Hotel Industry Blog

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Doing Hotel Business on Facebook

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.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Google Introduces +1 Button

Bookassist's Ciarán Rowe shows how Google's new +1 feature is taking on Facebook's popular "Like" function with big implications for search.

Google has recently introduced a new feature called the “+1” button, which allows users to recommend a website in the search results page. This recommendation will be visible to members of that person's Google Contacts - i.e. contacts from Gmail, Buzz and Reader etc. To see who you are connected to, check the Google Dashboard (https://www.google.com/dashboard/ ). It is likely that at some stage in the future this will expand to include your entire social circle, using non-Google sites such as Twitter.

In order to see the new +1 button, you must have a public profile on Google, and be signed in. If you don’t have one already, you can create one at Google Profiles (https://profiles.google.com/me/createprofile/).

The +1 feature is being rolled out slowly, so may not be visible to all users immediately. You can sign up for the experimental version here: http://www.google.com/experimental/index.html

Once you are signed in, you can see +1 in action: go to google.com and enter your chosen search term. The results page will look like this, with a small +1 link beside each entry.


If you decide to recommend the page by clicking on the +1 button, you will see a new line appear as below - this also offers the opportunity to undo the click. You will be able to see all the +1s that you have created in a new +1 tab in your Google profile page:



Google's version of "Like"?
The second phase of the new rollout is that the +1 buttons will be made available to website owners, so that they can add the button to their website similar to a Facebook ‘Like’ button. This is likely to be a much more useful service than adding the button to the search engine results page. In order to “+1” a page in the search results, a user would need to visit the website to decide if they want to recommend it, and then go back to the results page to “+1” it, which is unlikely to happen very often, as it involves extra effort for no reward. However, once the button is added to the website pages, it is very easy for a user to recommend the page by clicking on the ”+1” button. It will probably be a few more months before the button is available for websites, but you can sign up to be notified of the launch here: https://services.google.com/fb/forms/plusonesignup/

The benefits of the new button are twofold - for the searchers, they can see recommendations made by their friends, which would carry more weight than recommendations from strangers, and therefore help them in the decision making process. For the website owner, having recommendations displayed beside your search engine listings (both paid ads and natural) gives them more emphasis and encourages users to click through.

An example of a PPC ad that has had the website it leads to recommended would look like the following:


The message is clear and makes it more likely that the user will click on the ad based on their friends’ recommendation.

Pagerank Changes
Apart from the visible effects of the recommendations, they also carry some weight behind the scenes. There is some speculation that +1’s could become the new pagerank, which is Googles view of the importance of a webpage. A large portion of pagerank is based on the number of incoming links a page has, but this is easily abused, as links can be bought and sites can be spammed. So if each incoming link is considered a vote, then a +1 is an even better marker, as friends are less likely to spam each other. Google’s perspective on this issue is:

“Content recommended by friends and acquaintances is often more relevant than content from strangers. For example, a movie review from an expert is useful, but a movie review from a friend who shares your tastes can be even better. Because of this, +1’s from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query. This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, and we’re constantly tweaking and improving our algorithm to improve overall search quality. For +1's, as with any new ranking signal, we'll be starting carefully and learning how those signals affect search quality.”

Source: Google


So in conclusion, what can a site owner do about about the new +1 buttons?
The presence of the buttons beside your site listings in Google search (ads & organic), is automatic, so there is nothing that can be done about that. When the facility to add a +1 button to your website becomes available, ensure that you do so.

Above all, encourage people to recommend your website by providing useful, relevant & interesting content that people would be happy to share with their friends.

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Ciarán Rowe is Senior Search Strategist at Bookassist (bookassist.org), the technology and online strategy partner for hotels.

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