Blog category: social media

Facebook bigger than Google for hotels? Not quite

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, May 24, 2010

There’s been a lot of talk about the traffic on Facebook and how big it is, surpassing even Google recently. What really is the consequence for the hotel sector of this kind of traffic?

A report by Max Starkov at HeBS shows that certainly Facebook is one to watch. There are interesting case studies that show a real revenue comparison between Facebook and Google related links to hotel websites. But as Starkov says: “Facebook is definitely here to stay and has experienced tremendous growth, but it is not going to replace Google as a travel planning tool anytime soon. “

Get the whole story here at http://bit.ly/dfIRR1

Labels: social media, google, facebook

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Social Media and the Fan Phenomenon

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, June 04, 2010

People are constantly asking us at Bookassist what they should use social media for, which social media channels are the most important, how can they build their fanbase, or even at a most basic level, what is social media and do we really need it? We thought it was a good time to bring back to the table those issues related to social media that are particularly important for hospitality.

Ask Why? Not What?

When the web first started up and businesses began to contemplate a web presence, much the same questions were being asked in relation to websites. It took time for many companies to even realise that they had to engage with the web, that there was no choice if they were to survive. A website was about presenting your brand and offering, about projecting your image. It evolved into a marketing and commerce machine, about making existing sales efforts more efficient, about new capturing sales, and about generating revenue with better margin. It took time for that progression from static to dynamic to occur.

We know that social media is about conversation, it’s about listening to what is being said about you and engaging in that conversation with other businesses and with your customers and potential customers. But why is this conversation important? The why needs to be addressed before the what and how.

Customer Service

Social media gives you, in hospitality, an ideal opportunity to project your customer service outside your establishment in a way that you could not do before. By engaging in a more casual way through channels such as Facebook and Twitter, it shows that you are interested in your existing and potential customers, that you are willing to listen to them, and that you are open to converse.

This does not mean that you must always agree with their comments! But it does afford you a clear opportunity to clarify issues promptly and fully should they arise. For others to see that public engagement between you and your customers or reviewers is a clear sign of your commitment to customer service.

To put it another way: your customers are already online and talking about you, or commenting on you, whether you like it or not. To not acknowledge that through engagement means losing an opportunity to control the conversation, to be factual, and to demonstrate customer service. If nothing else, it is not polite to have positive customer comments online met with silence on your part.

Quality, Not Quantity

When hospitality businesses do engage online, particularly through Facebook and Twitter, there is often initially a naïve drive to simply work up a bigger list of fans and be a top ten player in fan count. While having followers is obviously important, the quantity in itself says nothing about your success on the ground, about your revenue or reputation.

What is the point in having 2000 Facebook fans who have never actually visited your premises and probably never will, but are there because their hip and cool Aunty Muriel asked all her fans to follow you? What is important is the level of engagement that you have with your fans.

How many of those fans visit your page regularly? Do you actually know? How many of your fans actually comment back to you when you post something? How many respond to questions you may pose online? How many avail of any special offers or competitions that you might run? Are you tracking that? These at least are metrics that you can use to try to gauge success, and to gauge how many of that fan base actually matter.

In many ways, the fan base can be like the huge email list of old, before privacy legislation made pruning the list an urgent necessity. An often inflated list that was regularly bombarded with emails but whose recipients rarely engaged or generated revenue. Far more important to have 100 solid emails that want to regularly receive your information, than 1,000,000 that are disinterested and bin your email immediately.

Focus on serving those who have opted to follow you for a reason, and you will naturally gain more loyal fans organically. Good customer service is always talked about and builds brand ambassadors. This is no less true online.

Des O’Mahony

Labels: web2.0, twitter, strategy, social media, facebook

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How Best To Use Social Media For Your Hotel

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, June 04, 2010

Here’s quick run-through on how best to use Blogger, Facebook and Twitter for your hotel and generate good quality followers.

Blogger

Go to blogger.com and sign up for an account if you do not already have one. You will need to choose a name for your blog, so give it something recognisable for search engines, such as “greenhotelgalway”. Blogger will then generate a blog for you at the address greenhotelgalway.blogspot.com

Content:
Blog articles (like this one!) are longer descriptive pieces, similar to news articles. Make sure to use keyword-rich content relevant to your business and location so that you can improve search engine presence for your business.
How much to write:
Minimum of two paragraphs.
How often:
At least once every one to two weeks, more often will do no harm.
What to write about:
Local events, hotel updates, new menus, special offers, coming attractions and events, recipes, reviews or commentary after events, human interest stories about your establishment, perhaps a short interview with a famous guest etc.
What to include:
Always include an image or two to break up the text, but watch out for copyright issues. Best to use your own photos once the quality is good enough. Always include a link back to the hotel website and links to other articles you have written where relevant to get good cross-linkage. Include other media where possible and keep the tone of writing less informal.
Effectiveness:
Long term effectiveness, as search engines index you blog entries. Value to potential guests who see a wealth of events and happenings at your establishment over time.

Facebook

Go to Facebook.com and sign up for an account. Once you are signed up, you can also set up a page for your business, and can invite others in your business to also be administrators of that page, so that they can contribute as authors too.

Content:
Similar to a news update service, with catchy headings and text.
How much to write:
Two to three lines to get your point across in a punch, don’t write too much text.
How often:
At least 3-4 times a week. Avoid spamming - too many posts from one page too often could result in users “Unliking” the page.
What to write about:
Special offers, upcoming events, unusual happenings, seeking guest opinions on something, hotel or restaurant updates, posts to exploit different departments of your business etc. Try to engage customers and get their input.
What to include:
Always include an image, link, event or video to attract extra attention visual attention. Include some capitalized text and call-to-action words if you have a once-off item i.e. SPECIAL FACEBOOK OFFER, GIVE YOUR OPINION, CLICK HERE etc., but don’t overdo this as it looks like “shouting”, and nobody likes a loud person! Use a less formal, chatty and engaging tone.
Effectiveness:
Short to medium term, for those who follow your posts this will drop down their Facebook page relatively quickly and lose freshness in a couple of days. Good to create immediate awareness of events, offers etc .


Twitter

Go to Twitter.com and sign up for an account. You can use other tools to post to Twitter also, such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and others, which give you more management and scheduling capability. Hootsuite will also handle posting and scheduling for your Facebook pages.

Content:
Similar to news flash with catch, high-impact headline.
How much to write:
Restricted to 140 characters, like a single text message, so focus!
How often:
On a daily basis if possible, or even a few times a day when you can.
What to write about:
Daily offers, hotel updates, daily entertainment, daily restaurant specials, sudden happenings that highlight your hotel. Often quite gossipy (“XY has just walked into our hotel!!”) etc.
What to include:
Try to add a shortened link (use the bit.ly service for example) to the hotel website or to the article or image you are referring to. Use an informal tone, keep tweets interesting to entice tweet to be shared (retweeted).
Effectiveness:
Tweets have a very short life span and drop down the follower’s page very quickly. They have a very short term effect and reflect immediacy.


Social Media Comparison Chart from Bookassist

How To Generate More Quality Likes and Followers

When starting off a Facebook “Like” page it can be hard to generate a solid group of followers. The best suggestion to initially build the base is to get the business’s employees to “Like” the page and then get them to suggest the page to their friends. But remember to only suggest to friends that may be interested in the business’s messages. Once this is done the “Likes” will take an initial jump. This can the be built on, for example, by creating a competition for followers that entices new followers, and once a certain “Likes” goal has been achieved a winner will be selected. Another more powerful route would be to write interesting posts that would entice followers to “Share” that post with there friends. Once a “Like” goal is achieved, test the new “Likes” and see if they are of good quality by asking for feedback on some issue or getting opinions on some aspect of your business. Use your Facebook analytics to see how people are interacting.

With Twitter, you will start off in the wild with no followers, and you must begin to tweet messages or retweet others’ relevant messages in order to start building a personality or focus for your Twitter account. To generate followers, an initial route would be to search for people or businesses in the locality or in the hospitality industry and follow them in the hope of getting a reciprocal following. Once a follower base is there, if they tweet anything interesting you should retweet it. This will add the follower’s Twitter link onto the followers wall thus exposing that follower to a wider audience.

With all your social media outlets, add their logos to your business publications both online and offline. Online, include them in your website, ezines, newsletters, email signatures etc. Offline, include them in leaflets, brochures, posters etc. If you post a blog entry, right a tweet about it and link to it. Mention it, with a link, in Facebook. You can use free tools to get a feed from your Twitter, Facebook and or Blogger account to your website showing the latest updates. Get all of these media interlinked and working together as your information network.


Paul Ferry is Search Specialist at Bookassist

Labels: twitter, social media, facebook, blogger

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The Booking Engine For Growing Direct Business

By Des O'Mahony | On Thu, July 15, 2010

Did you know just how capable the Bookassist Booking Engine really is? If your hotel is already a client, you still may not be using all of the capabilities fully so it’s a good opportunity to review what we can bring to your direct booking business and what continues to make Bookassist unique.

Bookassist’s Booking Engine delivers on customer service because we know that your guest’s online experience needs to be as good as their offline experience. Bookassist has been frequently first-to-market with new features that others rush to catch up to. Under constant development to bring you what need for today’s demanding customer, here are just a few of the features it gives you right now:

  • Multilingual Corporate & Frequent Booker system allows preferential rates for each corporate or individual for your hotel or across your hotel group
  • Loyalty System to reward regular bookers with any gifts or reductions, or private rates, as you wish
  • Promo Codes to allow instant discounts on displayed rates
  • Electronic or offline vouchers used directly in the booking process or in the hotel
  • Customisable Email Confirmation with mapping and hotel specific information
  • SMS Reservation confirmation, a first for Bookassist since 2004
  • Full PCI-DSS compliant security, a first for Bookassist since 2009 - if your supplier is not certified, you should ask why not
  • Book multiple rooms and room types - a feature we’ve had since launch in 2000
  • Book family rooms and have dynamic pricing based on number of children and their ages - a first for Bookassist since 2005
  • Book additional services and add-ons along with room bookings to allow customers to dynamically package - a feature we’ve had since 2006
  • Multilingual throughout, uses UTF-8 so that multiple languages display properly and customer details can be entered in customer’s own alphabet (eg Russian, Polish, Czech etc)
  • Live currency exchange built in - a feature we’ve had since 2003
  • Automatic emailing of guests after arrival for reviews collection - a feature we’ve had since 2007
  • Display a full table of rooms and rates direct from the booking engine on any page of your website as a handy price grid
  • Display special offers and packages with dynamic content, and fully bookable, on any page of your website or in newsletters and emails
  • Over 99.99% uptime annually over the last 5 years giving industry-beating consistent reliability

To help you out at the back end, here are just a few additional features that keep you in full management control of your system:

  • OTA/XML Integration with leading front office systems such as Protel, Softbrands, Micros Opera
  • Full integration via Ecommerce API with Google Analytics lets you track advert spend right through to specific bookings - a feature we’ve had since 2008
  • Administration Reporting using Google Charts for quick visual data - a feature we’ve had since 2008
  • Administration Reporting with alerts on low availability and email reporting
  • Administration Reporting on what is selling and what is not so you can see your missed opportunities
  • Direct-to-hotel-account banking capability for 100% upfront offers and packages
  • Administration management so staff only see the information they need to see
  • Base rates for rooms or packages can be in multiple currencies
  • Linked rates system allows you to define room rates with respect to a master rate, simplifying quick rate changes across the board
  • Full control of length of stay, day of arrival and other required limitations
  • Manage guest reviews and ratings, and post responses visible on your website and on webapp
  • Channel management solution to control how you sell on third party websites
  • GDS connectivity
  • Downloadable guest contact details with Privacy Legislation Compliance as verified with the Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland and elsewhere as applicable

With the Bookassist Booking Engine integrated into your website, matching the look and feel of your website, you can choose to have a tabbed version that brings you all the following features, or you can use the content of each of these tabs on different pages of your website as embedded dynamic content. Click any image to see more:

Hotel Online Booking System from BookassistBooking Engine Allows Multiple Room Booking
Languages & Currencies Create Customer Confidence

Hotel Online Booking System with Reviews from BookassistIntegrated Customer Reviews
Encourage Confidence In Your Product

Hotel Online Booking System with Maps from BookassistMapping To Aid Your Customer

Hotel Online Booking System with Vouchers from Bookassist
Hotel Online Booking System with Package Vouchers from BookassistSell vouchers for packages or for fixed amounts

And of course Bookassist was the first supplier to bring you a hotel-specific webapp for iPhone, Android and mobile devices to ensure that you are giving the mobile customer exactly what they want.
With Bookassist’s Facebook integration about to launch soon, we continue to innovate for our hotel clients. There is much more to come from our development and research teams. Stay tuned grin

Labels: social media, security, booking systems, booking engine

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ROI Is Not Just About Online Marketing

By Des O'Mahony | On Tue, October 05, 2010

The success of PPC advertising is directly related to the fact that spend can be easily tracked and can show clear and measurable ROI. The results can be even more spectacular when online sales systems are directly integrated with Google’s Analytics tools via the Ecommerce framework, an integration that has been a key and unique feature of Bookassist’s booking engine for the last 2 years for example.

All of this means that more and more hotels have been focusing on PPC campaigns as their primary marketing tool. And this is exactly what hotels should be doing. But this is not the whole story.

To some extent, the easy measurability of online clicks has meant that PPC gets a lot of the credit for what other online and offline factors have in reality contributed to. This so-called “last-click attribution” model, equating the click that led to the sale to the reason for the sale, can lead to false assumptions about how your marketing is really working. Determining the relative contribution of different elements of the marketing process to the final conversion is quite a complex task, but being aware of the way the elements can interact is at least a good first step to improving conversions.

Offline Is Not Dead
PPC is just one key element in a holistic approach that many hotels are not yet fully embracing. Offline marketing, for want of a better phrase, is a necessary support mechanism for online marketing. Offline and online need to share a single coherent strategy, just as they share the same ultimate goal of increasing revenue. To view online marketing and offline marketing as entirely separate, or indeed as competitive, is a wasted opportunity.

Brand Recognition
There is no doubt about the broader and more focused reach of online versus offline marketing in tackling potential new business. The use of targeted keywords and key phrases in search marketing can focus your advert display significantly. However the impact of the advert itself may not be sufficiently strong if the brand represented is completely new to the potential customer. This is where online presence other than PPC, and offline advertising, can help.

To take a simple example: suppose your hotel runs PPC campaigns and an online searcher for hotels in your area sees your advert. Perhaps they have never heard of your hotel, so the advert doesn’t trigger any particular recognition in them. It’s just one of many ads. Now suppose that this same online searcher has just recently heard a radio advert using your hotel’s name and talking about your great online specials. Seeing your hotel’s name in the online ad now triggers some recognition in the customer which makes the advert stand out from the crowd just that little bit more. This brand awareness can contribute to a higher click rate, though measuring the increase is extremely difficult. Certainly we see correlation in our client list between click through rates and radio/TV advert campaigns that those hotels run from time to time.

The nature of search is that it is based in many instances on the final collation of data from various sources, including word of mouth, peer recommendation and offline marketing initiatives. A significant number of searches that lead a user directly to the hotel website are based on variations of the hotel’s name, which increases in direct proportion to offline activity.

Print media, display advertising, radio and television can all be used to plant brand recognition in the minds of potential customers which in turn improves online click-through. In order to help quantify their effect, they need to be coordinated with particular campaigns online so that not just brand awareness, but awareness of a specific offer, is generated. To some extent, this tracking is easier when offline advertising references a specific action which can then be followed online. An example would be print advertising which shows a specific promo code, which when entered in the booking engine gives a specific offer. The tie-in between online conversion and offline advertising is clear and Bookassist’s promo code system has proven quite effective when used in this way.

Three Simple Offline Winners
Online, the key areas that enhance brand recognition and indirectly influence PPC click through rates are high quality web presence, social media use, blogging, video presence on sites such as YouTube and so on. These enhance a potential customer’s perception of quality and customer service and create more trust in the brand. Much has been written in this column in previous months about the benefits of these approaches in aiding conversion.

Apart from print media, display advertising, radio and TV tie-ins with online campaigns, there are many offline activities that can contribute to online success. Here are some simple ones.

1. Use QR codes on all your print media and print advertising to direct people to your website (or better still for your mobile webapp). QR codes are still relatively new, and people are curious about them. Even if people don’t initially know what they are, they drum up curiosity and cause people to think that little bit more about what they are seeing and figure out what they are and how they can access them.

QR codes embedded in your print media and adverts, even on your stationery, business cards and brochures, enforce the link between online and offline. An example QR code generator online is http://qrcode.kaywa.com/


2 .Segment your arriving guests daily into those that booked directly on your website, those that booked via high-commission third party channels, and those that booked offline. Since direct booking on your website is the lowest acquisition cost for you, offer those guests who did not book directly a simple business card at check-in which contains a promo code for an automatic reduction if they book directly online next time. Include a printed QR code so people can get straight to the deal on web or mobile. In this way you have used the expensive third party channels to your advantage in delivering the first customer, but you have now raised awareness of your website and your preferential rates in the customers’s mind and are now far more likely to generate repeat business directly from that customer at a lower acquisition cost, plus build real lifetime value. This is online sales being driven directly by your reception and reservation staff. If you are one hotel in a group, ensure that your sister hotels are listed on the promo card you hand the guest to further encourage future sales online for those hotels.

3. Personally-addressed postal or snail-mail campaigns also still work provided the offer is compelling, is focused, and the channel is not overused. Postal mail stands out for recipients a lot more than email blasts, since post is usually accessed in a different context - among less items and at a more leisurely pace - than online mail. Once or twice a year, a single focused compelling offer in the post to particular segments of your existing customer database can generate high take-up. The point is to be compelling, so consider again promo codes that give automatic reductions or exclusive specials related to the segment you are targeting and which encourage your customer base online. And of course since you are sending out print, embed your QR codes to bring people straight to the website or mobile webapp.

The key to incremental growth in your direct online business is to keep a multichannel approach and to continually experiment to get the mix right.

Labels: social media, online, offline, marketing

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Five Effective Steps to Promote Your Special Offers Online

By Des O'Mahony | On Tue, February 15, 2011

In the current economic climate, customers are still spending but are far more value-conscious. Special offers and deals are appealing, and represent a strong incentive for customers to book. A competitive and attractive special offer can positively boost your online direct sales. Whether it’s a seasonal offer (St Patrick’s Day, Easter, etc.) or special package (spa, golf, etc), setting up special offers in your booking engine always serves the purpose of giving your potential customers more options and opportunities for making a reservation.

However, just setting up a special offer is not enough in itself to generate conversions. The special offer needs to be communicated, needs to be prominently visible and needs to be found by potential customers. The following five steps are what we recommend in order to get the most out of your special offers.

1. Create a proper Special Offer Page
It might seem a simple and obvious statement but the most effective way to promote offers is through your own website. The individual special offer needs to be made clearly visible on the hotel’s homepage through a banner or visual advert, and via a link in the main navigation that brings the customer to your special offers page. Keep in mind that your special offers page is the bridge between the potential customer and the reservation. The page therefore needs to be optimized with a specific purpose in mind: converting visitors into paying customers.

A special offer page optimized for conversions is relevant to the deal/offer promoted, makes use of attractive and high-quality photography, features a keyword-rich title and text for increasing visibility on search engines, includes a strong call-to-action (book now!) and a link which sends visitors directly to your booking engine, and creates a compelling reason to book. Advertising specials that are for a limited time only or that relate to an immediate upcoming event is critical. Finally, it’s important that your special offer page is easy to navigate, runs smoothly, and doesn’t take too long to load the content, so that it can create an immediate impact. (Users of Bookassist’s Sitebuilder website technology get automatic dynamic special offers pages and functionality built into their hotel websites, with updated information being automatically fed form the Bookassist database each time a special offer is created or changed.)

2. Bring Qualified Traffic with Google Adwords
With your compelling page of offers in place, you need good traffic. Running a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign on Google Adwords can dramatically increase the volume of qualified traffic (people actively searching for a hotel/special offer) to your site.

Campaigns on Google’s advertising circuit are very cost-effective. Your advert can be seen thousands of times by an audience in over 180 countries and 40 languages. However, you pay only for the clicks your advert receives, and those who click are doing so because the find the advert appealing. You have full analysis of your campaigns, including your spend, your revenue generation and your return on investment, through Google Analytics. To be even more effective, you can have specific revenue analysis for each type of special offer and each type of advert if your booking engine provider has full integration with Google Analytics Ecommerce, as Bookassist does.

Promoting your special offers through a PPC campaign is now more effective than ever thanks to Ad Sitelinks. This feature, which was launched by Google last year, allows you to extend the value of existing ads for your hotel website by providing up to four additional links within the advert that can point to specific sections of your site, such as your special offers page (see figure 1). By availing of Ad Sitelinks in your PPC campaigns, you will make your advert more visible and eye-catching to potential customers, resulting in an increase in qualified traffic coming from PPC that varies between 10%-30% in our experience.

Ad Sitelinks are a powerful addition to Google adverts, with the example advert above for the Mespil Hotel (click on image to see full size) showing four different links to Special Offers within the advert (top of page). Google Places is also being used effectively by the hotel, with a prominent Place page and map location for the hotel showing in search results.

3. Promote Specials on Social Media
Social media is a powerful tool for promoting your special offers and your website. Social media was until recently considered a less-than-serious channel but is today recognised as being critical for business. They have become a crucial part of a hotel’s online strategy, second only to search ranking in Google and other search engines’ natural listings (eg Microsoft Bing social search).

Social media offers a free yet effective way to increase brand awareness and to build the image of your hotel online. Promoting special offers through social media such as your blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare can strongly increase the exposure of your packages and can indicate to potential future customers the value that can be found in your hotel offerings. You can, for example, write a descriptive and relevant blog post about your offer, post a short entry on the hotel Facebook profile’s wall, write a 140-long message on Twitter. While Facebook and Twitter are all the rage, blogs have another key advantage: blog entries are time-stamped content, so that even after an offer has lapsed (for Valentine’s Day for example) people who are searching next year will find the old offer and therefore anticipate that you will have a new one in the coming year. Blogs are like having a keyword-rich history online of the kinds of offers that you run and the kind of service that you offer.

In all of these social media entries, it is important that you paste a link to the special offer page on your site so that potential customers who have come across your offer through social media they can read more details on the dedicated page. Links are sometimes long and cumbersome, so use a URL-shortening service like bit.ly to create short versions of your links for space-sensitive services like Twitter. If you wish to build an loyal audience among local customers, you can reach them by setting up a special offer on Foursquare, a location-based social network catching potential customers as soon as they check in at your hotel.

4. Avail of Google Offers and Google Places
In late January 2011, Google moved into the local deals arena by launching Google Offers. The service follows Google’s well known attempt to buy Groupon (groupon.com), the very successful local offers site. Google’s move aims at bolstering the search giant’s local advertising business.

How it works is very straightforward. A user who enters a search query on Google (e.g. ‘dublin hotel offer’) is given a number of related offer results. By clicking on one of the offers, the user is taken to a dedicated page with details of the package, map, and printing options (see figure 2). The service is still in its initial phase of launch and is currently available in the United States.

Offers from Google for a hotel in the USA (click on image to see full size) . The new Offers functionality is linked to Google Places and will allow hotels to promote their offers on Google Places and have them automatically expire in order to keep the page fresh.

Hoteliers can also dramatically increase visibility of their special offers by adding them to their listing on Google Places. Google Places is an online service that allows business owners to update and manage their physical business location information (you will see it appear as a small map and business listing on search results from time to time - see figure 1). Hotels can claim ownership of their business listing and can update their details so that it appears correctly within Google Maps and lists their offers. Once set, offers are visible on Google Maps for a period of 30 days. Do a search on Google for Places and for Offers to get more information and help on how to set these up.

5. Blast an Email to Your Client List
Email marketing can be considered as an old-school marketing technique but, when used properly, it is a highly effective one. Provided you don’t over-use the medium, you can further increase the exposure of your special offers by sending an email to guests who stayed at hotel or to prospects that didn’t convert in the past. A personalised letter explaining what the offer is and including a link to the special offer page on your site, as well as a call-to-action, should do the trick.

It is important to make the offer time-sensitive and time-relevant - this offer “must close today” or this offer is for the coming weekend. We all have experience of how the airlines have used this sense of urgency to great effect. It’s also a good idea to promote your special offer by adding it to the email signature of all the staff in the hotel so that every communication helps to build the potential audience.

—-
Pasquale Mellone is Search Engine Marketer in the Online Marketing Division of Bookassist (bookassist.org), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

Labels: strategy, social media, seo, sem, marketing, email

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Facebook Places – What does your hotel need to do?

By Des O'Mahony | On Mon, March 14, 2011

Bookassist’s Paul Ferry discusses Facebook’s move into location



Facebook Places has been live in certain countries since late last year, and in Ireland since the start of February 2011. But what exactly is it, and what do you need to do?



Facebook Places uses GPS (satellite location services) so that people can “Check In” on their mobile phones to their current location, letting friends know where they are and what they’re up to. It functions similar to Foursquare.



When people use Facebook on mobile to check into their location, they quite often find that there is no “official” Place on Facebook for where they are. They can therefore choose to add a new Place to Facebook’s current list of Places. As a result, a lot of hotel Place pages are appearing on Facebook that were not set up by the hotel in the first place, but by some customer at the location who was first to check in, as the image below shows:






So as a service provider at your location, what you need to do first is check if your hotel is already set up as a Place in facebook, and if so you can claim it. If not, you can set it up from scratch. Search for your hotel name in Facebook Search Box or use you mobile phone when you are in the hotel to “Check In” - if your hotel appears on the list, then it has already been added, see the image from iPhone below.








So the next questions you might ask are: How do I take control of this Facebook Places page that represents my business? Or if I don’t have a Facebook Places page, how do I set one up?





How do I take control of this page?



Most of the time you will find that the hotel’s information has already been entered on the Facebook Places page, so what you need to do is claim this page. To do this, go to the hotels Facebook Places page and click on “This is your business?” link, see image below.






After you tick the box and agree the terms and conditions you may be prompted with a “Call Me Now” screen, see image below.






If the Places page does not have a phone number already added, you will be prompted with a form that you fill out to add official documentation in order to claim the Places page.



The automated call back will present you with a 4-digit verification number. After you have entered the 4-digit number from Facebook, you will be prompted to merge your current Fan page with your Places Page, see image below.






Facebook will then email you to notify you that they are merging your Facebook Fan page and your Facebook Places page. When the migration is complete, visit your Fan page and click on the “Info” button under the profile picture and you will see that your hotels details have been updated with a map and directions.





I don’t have a Facebook Places page, how do I set one up?



If your Place does not currently exist on Facebook, you will need to add it through your mobile device by clicking on the Places icon in the Facebook App. Tap “Check In” in the top right of your screen, then search for your hotel name. If it’s not there tap on “Find or Add a Place”






Once this is done your hotel will now be available for people to “Check In”. Once you have added the hotel go through the previous section of this blog to claim your Places page and merge with your existing fan page.





The Benefits



The services are slowly rolling out in all countries, but at the moment the real benefits are only in the United States where you can create Facebook Deals for people that “Check In” to your hotel. For more info on this please visit http://www.facebook.com/places



Our advice is to get this set up now, so when Facebook do roll it out in your country, your hotel is already set up to go on Facebook Places. One addition that we have noticed is that when you hover over your hotel name in either the “News Feed” or your “Wall”, a snapshot of your page is generated with directions and info about your friends that “Like” this page, see image below.






If you have any comments on this blog entry please leave a comment below.



—-

Paul Ferry is Senior Social Media Strategist at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

Labels: social media, facebook

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Facebook Fan Page Upgrade – Latest Changes

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, March 25, 2011

Bookassist’s Paul Ferry outlines the latest changes to your hotel’s Facebook Fan Page after recent Facebook upgrades, and shows how you can take advantage of them.



Since March 10th, 2011 Facebook has globally upgraded how you can use your Fan Page. In this article we detail some of the changes that are important to your hotel and also other changes to note.



Use Facebook as The Hotel

The biggest change in the recent Facebook upgrade is that you can now interact with fans as your hotel’s Fan Page rather than as your personal login. To do this simply go to “Account” in the top right-hand corner of your screen, click on “Use Facebook as Page” and select the relevant Page in the pop up.




The advantages of using Facebook as a Page are that you can interact with the hotel’s fans and leave comments on other pages as the “hotel” rather than as yourself. Other features include the ability to respond to fan reviews as the “hotel” and also the ability to tag the hotel itself in photos, events and videos.



Notifications

Another great feature is that you can get notifications sent to you when a fan interacts with your hotel’s fan page. You can edit notification settings by going to “Edit Page” and selecting notifications from the left hand menu.




These recent changes to Facebook Pages represent a step in the right direction to help optimise your ability to interact with your fans.



Fan Page Display Changes

The old Fan Page layout displayed tabs along the top but these have now migrated to the left hand column under the profile picture, see image below.







The effect of this change is yet to be seen as quite a lot of hotels had set up customised tabs which have now taken a less prominent postion on the page, so conversion on these customised pages may be affected. Yet another new feature is that your recent images are displayed just above the wall similar to a personal profile page, see image below. This gives the page a much more inviting feel. You can alter the images by hovering over them and using the checkbox to delete, and another image will be selected from your existing photo albums. (You can also turn off the image strip completely in wall settings.)











Exit Static FBML Pages - enter iFrames

For developers and app users perhaps the most significant change to note since the 10th March upgrade is that Facebook no longer supports the ability to create Static FBML Pages (customised pages) which many service providers had built for enhancing Facebook Pages. Instead it has placed emphasis on embedding external web pages into Facebook using iFrames. This new approach is very flexible and is another move to make Facebook the one-stop shop for all interaction with your customers. Watch this space for some exciting Bookassist announcements relating to Facebook services shortly!



If you have any comments on this blog entry please leave a comment below.



—-

Paul Ferry is Senior Social Media Strategist at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

Labels: social media, facebook

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Facebook Insights for your Website

By Des O'Mahony | On Thu, March 31, 2011

Bookassist’s Paul Ferry shows how new features in Facebook’s Insights tools can be used to monitor your website’s performance.



Facebook Insights has been available for some time now, its main function being to record the performance of your Facebook Fan Page. But in early March Facebook released “Insights for your Website” which is an interesting development in their use of the Insights tools.



Insights for your website monitors the performance of your hotel’s website popularity in Facebook. It also monitors the performance of the Facebook plugins installed on your hotel website. Some plugins you may have already installed include the “Like” button and the “Like” box for example.



Here is a simple guide to how you can start monitoring your hotel’s popularity on Facebook and the performance of your hotel website’s Facebook Plugins.



1. Visit this URL: http://www.facebook.com/insights



2. Click on the green button on the top-right of the page:




3. In the pop up, enter the URL of your hotel’s website and in the drop down select your hotel’s Facebook Page.




4. Copy the

code and paste it between the

tags of your hotel’s website homepage



5. Return to Facebook and click “Get Insights” in the pop-up. Insights For Your Website is now active.



After a day or so you will begin to receive data from your website in Facebook Insights, here is an example of what it looks like, see image below.




Facebook Insights contains a number of graphs and metrics. To find out what they represent simply scroll over the graphs or click the “?”.



If you have any comments on this blog entry please leave a comment below.



—-

Paul Ferry is Senior Social Media Strategist at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

Labels: social media, facebook

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Doing Hotel Business on Facebook

By Des O'Mahony | On Sun, April 03, 2011

Bookassist’s Des O’Mahony explains that the importance of Facebook for your hotel business is on the rise. As Facebook users’ habits begin to change, Facebook is beginning to more strongly influence business on and off your hotel website.



Let’s start with what Facebook is not.

Facebook is not a substitute for a high quality website. Facebook is not a replacement for a well-conceived, executed and monitored marketing campaign online. Facebook is not about driving your main direct hotel business online.



So why is it that hotels seem so obsessed with Facebook despite the evidence indicating that it has yet to reach critical business importance?



Familiarity and Ease of Use



Hotels are using Facebook because of familiarity and ease of use - regardless of commercial value. For hotels, Facebook is a simple, non-technical way to interact with your customers online. Hotel staff who use the “official” hotel Facebook page can quickly post stories and comments, and can do so in a more “casual” manner than they might do on the main hotel website.



Many already use Facebook on a personal level, so they feel comfortable doing so officially also on behalf of the hotel and would far rather spend some time online there than working on a blog or website content. For most people it’s just a much simpler and more dynamic medium to engage with on a regular basis than their hotel’s website. And it demands much shorter and less formal input than, say, a blog entry. It’s just easy.



Plus, most users are probably logged in anyway to their personal account so switching over and monitoring the hotel’s account is pretty simple.



Facebook for Business - Unsociable But Effective



Interestingly, despite all the noise about the “social” aspects of social media, there is very little actual “conversation” going on between Page owner and Fan on Facebook. Mostly, its about the Page owner posting and others reading, but not any significant conversation occurring other than a possible “Like”. Facebook can be very social, but that is certainly not how the majority are using it.



On the other hand, the idea that hotels could use Facebook for business has been hotly debated for as long as Facebook’s been around. The argument has always been that, because Facebook is a social-driven site, your viewers or fans are not business-minded or research-minded when they’re on Facebook; rather, they are using Facebook in a more relaxed and casual mode so booking rooms or buying services is not particularly the “mode” they’re in compared to those visiting your website.



For businesses like hotels, many Fans are content to receive regular updates as wall postings and act on them if they are interesting - they don’t necessarily feel the need to actually interact in a truly social way. There is nothing wrong with that of course - if Facebook is behaving like a news ticker for your business then it is certainly of value.



The reality is that Facebook user habits are changing rapidly, and business use is very much on the rise. Facebook is becoming a valuable additional promotional and selling tool for hotels. Even if the conversion on Facebook itself is far lower than that on your own website booking engine, the awareness that Facebook can bring for your brand is clearly increasing, as evidenced by the increase in referrals to hotel websites that we are seeing. If nothing else, Facebook is capable of putting ideas into people’s heads via postings on their wall so that when they are eventually interested in a purchase, your brand has already achieved some additional traction through its presence in Facebook..



Facebook is now a Top 5 Influencer



We’ve looked at traffic figures for a large number of our clients that use active Facebook pages for their hotels. In terms of figures from Google Analytics for the hotel website, we’ve seen Facebook rise significantly as a referring site in the last year (i.e. a site that is sending traffic to the hotel website), to a point where it is typically one of the top 5 referring sites for hotels with an active Facebook page.



Interestingly, this does not seem to correlate with the number of Facebook fans - showing yet again that is it not the number of fans or likes that your page has that matters, but the quality of the interaction that you have with those fans or likes.



Facebook Fans want something different



For those same hotels seeing traffic from Facebook, we’ve also seen significant improvements in special offer sales in the last 12 months where Facebook-only promotions or promo-codes are offered. This again shows that the Facebook user is changing habits and is more aware of the business and bargain opportunity that service providers may be offering via Facebook.



Hotels, it’s time to get moving on Facebook and to start taking it a lot more seriously.

Labels: social media, facebook

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