Your Hotel Internet Marketing Plan: Chart a Course to Social Media Success

You have a hotel to manage. Maybe several hotels or even an international chain. You’ve heard that anyone and everyone is on Facebook. So, like a good manager with a vague idea of a hotel Internet marketing plan, you create a Facebook page for your hotel.

 

Now what?

 

Chances are you’ve also heard about Twitter and Pinterest. However, this scattered approach to hotel Internet marketing isn’t going to work unless you find a way to braid these dangling threads together into a cohesive, functioning unit.

 

Marketing = Business, Business = Marketing

When in doubt, always refer to your business plan. If the only business plan you have is floating around in your brain, deposit it on a piece of paper. Once it’s written down, it’s easier to look at objectively and adjust as needed. Even if it’s just one page or a few sentences, write your business plan down! After reading it, if you decide to change it, that’s why erasers and backspace keys were invented. If you’re not sure where to start, search the Internet for “write a simple business plan”, and you’re off and running.

 

Next, every move you make in social media should—must—support your business plan. If it doesn’t serve the plan, it’s a waste of your time. That doesn’t mean your social media activities can’t be appealing, informative, and fun. It just means you need to work social media like you would a lively cocktail party, making sure your voice is heard above the sound of everyone talking at once.

 

Draw a Picture

Let’s go old school on this. Get out a piece of paper and a pencil. At the top, write the main points of your business plan. Draw a box around that. Now draw one or more short lines down from the box to your target customer or customers. Box those in.

 

Beneath each of those, draw lines that show where each customer can be found online. One type of customer might be found socializing using sites like Facebook and Twitter. Another group might be more easily found in online travel forums. Others may have to be enticed from their email boxes.

 

Make a List

Now list ways to build your audience for each of these channels, and figure out how to make it incredibly easy for each of these customer segments to book a stay. And voila! You have the beginnings of a keenly targeted, functional hotel Internet marketing plan.

 

Now wasn’t that easy?

 

Find Out More

If you need a hotel Internet marketing plan that works, we can help. Contact us today!

How to Use Hashtags in Your Hotel Internet Marketing Plan

The hot trend right now? Hashtags. They’re on everyone’s lips and the tips of millions of typing fingers. #Curious? Here’s how to use hashtags effectively in your hotel Internet marketing plan.

What is a Hashtag, Anyway?

Used on the Internet, a hashtag is a word or phrase (without spaces or punctuation) immediately preceded by a hash or pound sign (#). The hashtag makes that word or phrase easily searchable. Twitter first adopted the hashtag for searches, and now it is used on several social media platforms.

Before the hashtag, these keywords and phrases were known as metadata tags. With the advent of Twitter, however, these keywords have come out of the coding and into common usage. When chosen wisely, they can amplify your hotel Internet marketing plan.

Types of Hashtags

Hashtags fall into three general categories:

  • Brand or campaign-specific
  • Trending
  • Content

A brand hashtag should be your hotel’s name and/or the slogan that brands your hotel. This is the kind of slogan that when people hear it, they know without a doubt it’s your hotel. A few well-known examples of brand hashtags include:

  • #BaskinRobbins, #31Flavors
  • #Kmart, #KmartBLS (as is “Blue Light Special”)
  • #CapitalOne, #WhatsInYourWallet
  • #McDonalds, #ImLovinIt

A campaign-specific hashtag is one that rolls out with your latest marketing campaign. A few prominent examples include:

  • Wendy’s: #twEATfor1K. Customers who purchased the restaurant’s new sandwich—and posted a picture of it online—were automatically entered in a drawing for $1,000.
  • The White House: #40dollars. Used to raise awareness of what a tax cut extension would mean to working families.
  • Home Depot: #HDgameday was a photo contest featuring college football fans with Home Depot buckets at the stadium.

Brand or campaign, hashtags make it easy for you to locate and interact with past, current, and future customers. Say a guest posts a photo of the view from his room. What better way to show you’re paying attention than to respond before he even checks out?

The key is to keep hashtags short, use them consistently, and make them unique. “#ValentinesDaySpecial” is not going to grab much attention, but “#TwoHeartsTwoNights” stands a better chance.

A trending hashtag relates to a specific topic everyone’s talking about. Trending topics are extremely fluid. A hot topic can be on the top ten hashtag list one moment, yet fall off mere minutes later. This is why you can’t put a hotel Internet marketing plan into action and just forget about it. Instead, when you quickly adjust your online content to jump on a trending hashtag, it can get you in front of millions of eyes in one fell—and free—swoop. For example, #MusicMonday is a hashtag that frequently bubbles to the top of trending lists. You could use it to talk up the live band appearing in your hotel’s pub.

However, let’s emphasize that it’s extremely important to pick and choose only those tags that connect with your hotel brand. Also, don’t pile a long list of hashtags on the end of a tweet. Your Twitter account could be flagged as spam and suspended. “Selective” is your mantra.

Content hashtags aren’t necessarily trending or wildly unique, but they are words and phrases that are commonly used in web searches. It’s sort of like the social media equivalent of SEO, or search engine optimization.

So what are your potential customers searching for? They’re seeking a hotel in a certain location or for a certain event. For example: #NewYorkCityHotels, #conferencehotels #NYCweddingvenues, #NYCholidays. They could be looking for hotels within a certain price point or with a high level of service, such as #budgethotelsNYC or #4starhotelNYC. If your hotel’s located in an area known for a popular event, use that event’s hashtag to let people know of your hotel’s convenient location, like #NYmarathon.

With selective and judicious use of hashtags, your hotel Internet marketing plan can be a campaign heard around the world. For more information, contact SmarteHotels.com and let us help.

 

What’s in a Good Hotel Internet Marketing Plan?

Developing a hotel Internet marketing plan can seem like a complicated recipe—full of exotic ingredients and need-three-hands techniques, where one misstep can mean total disaster. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Taken one step at a time, you can build a plan that will make your marketing efforts really cook.

Step #1: Hotel Web Site Design

Your hotel’s web site is your flagship online presence. No matter where else you’ve planted a flag on the web, all digital roads eventually lead here. Whether clean and simple or decked out with bells and whistles, make sure customers can find relevant information with one or two clicks.

Step #2: Mobile Web Site Design

Work with your web site guru to develop a design that works for the small-screen world of smart phones and tablets. This is often a stripped-down, larger-font-size version of the regular web site, visually simpler but still packed with information.

Step #3: SEO Marketing

A web site with content that is not search engine optimized (SEO) risks getting buried on page heaven-knows-what in Google search results. A web wordsmith who understands Google’s search algorithms is worth his or her weight in page-one search result placements.

Step #4: PPC Marketing

Including pay-per-click (PPC) advertising in your hotel Internet marketing plan can be the most cost-effective way to advertise to your targeted customers. Why spend all your marketing dollars on a magazine ad that may or may not be read, a radio ad that may or may not be heard, or a TV commercial that may or may not be seen when you can reach the customers you want right when they are looking for you? Plus, you set the budget, and you only pay when the customer clicks on your ad to learn more. The big three search engines—Google, Yahoo, and Bing—as well as travel-specific sites like Kayak and Expedia offer a pay-per-click platform.

Step #5: Social and Email Marketing

Where is your customer spending time online? Facebook is the obvious choice, and many of the newer central reservations office (CRO) software packages allow customers to book a room right from your hotel’s Facebook page. Now, not only can you interact with past and potential customers, but they can impress their friends and get a booking at the same time. This will be increasingly popular among the mobile phone crowd, so paying Facebook a small fee to boost your visibility could be a worthwhile investment for some hotels.

However, since Facebook does muffle commercial pages now so they don’t get seen unless they pay, Facebook shouldn’t be your total social networking strategy. Look into other sites such as Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, or LinkedIn as well.

In addition, don’t shy away from email marketing. If a current or potential customer cares enough to sign up for email notifications and newsletters (you DO have this set up on your web site, right?), that means he or she won’t regard your emails as spam.

Step #6: Track ROI

Don’t use the scattershot approach to your hotel Internet marketing plan. Decide where you want to start, pick an online social networking channel, and carefully track how many actual bookings come out of each effort. Software is available to help you compile and analyze data, such as how many bookings come from your web site, mobile site, and booking engines, as well as how many visitors to your web site come from your established social networking pages.

For More Information

SmarteHotels.com can help you build a successful hotel Internet marketing plan. Contact us today, and we’ll be glad to assist with any questions.

Hotel Global Distribution Strategies: Maximizing Your Online Footprint, Part 2

In Part 1 of this topic we discussed a few negatives to watch for when developing your hotel global distribution strategy. This time, let’s take a look at how to effectively balance and maximize your hotel’s digital presence.

  1. Spiff Up Your Hotel’s Website
    All things being equal, most customers would rather book directly through a hotel’s website rather than going through a third party. A sharp-looking and easy-to-use website is often a potential customer’s first impression of your facility. Make sure that impression is a positive one.
  2. Be Seen In More Than One Place
    Make sure you choose reservation channels that fit your hotel’s unique attributes. In addition to the large-audience channels like expedia.com, look for channels that cater to small-scale specialty hotels, such as splendia.com.
  3. Go Mobile
    When a business or leisure traveler is far from home and needs reservations fast, most of them are going to turn to their mobile devices. Reservations via mobile devices are increasing by the day, so make sure both your website and booking tools are optimally formatted for small mobile screens.
  4. Encourage Customer Loyalty
    Keeping a careful eye on information you collect about your guests will help you send promotions and rewards to your best customers to keep them coming back – or recommending your hotel to friends and business associates.
  5. Get Social
    Establish a presence on the most popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Pinterest, but don’t just toss up an attractive page and leave it there like a brochure flapping in the breeze. It’s important to interact with your fans and “likers,” so check the page daily to responds to questions and comments, address complaints, answer private messages, and of course, offer web-only promotions.

Let SmarteHotels.com show you how to step ahead of the competition. Contact us today!

Hotel Internet Marketing: Going Mobile, Part 3

Welcome to part 3 of our series on mobile hotel Internet marketing! Part 1 and Part 2 explained why you need a mobile-friendly interface and covered a few basics of home page design. The mobile user interface experience doesn’t end with the home page, though; there’s a wealth of information to share with your customers. These are some ideas on how to do it effectively.

Taps = Clicks

In the desktop/laptop world, the general rule is never to make a user click more than once or twice to get to the information they want. The same rule applies to the mobile screen; it shouldn’t take more than one or two taps to get to what the customer wants to see. What information should be on this second “layer” of pages that lie just beyond the home page?

Where You Are

To simplify the home page, the hotel’s location information can reside behind the “Reservations” button. This is particularly helpful if you have more than one facility. In fact, for the purposes of this demonstration let’s rename that button “Find a Hotel.”

Let’s look at what the customer wants from this page:

  • Choose a location – Select from a drop-down, or type in a text box (Our suggestion – make as many functions as possible “tappable” to prevent frustration from switching back and forth between tapping and typing).
  • Travel dates – Tap for a drop-down to select dates or to bring up an interactive calendar.
  • Number of rooms needed
  • Number of guests
  • Text boxes to input promo codes or corporate account numbers
  • Check boxes to indicate typical discounts, such as AAA, senior rates, military discounts, or to indicate a travel agent is making this reservation.

After the user has entered this information (probably doing a bit of scrolling), have a “Submit” or “Find” button so the system will generate a list of available rooms from which to choose.

What Types of Rooms Are Available

The customer has clicked “Submit” or “Search” and we’re now three pages deep in the user experience on your hotel’s mobile web interface. Pretty painless so far, right?

On this page, the customer “swipes” to scroll down to view and choose the facility (if there is more than one) where they want to stay. This page, unlike the previous two, can have more on it in terms of graphics and text, but still keep it simple. There should be nothing on this page that doesn’t serve a purpose:

  • A photo of the hotel
  • A very short, enticing description
  • The basic rack rate for a room
  • A link to a map
  • A link to a more extensive description of the hotel and its amenities
  • A button to book a room and one to go back and select a different facility, if necessary

Once the customer clicks that button, we’re on to page four – choosing a specific class of room.

Room Selection and Cost

On this page, you will present a list of the types of rooms available. The customer will scroll down to view:

  • A one-line “headline,” such as “Two Double Beds” or “King Suite”
  • A photograph of each room
  • A link to click for more details about the features and amenities/upgrades for each type of room.
  • Room rate
  • Discounts that apply to each room based on selections made earlier and a link to a page that describes this discount in detail.
  • A button to “select” or “book” this room.

As before, make sure most or all of this information is structured to adapt quickly and smoothly to whichever orientation the user chooses, whether vertical or horizontal. Once the customer taps “Book this room,” the next pages will guide them through the purchase process, which should be pretty familiar to anyone who has bought anything online.

Detail Pages

By the time the customer clicks for details about a hotel, specific rooms, or discounts, they’re ready to read a longer ream of text, generally the same descriptions you would include on your traditional, desktop-friendly website.

And if you can get them that far, congratulations! You’ve successfully bypassed the customer frustration fuse.

Let SmarteHotels.com help you make your hotel’s mobile web site a frustration-free zone for your customers. Contact us today for help with hotel Internet marketing!

Hotel Internet Marketing: Going Mobile, Part 2

Last time we discussed the need for your hotel Internet marketing strategy to expand to mobile devices by making your website mobile-friendly, either by responsive design or user choice. There’s an art to small user interface design, but it’s not as complicated as you might fear.

What Do Users Want?

How do you figure out what stays and what goes? All you need to do is look at your web site statistics. When it comes to hotel websites, what customers want to know is pretty universal:

  • Where you are
  • What rooms are available and what types
  • When those rooms are available
  • How much they cost
  • How to take advantage of deals, promotions, discounts, and upgrades

In other words, they want the same information they’d find on the big-screen home page, not less.

What don’t they want? Or perhaps better stated, what don’t they need?

  • Complicated flash graphics and video
  • Walls of text, especially on the home screen

Just the Basics, Ma’am

  • Color
    When it comes to the colors, take a cue from your hotel’s logo. For example, if it’s blue and white, there are two of your three main colors. The third color, which will probably end up being the button color, should provide some contrast without being glaring—maybe a lighter color blue. Pick a white or light grey background, and you’re good to go.
  • Size
    Look at the tip of your index finger. You’re looking at the minimum size for each button, or needed space between each link on your user interface. Too small, and you risk sending the user shooting off to a page they didn’t want – thus tripping that dreaded frustration fuse.
  • Wordage
    On your main hotel site, you might have a link that’s a line of text that reads, “Click here to make a reservation.” On the mobile interface, there’s only room for the most critical words: “Make a reservation” or just “Reservations.” And remember, the word or phrase must fit without wrapping whether the user is holding their device vertically or horizontally.

That’s about it. No, really! Save the photographs and longer descriptions of your hotel’s rooms and amenities for the layers of pages behind your mobile interface home page.

Stay tuned for the final part of this series on mobile hotel Internet marketing; next time we’ll talk about more ways to cut the frustration out of online booking via mobile devices.

Hotel Internet Marketing: Going Mobile, Part 1

These days it almost seems there are two separate Internets – one for desktop and laptop computers, and one for the on-the-go devices that seem to be in everyone’s hands, messenger bags, and back pockets. How can you target both in your hotel internet marketing plan?

Screen clarity in these smart phones and media devices (tablets, e-readers, and phone-sized media players) is improving all the time. But have you ever tried to access a desktop-friendly hotel website on a mobile device? You could get a migraine attempting to read the miniscule font, and good luck trying to click (tap) a web link, much less make a reservation.

Sure, customers can do the double-tap thing to enlarge, and scroll around with a fingertip to view content, but study after study has shown that it only takes a few minutes, maybe even a few seconds, for the frustration factor to kick in. The result? Users abandon the quest—and no, they usually don’t decide to dial your 800 number. The number of users making online-only reservations rises exponentially every year while the phone-in segment shrinks. By the time your hotel website has tripped a customer’s frustration fuse, they’ve decided to look elsewhere.

On the other end of the spectrum are the businesses that have responded by creating stripped-down versions of their main sites for mobile users. However, these side-by-side sites have tended to be anything but equal. Users complain that desired features on the “regular” site don’t make it to the mobile screen. Result: Users feel they’re missing out on useful links, deals – even ads – that desktop users enjoy.

What’s the answer? There are a couple possibilities, and both have pros and cons.

  • Integration: Websites can be as smart as the smartphones that access them, which means when a device accesses your hotel web site, it detects what kind of device it is, and automatically adjust the display (otherwise known as the user interface, or UI) accordingly. This is known as responsive web design.
  • User Choice: When the user lands on your home page, users get a choice of what view they prefer, desktop or mobile.

Next time we’ll continue the topic of mobile hotel Internet marketing with a look at exactly what customers want out of their mobile experience.

Get smart with mobile hotel Internet marketing! Contact SmarteHotels.com to get started.

Developing Your Hotel Internet Marketing Plan, Part 2: Pick Your Channels

Welcome back to our series on developing your hotel Internet marketing plan! Last time we identified your ideal customer. Now let’s figure out where on the Internet you’re most likely to catch their attention.

Web Site

With so many web hosting services and design options, there’s a combination out there sure to fit your skill level and budget. Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to handle the legwork, here are basic steps to get your hotel’s web site up and running.

  1. Buy your hotel’s domain name.
    Decide what your hotel’s URL, or domain name, will be (www.HOTELNAMEHERE.com, for example), and then purchase it from a domain name service. Don’t be afraid to shop around to get the best deal. The basic cost to reserve your URL won’t vary much from site to site, but the price of multi-year renewal deals and add-on packages definitely will.
    Package deals typically include multiple email boxes, extra storage, security and privacy options, shopping carts, email newsletter list set-up and maintenance, and perhaps a discount if you choose to host your site through the same provider from which you purchased your URL.
    TIP: Once you settle on a URL and go to a domain name service to reserve it, buy it immediately. Remember that everything you do on the web leaves an electronic trail and rest assured, someone is watching. If you get distracted or get cold feet and decide to come back later, you may discover the domain name you want has been snapped up by someone else who’ll “generously” offer to sell it to you—for an inflated price.
  2. Pick a service to host your site.
    It’s probably simplest, especially if you’re doing it yourself for the first time, to choose a domain name service that will also host your site as part of the package. You can choose a separate site, but it’ll add a few more hoops to jump through.
  3. Design your site.
    Many hosting services provide templates that walk you through the process of creating a basic web site. This can be useful to get your hotel’s basic information in front of web-surfing customers until you can get a snazzier site developed.
    If you have some skills and are really adventurous, there are a variety of software packages available – some for free – that offer a user-friendly way to do it yourself.
    Search the web and you’ll find a plethora of web site designers eager for your business. Again, shop around and peruse each designer’s portfolio before settling on one to suit your needs and budget. Your target Internet audience will probably want to be able to read about your hotel’s amenities and book a room in as few clicks as possible; a web designer familiar with the hotel industry and online reservation systems like SABRE will probably be a good choice, particularly if you have zero web design skills.
  4. Pay attention to stats.
    Install a statistics monitor on your site, and you’ll have detailed information at your fingertips, like where your site visitors are located, what site they came in, where they go when they leave your site, whether they come back, and more. Information like this is highly valuable to tweak your overall online hotel marketing strategy.

Social Media

“Social media” instantly brings to mind three words for most anyone who has spent any amount of time on the web: Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Fortunately, all three can be integrated with your web site, and once you get your feet wet, you can venture out to explore the possibilities with other up-and-coming outlets like Google+, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

  • Facebook
    Love it or hate it, Facebook is the go-to site to start your social media adventure. Since the interface frequently changes, there’s no point in trying to explain it here. However, it’s important that once you register with a profile, that you create a separate page for your hotel. The reason is simple: profiles are limited to a certain number of friends, but pages can have an unlimited number of fans.
    A Facebook page is a wonderful way to interact with past and future customers. Guests are often eager to post comments and photos of their stay, and you have an instant audience for newsletters, photos, videos, announcements, and special deals or packages.
  • Twitter
    Twitter is, in essence, micro-blogging in 140 characters or less. Browse the site for an astounding education on how to use it for marketing purposes. Best of all, it can be set up so all your “tweets” will automatically post to your hotel’s Facebook page.
  • Blog
    A free blogging service like Blogger or LiveJournal is one choice, but there’s a downside—taking readers away from your main web site. These days, a blog can be integrated into your main site, keeping your potential guest engaged in your territory. The key is to keep posting fresh content so visitors will come back often to see what’s new.

Paid Advertising

Let’s say you want to advertise your small or independent hotel in on a print travel magazine’s web site or on a travel review site. Go to the web site and look on the home page for a link to “advertise” or “advertise with us.” Click that link, and look for a few vital pieces of information:

  • The magazine’s audience profile and site statistics such as the number of page views per month
  • A “rate card,” which is simply a list of advertising rates and packages
  • Ad specifications or guidelines for creating the ad (size, resolution, content, etc.)
  • Contact information for a representative who can guide you through the process

If you have any basic graphics skills at all, you could create and submit the ad yourself; otherwise, the magazine’s staff will be happy to help.

Coming up: Part 3, “Define Your Message.”

Ready to get started? Contact us today!

Developing Your Hotel Internet Marketing Plan, Part 1: Who’s Your Customer?

Every small and independent hotel manager has a vision. Usually it involves a steady stream of customers wheeling their suitcases through the door, reservations pouring in via phone and the web, and a full facility every night.  The question is, do you have a hotel Internet marketing plan?

If your current marketing plan isn’t generating your idea of hotel heaven, it’s time to learn how developing an online presence can boost the number of new and returning faces to your facility. This series, “Developing Your Hotel Internet Marketing Plan,” will help you spread the electronic word to as many Internet-savvy (and not so savvy) customers as possible.

1. Identify Your Current Customer

This part should be easy, especially if you already have a solid business plan in place and your hotel’s doors have been open for a while. You’ve probably noted that many of your guests have some things in common; so let’s do a little profiling to get your thoughts organized.

  • Customer age range and gender – Does your facility tend to attract young professionals?  Retired couples? Families with children?
  • Education level – Do your guests tend to have at least one college degree?
  • Occupation – Blue collar? White collar?
  • Level of disposable income – This can (but doesn’t always) tie into both occupation and age range.
  • Average stay – “Just passing through” for one or two nights, or lingering for up to a week?
  • Internet literacy – Do your customers make most of their travel plans online? Hang out on social media sites, posting comments and travel photos? Actively participate in online travel forums? Scour blogs and trip review sites for recommendations?

Need hard numbers? Have an analytics program installed on your web site, and pay attention to the stats pertaining to your Facebook page.  These are going to be important to your hotel Internet marketing plan.

2. Identify Your Ideal Customer

Now that you’ve identified your current customer, ask yourself if this is your ideal customer. If so, great! If not, decide how you want that profile to change or expand. For example: more business-oriented guests; fewer college students and more professionals; more “lingerers” and fewer “here-and-gones.” You might even consider asking current guests to fill out a short survey – how they found you, where they get the majority of their travel information, which travel-oriented web sites they like best, etc.

Use this as a road map to determine where to spend your online time and money.

Coming up: Part 2 in this series, “Pick Your Channels.”

Ready to get started? Contact us today!