how much time we smartphone owners spend with our gadgets. This is great news, because there's nothing a marketer likes more than an always-connected audience to advertise to.
Why bother with a mobile hotel website?
There are two primary reasons why your hotel needs a mobile site:
Because of the sheer volume of mobile users it makes it that much more important to address this growing group's needs. In order to foster the best conversion rates on your site you need to present the right content in the right format depending on how the visitor is accessing your site. If you just bought a new house you wouldn't use a single pickup truck to move in all your furniture! Sure, it might save you a little money and would get the job done, but it would take forever! Using a moving truck with professional movers is a much more efficient way to accomplish the task. The same goes for your website. Sure, users can muddle their way through your standard website on their mobile device, but it's much more efficient to have the site optimized to fit their mobile browser. It's all about providing the right tool for the size of the job.
The rise of the mobile user
So just how many users have gone mobile, you ask? Well, you've likely heard the recent statistics about mobile phone ownership outpacing personal computer ownership (PDF). Or how half the population of US mobile subscribers now own smartphones. Or that it is estimated that there will be over 108 million tablet users by 2015. While there are plenty of sites that have these statistics, at Blue Magnet it's even more compelling when we look at our own client data.
For instance, take a look at the increase in mobile visits to this hotel's website in July 2010 vs the same month in 2012. Keep in mind that by 2010, the original iPhone had already been out 3 years, yet this hotel still only saw 5% of their traffic coming from mobile devices. Fast forward to July 2012 and you can see that in those two short years mobile visits to the hotel website now represent 25% of the total site visits! That's a full quarter of their traffic that represents over 8,000 visits in that month alone.
If you've made it difficult for these people to book a room or call your hotel by showing them a non-mobile optimized page when they arrive at your site, you've drastically cut your conversion rate for those visitors. You've made it much more difficult for them to navigate your cumbersome, standard website.
In another example, let's compare three months worth of mobile traffic for a cluster of hotels in 2011 (orange) versus the same months in 2012 (blue). Comparing the same 3 months year-over-year we see an astounding 140% growth in mobile traffic to this website. And, as you can clearly see from the chart below, the mobile trend line continues to move upward and onward. In one year this cluster of hotels managed to more than double their mobile traffic (from 22,839 visits last year to 54,748 this year).
What does it mean to have a "mobile optimized" hotel website?
As you probably know, most modern smartphones are able to render mobile-optimized and non-mobile optimized sites without a problem. If you view any website in your mobile browser, chances are your Android, iPhone, or Windows phone will be able to show you the page without a hitch. But just because you can view a webpage on your mobile phone doesn't means it's optimized for that smaller screen size. Consumers interact with websites on mobile devices differently than they would on their standard computers, and because of this, your site should be optimized appropriately to help them accomplish their goals.
Consider these elements when creating a mobile-optimized hotel website:
Optimizing your hotel website for the mobile visitor can have a tremendous impact on your mobile conversion rate. Simply by making it easier for that user to navigate your site on the small screen, you've given a boost to your mobile ROI. As such, the user experience on your website should always be one of your top priorities. Your website might feature great content, amazing photos and perfect calls-to-action, but if it's excruciatingly difficult to navigate and view your site then you've failed to deliver that great content to your potential customers in a way that's convenient for them.
Unless your site was built using responsive design, it is likely not a one-size-fit-all scenario. Yes, there will probably be an additional cost to create a second site targeted to mobile users. Yes, this means you may have to update two different versions of your website. But the alternative, if you don't optimize the website format for this audience, is that you're possibly missing out on a chance to convert a large segment of visitors to your site. Furthermore, with increased data speeds, easier-to-use mobile interfaces and faster smartphone processors, the mobile user base is only going to continue to expand.
Time for a little exercise: Take out your mobile phone and access your hotel's website. So, how does it look? Will your mobile visitors be converting to paying guests?
One of the most important tactics in optimizing your website for search engines actually takes place off-site. Link building is the on-going and at times daunting task of connecting with other relevant, quality websites to add a link back to your web property. The benefit is twofold: not only can you tap into new traffic sources from these link partners, but increasing your link equity actually has a tremendous impact on your site's ability to rank in the search engines. Every good link increases your site’s SEO relevance, ultimately causing it rank higher on search engine result pages. We search marketers refer to it as "link juice." It signals to engines like Google and Bing that your site is a credible and useful page for searchers. As you learn to link build you will be better able to determine which sites are more valuable link partners and which sites can actually detract from your SEO power.
One of the first steps you will want to take is to research the different industries relative to your hotel that you would want to link back to your hotel website. Think about what services your hotel offers and what current industries already drive business to your hotel. Then begin searching online for these types of sites that can link back to your website and ultimately drive these searchers to book their stay with you.
Suggestions for relevant link partners in other industries:
Pursuing these industries is a great starting point for your hotel’s link building efforts. Acquiring new links to your hotel website is a never-ending task, and searching for industry-relevant sites is just one tactic you can take. Create a strategic link building plan for your hotel and see your hard work pay off in the form of higher search rankings and increased site traffic.
Move out of the way, Google! There’s a new old-guy in town called Bing with a better way to search, by using other people’s perspectives on movies, products, and more. The redesigned search engine rolled out in May 2012 under the URL www.bing.com/new, but today you’ll find the new 3-column search engine display using either Bing.com or Bing.com/new.
So, how does this new 3-column display affect the way in which we now search on Bing? According to The Bing Team on Bing’s Blog, “Bing now integrates search and people in our social networks through a dedicated social 'sidebar.' With the sidebar, Bing brings together the best of the web, using the social opinions and preferences of experts and your friends alike, giving you the confidence to act. This new way to search lets you share, discover, and interact with friends like you do in real life."
Let’s dive into the elements of the Bing Social Interface to flesh out what the changes are and how they may help improve the way in which we search.
As previously stated, Bing has rolled out a new 3-column display on search. The Core Search, or the main search page, remains fairly unchanged. However, Bing removed the social annotations from the core search results, as they claim the social annotations caused more confusion for users in identifying credibility for each result. The assertion by Bing that social annotations didn’t help the user search experience is contrary to the reports that Google has released, so I guess we shall see who comes out victorious in that battle.
Moving to the immediate right of the search results (but still within the main search window), you’ll find the “Snapshot.” The Snapshot provides the user with additional information about a search listing without needing to leave Bing’s main search results. Often times, the Snapshot will appear for a restaurant listing and it will provide the contact information, display pictures of the restaurant, and it may even include snippets of user reviews.
The Social Sidebar
Finally, the most significant upgrade to Bing’s search is the Social Sidebar to the far right of the screen. By logging into Facebook or your Windows Live account, the Social Sidebar integrates your search queries with your social network friends’ knowledge. The goal is to provide you with well-rounded (depending on your friends) perspectives on your search queries and allow you to make informed decisions.
When logging on to Bing, the most noteworthy update to the interface is the social sidebar on the far right-hand side of the screen. This sidebar can display up to four different components:
The "Ask Friends" section of the sidebar (see the blue circle to the right) allows you to do just that: ask friends on Facebook. Simply, type your question into the text box and tag any friends that you think may be able to help answer your question. Your question will then be posted on your Facebook Timeline as a status update and any friends who were tagged in your question will receive a private message containing the question. If you’d like to control who sees your Bing posts through Facebook, go to your Account Settings and change the Bing settings under “Apps.” Please note that Facebook will employ their “Edgerank” algorithm to determine which friends will see your question/post, depending on how relevant Facebook thinks that friend is to your question.
Friends Who Might Know
Another element of the Social Sidebar is the “Friends Who Might Know” feature. Once you have signed-in, Bing pulls from Facebook to suggest relevant friends that may have knowledge on your search subject. Bing determines which friends are relevant by searching the photos they’ve shared, the pages they’ve liked, and even posts in which they mention the search subject. If you’re uncertain as to why a friend was suggested, just hover over their picture to release the drop-down box with the links, photos, and pages they’ve shared that made them relevant. If you want to send questions or add links to this friend for advice, just click on the plus symbol icon next to the friend’s name. Remember, everyone can see the question posted on your Timeline, but your “friend” will receive a private message containing the question and links.
People Who Might Know
While the first two features of the Social Sidebar crawl your Facebook friends for relevancy, the “People Who Might Know” section of the sidebar searches a variety of social channels that Bing considers appropriate to your search. Some of the social channels Bing crawls, besides Facebook, are Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, Foursquare, Blogger, and even Google+. The people who may appear in this section will not be your specific Facebook friends, but rather experts, authors, and anyone with information that’s relative to your topic as Bing sources blogs, tweets, and other relative posts. One significant difference that should be noted about this element of the Social Sidebar is that the results are not personalized; the "People Who Know" results will be the same for everyone performing that same search.
Finally, the Activity section of the Social Sidebar at the bottom of the column is simply a running feed of questions that you or your Facebook friends have asked (see the green circle in the screenshot above). You can respond to your friends’ questions by clicking on the question. To see your responses, also just click on the question. The questions that appear in this section don’t correspond with your current search query – it’s simply a running list of questions asked over time by you or your friends.
Changes to Bing's core search results
Now that we’ve gone through the different elements of the Social Sidebar, let’s quickly run through the changes made by Bing to the Core Search Results. As I previously mentioned, Bing removed the social annotations under each search result because they determined that the annotations weren’t as helpful as they had expected. In place of the social annotations, Bing is now using small gray icons to identify “Trending Topics” and “Thumbs Up” topics by your social friends.
For search results containing trending topics, a small gray arrow will appear to the left of the search result. By hovering over the arrow, Bing will show where the topic is trending, such as on Facebook or Twitter. For results that your Facebook friends have liked, a small gray icon with a thumbs-up will appear to the left of the search result. By hovering over that icon, you can see what friends either “Liked” the article or the source from which the article was pulled. These small social annotation upgrades are less intrusive than the previous version of Bing’s social annotations, but be aware that trending topics will sometimes rank higher than your personalized results as part of the social integration of Bing’s new search algorithm.
It's clear that Bing is working hard to pave a new path in the social integration of search results and stand apart from Google's progress. I personally think Bing's new social interface is a highly useful improvement on several fronts. With the new, 3-column lay-out, Bing extricates social results from global results which lends to less confusion as to which sites are "credible" and which sites are more social and opinion-based.
I also see the Social Sidebar being very helpful in the hospitality and travel industries, as users now have the capability to interact with their Facebook friends or "People Who Might Know" while making travel arrangements. For example, a user who is trying to plan a vacation to Europe can now use the Social Sidebar to ask Facebook Friends for suggestions on hotels, attractions, and even the best time of year to visit. Depending on the number of people logged-into Facebook at the time of the question, that user could have answers and suggestions within minutes of posting the question. Furthermore, that same user will automatically be able to see which of their Facebook friends lived, studied abroad, or has some level of knowledge on that travel location that the user may have been privy to prior to his/her Bing search.
Having that level of interaction and connection to other people while sitting alone on the computer in your living room is revolutionary and, if used correctly, will help shape much more insightful travel plans. If businesses or hotels begin incorporating Bing into their social media management schedules, it could potentially be another channel for marketing and engaging with future guests. Simply answering questions posed on Facebook from Bing could provide valuable information to the user and could convert into a reservation. I'll be keeping my eyes on Bing as this new interface continues to grow and evolve.
Posted in Social Media on July 22, 2012 by Patrick McCarthy
One of the truisms regarding Twitter is: even if you aren't talking about your brand on Twitter, your customers are. Here at Blue Magnet, we come across a lot of nonsense and dubious claims regarding social media and how people use it; however, in this case, we have direct experience with the truth of the above truism. Due to the ephemeral and informal nature of Twitter, many users will tweet about anything and everything that they are doing, and when I say everything, I mean absolutely everything. If I wasn't a skeptic, I would give you my guarantee that your hotel has been mentioned on Twitter at least once at one time or another. As such, I will offer you my nearly unqualified assurance that that is indeed the case: People have/will/are talking about your hotel on Twitter.
Tweeting Behind Your Back
Another oft-repeated truism is that people say things behind your back that they would never say to your face. If this is true, just imagine what people are saying behind your back on the internet, where the discourse can quickly turn to extreme virulence and spitefulness. If this thought worries you, don't panic, just follow these easy steps to tune in to the Twitter conversation. It will take you an hour at most to get everything set up, and then, you will be able to sleep easy knowing that you know exactly what people are saying about your hotel.
Step 1: Create a Twitter account for your hotel (5-10 Min)
Twitter is one of the easiest social media networks to sign up for because unlike Facebook and Youtube, you can get away with a bare minimum of content. Here's how to quickly set-up your account:
Step 2: Install and Sign-Up for TweetDeck (10 - 15 Min)
TweetDeck is a Twitter monitoring software that went through some growing pains when it transitioned from a third party offering to a Twitter-owned proprietary management solution; however, all of the issues have been fixed and TweetDeck is now one of the best Twitter managers on the market, and most importantly it is completely free! To get TweetDeck:
Step 3: Set-Up TweetDeck Columns (10 – 30 Minutes)
TweetDeck allows you to set up a number of different of different “Columns,” which are lists of Tweets that are grouped based on various parameters that you can set. There are two important columns that you definitely want to set up:
With these two Columns, you will be able to see exactly what people are saying about your hotel on Twitter.
Say Goodbye to Static
At this point, you can sit back and let the tweets roll in; however, I bet that once you see all of the Tweets mentioning your hotel, you are going to want to jump in and start responding and tweeting yourself. So start playing around with Twitter and TweetDeck. There are a number of other Columns you can create in TweetDeck and things you can do to optimize your profile in Twitter. If you’re not sure where to go from here, never fear. I will tell you exactly how to start interacting on Twitter, but you have to be patient, for that, as they say, is a blog post for another day.
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