Saturday, January 30, 2016

Is Social Media Working for the Hotel Industry?

In late 2013, little known Sydney hotel 1888 was featured in news articles around the world for their latest promotional strategy: they would be the first hotel to give out free stays to guests with over 10,000 followers on Instagram.  Everything about The 1888 - from the name (the year Kodak released its first box camera) to the decor (printed Instagram pictures) - reflected their photo-focus and their promotion quickly gained attention across Instagram's 150 million user base (as of September 2013).  Their original post garnered a whopping 72% engagement and rocketed the small boutique hotel to the #1 Sydney hotel on TripAdvisor.

Over the subsequent years, hotels have continued to embrace increased opportunities to interact with guests via social media.  Other boutique hotels have mimicked 1888's strategy, like the Sol Wave House in Spain that conducts nearly all its guest operations - from reservations to check-in to the concierge - over Twitter.  The hotel itself is peppered with hashtags and their Twitter presence sees regular customer engagement.

And it's not just the little guys that are jumping on the social media bandwagon.  Hilton Hotels launched an incredibly successful multi-platform campaign titled "Our Stage. Your Story." that integrated posts across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and awarded free stays to posters every week.  I got to experience the impact of social media myself when staying at the Waldorf Astoria's Arizona Biltmore hotel.  After tweeting about a trail map left next to my running shoes, The Biltmore staff responded by leaving an array of "post-run snacks" in my room.

The jury seems to still be out as to how much social media engagement has really delivered in terms of increased patronage.  But it's clear that hotel chains can enrich their brand awareness by embracing new social channels and allowing their customers to interact with the company in new ways.  Social media in the hotel industry seems to be most successful when positioned as a customer engagement tool that bridges across social platforms and across the virtual/physical space.  

So how has social media strategy worked out for The 1888?  They still embrace photography culture, and were acquired by Ovolo Hotels this year.  It seems The 1888 - now known as the Ovolo 1888 Darling Harbour - still honors the offer of a free stay for high profile Instagramers, though it has been scaled back to only one free night.  Yet the Ovolo 1888 Instagram account itself only garners 695 followers, not enough to buy a night at their own hotel, and the various hashtags associated with the hotel barely manage more than a couple posts a week.  #1888hotel, which feeds directly to a screen behind the hotel's check-in desk, has only 2,745 posts.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Digital Engagement Strategies: Mixing Social Media & Mobile Gifting Platforms

It’s not always easy for a company to enter an adjacent market, but WeChat has successfully leveraged a mobile and social media strategy to do so.  WeChat is a messaging and calling platform and app, similar to WhatsApp.  In 2014, with a focus on the Chinese market, WeChat allowed users to send their friends and family “virtual red envelopes.”  In Chinese tradition, these are gifts of money delivered in red envelopes on holidays and special occasions.

WeChat offered users the option to either send a specified amount direct to a friend or to distribute a fixed amount randomly across friends, lottery style.  The response from users was astounding, as billions of yuan were exchanged over the holiday period.  Users felt that even if the envelopes only contained a few cents, it was still a great way to engage with friends.

They went on to add a strategy last year that the user had to shake their device to reveal their gift.  And for 2016, their campaign has a new feature.  Users can upload a ‘secret’ photo that is blurred.  Friends will have the image revealed once they send through a red envelope.  (A funny example cited is that a user posted a comment ‘Come to see my secret honey,’ and it ended up being a photo of her cat).

We can learn from WeChat how a simple digital engagement strategy can create sticky, repeat users.  Not only have they entered a new market with peer-to-peer payments, but this drives further chat behavior between friends.  Hundreds of millions of WeChat users have since adopted the brand new payment system as a result, migrating from the traditional chat platform.

Tenpay, the owner of WeChat and competitor to Alipay of Alibaba, more than doubled its market share as a result of the red envelope campaign.  And Vouchr, a new player in mobile gifting, is now mimicking WeChat’s strategy with mobile game sharing to ‘unwrap’ a payment.  It will be interesting to see what other companies might take advantage of a ‘red envelope’ type campaign, especially in the US market.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Navneet Kaushal, CEO of PageTraffic, Discusses Best Ways to Master SEO in 2016

AJ Agrawal: What do you see as the single most important emerging trend in SEO in 2016?
Navneet Kaushal: That’s easy. Clearly, mobile optimization will take front and center stage this year. Marketers who neglect to specifically target people using mobile devices will not only be limiting their reach, but they’ll also be effectively committing SEO suicide. We’re at the point now where mobile devices have surpassed desktop devices in terms of the number of users. It’s more important than ever to ensure that part of your marketing reach includes people on mobile devices. Further, there are more searches  on mobile devices now than there are on desktop devices. That means search engine marketers are going to have to be certain that their sites are responsive. Otherwise, users will get frustrated with unprofessional or unusable output and visit another site – probably a competitor’s.

Agrawal: How do you see social media impacting SEO this year?
Kaushal: I think it’s going to be challenging for new sites to keep pace with social media. When people on the Internet can get their news in real time from Twitter Moments, they’re likely to prefer that channel than to a blog with popups and annoying banner ads. That could put pressure on news sites that optimize their stories for search engine results. It’s likely that people will just go to social media to get their news as opposed to browsing around the web as they did years ago. Also, social media influence will diminish the number of backlinks that some sites receive from one-man-shop blogs. That could hurt their rank in the search engine results pages.

Agrawal: How else do you think social media will impact SEO?
Kaushal: You’re going to see more social media updates in search results. Google is already working with Twitter to show relevant information in its search results. Right now, when you search for a keyword that’s getting buzz on Twitter, you’ll see relevant tweets towards the top of the first page. That first page, as any SEO professional knows, is prime digital real estate and could limit the reach of search results near the top, but below the tweets. Beyond that, though, you can expect to see updates from other social media channels in the search results. That will make things even more challenging for brands that are hoping to get traffic from search engine marketing efforts.

Agrawal: What kinds of technological innovations will have an impact on SEO?
Kaushal: There’s almost certainly going to be more of a focus on micro-local search. I say “micro-local” search because it really goes beyond local search. Local search involves a geographic region, such as a city or town. However, micro-local search takes it a step further to a particular place of business or even a street corner. Thanks to the emergence of wearable technology and advancements in the Google algorithm, expect to see people search for terms on mobile devices that return results promoting a retail outlet within walking distance. Digital marketers who ignore geo-targeting do so at their own risk.

Agrawal: What else is going to complicate things for digital marketers?
Kaushal: Simply put: competition. Blogs are being created every day. Businesses, recognizing the value of content marketing, are going to post more content and, probably, use longform content to give themselves a boost in the search results. All of that competition is more pressure for SEO professionals who are trying to rank content.

Agrawal: What can digital marketers do in the face of that competition?
Kaushal: There are a couple of things they can do. First, they can practice some micro-niche targeting. Instead of optimizing results for keywords that have broad appeal, they should employ keywords relevant to a very specific subset of people within their target market. Also, they should optimize for longtail keywords that don’t have as much competition.  SEO, like every other type of technology, is constantly changing. If you just stick to “old school” methods, you’ll be throwing away some great opportunities to reach people based on emerging trends.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

SEO analytics tool - Botify raises Series A round

French startup Botify just raised a $7.2 million Series A round from Indivest and Ventech. Botify uses a SaaS approach to make it as seamless as possible to crawl websites and give users insights into their search engine optimization strategy.  Botify gives users data so that they can make optimizations. Botify is an analytics tool to designed to support SEO assumptions with tangible numbers. Currently, the company as more than 300 customers, including BlaBlaCar, eBay, Expedia and Farfetch.

Botify has three different components. First, it developed a server-based crawler. The company then gives users an overview of your website’s structure.  Then, it also gives users more information about Google’s or Bing’s indexing crawlers. The company knows which page was crawled by search engines. Finally, Botify gives uses a complete dashboard with detailed reports about their SEO strategy.

There are two things that make Botify unique. Botify targets big companies that rely heavily on search engine traffic — e-commerce, transportation, media, etc. Bringing more traffic to these websites is a great way to create new customers.  In other words, improving SEO isn’t just something nice to do, it’s a good way to generate purchases.  Naturally, anything that can improve a company’s bottom line is a good thing.  Also, there is the recurring pricing model. Botify costs between $569 and $999 per month. With 300 customers already, you can see that the startup has a healthy business model.  New features should help Botify retain these customers by bringing them more value.