Online marketing for hotels is quite different from online marketing for other products. For example, a hotel is in a fixed location, so marketing to those to whom the location will appeal must form part of the strategy. Hotels have quite individual character, so finding something unique to ensure you stand out from the crowd in the busy hospitality storefront is also crucial. The hotel is rarely the reason for traveling (except for a lucky minority who manage to make the hotel the destination itself), so the choice of hotel is ancillary to the primary travel purpose and this must be factored in by trying to determine the most likely reason your guest are searching for a property like yours. And on and on it goes. This sounds like a lot of work to get right, and it usually is. But Web 2.0 tools help get to the bottom of this quite quickly if you use them effectively. Fundamentally, the tools of social media online can not only help you market your hotel effectively, but their use can wake you up to how your customers perceive your business. The valuable and free information gleaned can allow you to rapidly improve customer satisfaction. Be prepared to be humble - the customer’s perception is often quite different from yours, but remember it is only theirs that matters. Everyone and their dog is saying that social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and other Web 2.0 platforms such as YouTube, Picasa are increasingly important. But important for what exactly? Before jumping in, it is important to step back and appreciate what exactly you are trying to achieve by using such tools. Put simply, when you have a particular purpose in mind, you choose a tool or approach that best suits the purpose. You don’t find a tool and then look around for something to do with it. Not the forum for the hard sell With social networking, you are basically trying to build or enhance your brand through engaging your customers, and you are aiming to build deeper relationships with them. While the reason for this ultimately is to raise your profile and build potential future custom, this is not a forum for the hard sell. If you want the hard sell, invest in advertising. After all, social networking is “social”, meaning people-oriented, community, common interests, like-mindedness, and “networking”, the intercommunication of those people on a voluntary basis. Social networking is all about being part of a conversation. To be successful with social media, just like in a conversation, you have to be prepared to listen, you have to have something interesting to say, you have to contribute something new so that people are bothered to listen, and you have to engage on the level of everyone else and avoid preaching. Sticking to those rules will ensure success in social media either personally or as a business. Charleville Lodge Boosts Business by 59% As an online strategy partner for hotels, Bookassist (bookassist.org) has been engaged in the social media and web 2.0 arena for some time and in recent years has been strongly encouraging their hotel clients to be proactive online. Following a Bookassist seminar on web 2.0 tools in mid 2008, owner/manager Paul Stenson of Charleville Lodge boutique hotel in Phibsboro, Dublin (www.charlevillelodge.ie) decided to focus on interacting with his customers via TripAdvisor and Facebook, as well as providing a richer web experience to them via Youtube and Picasa. According to Stenson, they’ve seen “over 8000 views on the Youtube account in that first year. We can see that people move from there to the website and vice versa so it’s definitely something people are interested in seeing.” While he acknowledges that directly attributing bookings and revenue to his use of web 2.0 tools is hard to track, he has no doubt about the success of the strategy. “We’ve had a successful website for many years, but used Bookassist for a new website in 2008. We worked with them also to set up Youtube, Facebook and other tools. In the year since we started, we’ve seen a 59% increase in direct booking income through our website compared to the previous year. Bear in mind that this is in the middle of a recession and our booking value has been forced downwards also with increased competition”, says Stenson, “so we consider that pretty strong proof of the power of social networking”. Stenson is also rigorous in his approach to TripAdvisor, ensuring that he deals with issues that may arise as quickly as possible. “There is no doubt that guests are cross-referencing TripAdvisor content with our website, our Facebook pages, the reviews we publish on our own website in the Bookassist booking engine, all of these things. People clearly want assurance before they book and we have to be sure we keep on top of it all.” Using Facebook to talk with customers, answer queries and provide information is something that has become routine in Charleville Lodge, with staff always online to field queries. With hundreds of followers, tracking of incoming bookings for his hotel originating from Facebook hits is on the rise, according to Stenson. “The interest via Facebook is strong, but the drawback is that customers have to request to be a friend first before we can interact. We’re now working with Bookassist on a Twitter strategy so we can converse with potential customers in a more immediate and natural way and be even more proactive in getting the news out there about our property and getting guests’ views. It’s early days but Twitter seems the way to go.” “Getting” or “not getting” Twitter Stenson’s experience highlights one of the key differences between sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and the Twitter service. While Facebook and the others are largely about keeping in touch with people you know, in a leisurely way, Twitter is about finding people you don’t know but who have information you need or questions you can answer. Twitter is extremely immediate, reflecting what’s on people’s minds right now. Twitter is undoubtedly becoming more and more important, but it is still a mystery to most business owners in terms of where it sits in their online strategy. Bookassist’s view is that it can sit dead-centre if handled properly. There’s a typical evolution that people go through in embracing the Twitter platform. They first see it as a useless fad and ignore it, but they eventually try it out to see what the fuss is about. At this stage they don’t quite “get” it. If they persist, then they get comfortable posting tweets but even now are really just using it “one-way” to make observations or statements. This is as far as most businesses go. But moving beyond this to a real “two-way” conversation is the real hard part. Persistence pays off. Hotels should set up Twitter accounts and use tweets to advertise special offers or events they may have. Tweets should contain keywords that others may be searching for to improve your chances of being read, (“hotel”, “special”, “dublin” book”) and the offers should be immediate, for tonight, tomorrow etc., since Twitter is so immediate. This is the basic approach of using Twitter in an advertising strategy. But hotels should also pose questions to their guests using Twitter, to try to get conversations going. For example, “do you think our atrium dining room is the best feature in the hotel?” might elicit responses where people say they didn’t realise you had an atrium and something else was far more important to them in their stay. You now have valuable information about what is important to your guests. You can ask if guests would like to see any other kind of events, or ask how specific services can be improved. Rather than waiting for comments or fielding complaints like in TripAdvisor, you can get into the driving seat with Twitter. Going beyond this, the open approach of Twitter where your tweets are published to the entire world by default, as are your guests tweets, means that anyone can search for all conversations that involve your hotel and can therefore see an entire history of what you say online and how your interact with your guests. And how quickly you resolve issues. Likewise you can jump into conversations involving your competitors and legitimately highlight how you would have done it differently, or offered better service, giving you a marketing advantage. Once you tweet honestly, are not overly commercial in pushing your business, and remember that everything is public and forever, then you have nothing to fear from being part of the online chat. Undoubtedly, time commitment is an issue for hoteliers. Once you begin with Twitter, you need to continue to do so or your lack of interaction itself becomes a negative. Because it is fundamentally “personal” in its approach, it puts you the business owner at the front line. But there is no better way to engender trust in your customer base than to interact with them on a personal level, with immediacy, and to show through your public interactions with others that you actually care. According to Stenson at Charleville Lodge, “it all really just boils down to service. If you can show high service levels online before they even arrive at your hotel, which these tools help you to do, then you are already winning”. Charleville lodge is online at www.charlevillelodge.ie, and is on Facebook, YouTube and just beginning to take the plunge on Twitter. —- Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder at Bookassist, the leading technology and online strategy partner for the hospitality industry.
Blog category: twitter
Here are four points to help your hotel be more effective on Twitter and build followers naturally.
Get A Handle On Who Follows You
Knowing the interests of your followers allows you to be more relevant. Look through your followers list regularly and look for trends. Read or follow their timelines so that you understand better where they are coming from. Go to twittersheep.com and enter your twitter name to get a visual cloud of the kinds of keywords relevant to your followers. Act on this information to ensure relevance in what you are contributing.
If relevant news about your location or your business that might be of interest to your customers comes up in your timeline, then retweet it. Make sure you credit the original tweeter and not just copy and paste. Retweeting shows that you are engaged in Twitter and are tracking interesting tweets from others and acknowledging their online input. You are filtering the Twitter universe to ensure relevance for your followers. Plus, retweeting others means that the original authors can see your interest and may retweet you in the future. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Look Beyond Your Own Twitter Account
Take the time to use the advanced search on Twitter at search.twitter.com/advanced. Generate searches for your location and for services being tweeted such as “hotel”, “room”, “dinner” etc. Set up searches for phrases such as “recommend” or “looking for”. You can even target “attitude” in searches to see if people are asking questions. Over time, revise these searches to be more and more relevant to you, and then save these searches for future use so you can check them regularly. You can use them to track if people are looking for such services nearby so you can jump into the conversation and offer your services as an immediate solution for them. This is pre-emptive customer service!
You can use tweetbeep.com to automatically send alerts to you when new information arises.
Don’t be pushy
Constantly pushing your brand and your “great hotel” is not going to influence anyone and is not going to help your online conversion. Your followers know you have a great hotel, that’s why they are there with you online. Now make it interesting for them.
Twitter is about being able to easily converse with your followers and potential customers, it’s not about the hard sell. Your posts need to be relevant and interesting beyond just a constant promotion of your hotel. Sure, you should post novel special offers or last minute deals, but you should also ensure that your posts are continually good enough that people will want to come back for more on a regular basis. If you don’t have something interesting to contribute, don’t tweet.
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.
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.
Here’s quick run-through on how best to use Blogger, Facebook and Twitter for your hotel and generate good quality followers.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
Similar to news flash with catch, high-impact headline.
How much to write:
Restricted to 140 characters, like a single text message, so focus!
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).
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.
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
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