How are the top hotel brands innovating in social media?

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A recent report has ranked the digital performance of 52 global hotel brands. The latest L2 Hotels Digital IQ Index rated brands according to the performance of their sites and use of digital marketing, mobile and social media.

The top 20 brands:

1. Four Seasons =10. St. Regis
2. Hilton Worldwide 12. Renaissance
3. Marriott International =13. JW Marriott
4. Hyatt =13. Omni
5. The Ritz Carlton 15. Le Méridien
6. Intercontinental =16. Mandarin Oriental
7. Westin =16. MGM Resorts
8. Sheraton =16. Radisson
9. W Hotels =16. Sofitel
=10. Fairmont 20. Jumeirah

How hotel brands are using social media

Keeping things local

Hotel social media strategies

The study notes that 95% of the brands have both global and property Facebook pages, increasing from 73% in 2011. Twitter saw an increase from 56% to 70%. Taking a property-centric approach allows for a higher degree of relevant content to be shared and thus keep an engaged audience. An additional benefit of property-level presence comes in terms of immediate customer service and local expertise.

One brand which has been innovative for adding value with local knowledge is the The Ritz-Carlton, who have taken advantage of Foursquare to share tips from the concierge staff at 75 properties.

User reviews

Only 17% of the indexed brands offer on-site ratings and reviews. The report suggests that these sites send 39% less traffic to online-travel-agents, indicating increased confidence from customers, and presumably a lower need to navigate away to other pages for research.

Two noteworthy example of sites that feature reviews are Starwood and Four Seasons. Starwood have opted to create their own, independent reviews site, which requires a reservation code to ensure authenticity. By taking reviews in-house, the brand is able to monitor and respond to customer comments in a controlled environment.

Four Seasons have taken a different approach. Nine of the indexed brand sites link to TripAdvisor, but the Four Seasons has gone beyond by integrating reviews directly on their property pages, allowing customers to see them at a glance and without having to navigate away from the Four Seasons site.

Emerging social platforms

How hotels use new social media platforms

As for new social platforms, Google+ and Foursquare are the most popular, and offer clear value for SEO and local representation.

The visually rich nature of travel content means that there is clear scope for further use of sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr. The Four Seasons and Hotel Indigo are noted as pioneering Pinterest brands. I would expect to see further use of Instagram, yet again the Four Seasons are leading the way with property-specific accounts. I expect to see more brands joining Instagram, especially following its acquisition by Facebook which demonstrates the importance of images in social media.

Examples of online communities in the travel industry

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For the next in our series of Online Community Examples we are looking at examples of online communities in the travel industry

Online communities in the travel industry

The travel industry is one well suited to online communities focused on engagement. Whether you’re an airline, holiday company or hotel chain, your guests typically only experience the brand on a limited number of occasions annually. They may be leisure travellers who might only stay at your hotel once per year or even business travellers who use your airline each time they fly to New York. In all cases the experiences these consumers have with your brand are limited and for a fixed period of time only.

Online communities offer you a way to extend this brand experience between visits or experiences, they allow you to engage and interact with your consumers even when they are not staying at your hotel or flying your airline. This is of critical importance when it comes to rebooking - if you can keep your brand at the forefront of your consumers’ minds then they are more likely to rebook with you. If you can offer them extra services, or offer a way to extend their holiday experience, they are more likely to rebook with you.

The three examples below show different ways in which companies in the travel industry are using online communities to engage their customers with a view to increasing customer loyalty.

Best Western’s On the Go with Amy

One of the real benefits of social media for travel is it puts a human and personal face on what is a very personal experience. One reason why people use Tripadvisor so much is that it contains real reviews from real people talking about their own experiences. But rather than just using experiences as reviews, we can also use personal experiences as inspiration tools. And this is what Best Western do so well with On the Go with Amy.

As with many great examples of online communities, On the Go with Amy is simple concept, but one that delivers well against Best Western’s objectives. The community is a blog from travel journalist Amy Graff, where she share first hand travel experience and chronicles her trips and visits. From a business trip to New York to a family road tip down Route  66 in the US.

By using this medium, Best Western are putting the excitement and experience back into travel. They are giving people a set of first-hand experience and by juxtaposing business and leisure travel they are associating themselves with both of these experiences. Amy has become the company’s travel spokesperson. As well as chronicling her own travel, she gives on issues from advice on travel accessories and on historical sites to visit with children.

This community gives people a real insight into travel, ideas and advice but does it with a personal voice and a very public face. The site is clearly branded and supported by Best Western but it is not overtly selling their hotels. It is engaging people in a personal experience, which is what travel is all about.

Marmara’s Marmarafit

Marmara is a French travel agency that specialises in package holidays in the Mediterranean. They have a loyal customer base and people will often return to a Marmara resort for their annual holidays. In 2008 they launched an online community site to allow people to continue their experience even when they are not on holiday.

The community site has two basic parts:

  1. Marmaramis: every Member who joins the community gets a profile which allows you to upload photos of your vacations, tell the community where you have been on holiday and which resort you are going to next (and the dates). You can also make friends with people you have met on holiday or with people you are going away with.
  2. ClubMarmara: using this profiling data, individual members can be associated with the Resorts to which they have been or that they are going to. Their photos, videos and discussions are associated with the relevant Resort.

The site provides a way for people to share their experiences when they get back from holiday, keep in touch with friends they met on Resort and post photos and videos of their vacation to share with these people. They can also find people who are going to be on the same holiday as them before they go, ask questions about Resorts they have never been to and find out what it is really like in the words of people who have been before. In this respect, the site is a great customer retention tool. It provides a way for customers to extend the holiday experience even when they are not away.

But the site also offers significant benefits in terms of customer acquisition. It is building a large quantity of discussions and descriptions of holidays, great both from a search perspective but also as peer-to-peer marketing. If you have never been to a particular resort before, or indeed never been on vacation with Marmara, you can read real reviews, see real photos and even contact people who have been on holiday to ask them for their thoughts. Getting your customers to really do you marketing for you.

Qantas Travel Insider

Many airlines have launched online community sites in the last year. We have already written about BA’s MetroTwin and the Air France-KLM Bluenity sites. Qantas launced it’s own online community at the end of 2008: Qantas Travel Insider.

The site is aimed specifically at the airline’s Frequent Flyers and allows them to describe their first-hand experiences of destinations, recommending places to stay, eat or drink and things to do in the various cities to which Qantas flies. This is a clever use of passenger experiences and knowledge. The Frequent Flyers are the ones who know the destinations best, and they are also those most likely to find themselves going to a new city and needing advice like this. By focusing on this group, Qantas is also catering for the desire for us to share with and learn from ‘people like me’. The Frequent Flyers will associate with each other and so lend credibility to the advice.

Alongside the user-generated travel advice, Qantas Travel Insider also has a large amount of more editorial content. From articles and recommendations to blogs and the Ask the Crew feature. This is a good approach to online communities - users don’t necessarily care about who gives them advice or tips, they just want to know that it is both from a credible source and of use to them. Mixing user-generated content with editorial content and expert advice can be successful online community strategy. In the case of Qantas, it also lets them use their own expertise - getting cabin crew to answer questions about things to do and places to go at destinations. Adding a concierge service to their on-board service and  thus really enhancing the passenger experience.

See all our Online Community Examples

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  • Improving user experience on travel websites (travel-rants.com)
  • How does one measure “engagement”?
  • Olivier Roche: “Avec marmarafit.com, nos clients se rencontrent avant leur départ”

Insight from online communities: 6. Photo activities

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Our last post in our series on getting insight from online communities looked at the benefit you can get from photo uploads. We are going to stay with this area today but look at how you can maximise the insight benefits you get from photos (and indeed from other media) by running specific photo-based activities, by encouraging comments, ratings and responses to photos.

Online communities can sometimes be daunting when people join for the first time, or when we allow them to do new things or promote new features. People need to be shown what to do, they need to be encouraged. That’s one of the reasons we believe in promoting community management - a good community manager is part of the community and can help to introduce new features and parts of the site, and to encourage activity.

A great way of encouraging participation on the community and focusing so that it is of use to you is to run activities. Many communities have galleries, with no focus or direction to what photos should be uploaded, those that are better are those that are:

  1. clear about why you should upload a photograph
  2. include some element of activity or competition-based incentive (such as “over the next month we want you all to upload a picture of your favourite room in your house”)
  3. allow rating and comments - not everybody will want to upload a photograph but they may want to comment on those already there, and others may just want to rate their favourite photos (or indeed, the ones they like least)
  4. include tagging - allowing users to tag and sort photos will mean that they organise your galleries for you and make it easier to find content and related items

These steps are best as part of a concerted effort to increase photo-activity on your online community and will work best if you focus attention and encourage photos for a particular purpose or on a particular issue. People will know what they’re doing and why they’re uploading photos and then comment, rate, respond and organise them for you.

You’ll also get a wealth of insight. From the photos people choose to upload to the comments they get or the way they’re tagged. And because you’ve focused all this activity on one area or problem you’ll get a depth of insight too.

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Insight from online communities: 5. Photo uploads

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We’re halfway through our series highlighting ten ways of getting insight from online communities. We’ve looked already at ways of making the most of the profiling data, conversations, language people use, and ratings. In this post, we’re going to look at how allowing (and even encouraging) photo uploads can be a real source of insight in your online community.

Many online communities are very text-based. They are based on conversations, and the forum is the central area of the community where most activity takes place. But given the increasingly media-rich nature of the Internet, this is something of a shame. Some people just don’t express themselves as well in words as they do in other media. Sometimes a photo can convey an opinion or start a discussion. And sometimes a collection of photos allow people to work together on a problem, issue or problem.

You can get real insight from allowing people to upload photos, and even more from encouraging them. Hotel reviews on TripAdvisor are significantly more meaningful when you have visitor photos to accompany their reviews. If your online community was about a product or service, then finding out how people actually use it would be of real use - photos of where they store your product in their kitchen for example would give you a real insight into peoples’ lives. A community for a holiday firm could get real insight from photos of guests on holiday. A community about home improvement could be much more powerful with photos of peoples’ rooms or houses. In fact pretty much any community could benefit from photos.

There are really three levels of insight you can get from photos:

  1. Understanding why people choose to upload the photos - what photos do they upload? Are some users more likely to upload photos than others? Do the photos that are currently in the gallery influence the photos people upload? Understanding these motivations gives you insight into your community members.
  2. Analysing what people upload photos of - if you run a community for a holiday firm do people usually upload photos of people, the accommodation, the weather or the scenery? This probably gives you a real insight into what they associated with their holiday. People are going to upload photos that they feel reflects the aim or objective of the online community. Analysing what photos they choose to upload will give you real insight into their attitude towards the issue.
  3. Observing what reaction the photos get - do people discuss photos that are uploaded? Do they post photos in response to those already on the site or is each photo upload a fairly extant experience? Are the community members using the photos to tell a story or solve a problem together or is each using it to illustrate their own point.

A photo upload is a source of lots of insight. Into the community member and the community as a whole. Into what they think about the subject or issue at the heart of the online community. Into what their real lives are like.

Photos can, of course, give you more insight. If you encourage and allow comments and voting on photos you can get much more insight. We’ll be talking about this in the next instalment of getting insight from online communities.

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