Andrea Mann of Blue Magnet Interactive took the time to talk with us about marketing, hotel Internet marketing, and Blue Magnet Interactive. She is the director of Blue Magnet Interactive Marketing and with her expertise in this field has valuable information to share not only pertaining to hotel Internet marketing, but also online marketing in general. Read on!

How important is online marketing to the hotel industry, or any industry for that matter?

People are searching for information online, and they expect answers instantaneously. This means marketing your business online is imperative for all industries. Online marketing is particularly important for the hotel industry because of the vast amount of channels on which a guest shops for a hotel as well as an over-congested market share in any given city. To stay competitive and increase occupancy, a hotel is expected to be competitively marketing its unique selling points across hundreds of different sites and devices. Some travelers shop for a hotel using their preferred online travel agency (e.g., Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity).

Some travelers will immediately pull up a map on Google or Mapquest and begin searching for a hotel near a specific destination (e.g., stadium, amusement park, convention center). Some travelers are brand loyalists or rewards members and restrict their shopping to that particular brand’s website or app. Some travelers are attending a conference or perhaps visiting a family member in the hospital and browse an organization’s recommended accommodation page. Some travelers have absolutely no idea where to begin or what they are looking for and start shopping with a generic search query on Google or Bing. Some travelers take to Facebook or a similar social networking site to ask their friends and followers for suggestions. Some travelers browse top-rated hotels in their destination on TripAdvisor and/or Yelp. That is a lot of places a traveler can be shopping for a hotel. And that’s just a few examples.

Factor in that most people will shop around before committing; they compare prices, amenities, location, photography, etc. Some travelers want beautiful views, some travelers want free WiFi, some travelers want complimentary breakfast, some just want a bed and a cheap rate. Regardless of what criterion is important to them, guests look at multiple websites and they use all different types of devices; sometimes they even use multiple devices simultaneously. So if a hotel isn’t marketing their property online, they will likely go out of a business. A “Vacancy” sign on the front door isn’t going to be enough for most hotels.

Gone are the days when clients called to make a hotel reservation at a never-seen property. Now they want to see the rooms, the amenities, the location before booking. It’s a competitive world out there – how does Blue Magnet help hotels reach their potential clientele?

With so many different ways to search online, and now a major shift to cross-device shopping, the hotel industry is challenged to essentially be omnipresent. Blue Magnet helps hotels maintain updated and consistent information (name, address, phone number, website, amenities, and photography) across all of the potential distribution channels mentioned above. Having inconsistent or outdated information on listings confuses search engines and shoppers, which will negatively affect their bookings. For example, if a guest looks at a hotel’s Google+ listing, which refers to the hotel as “DoubleTree Chicago – Convention Center” and claims there is a $50 pet fee, and then continues their search on Kayak, where the same hotel is listed as “DoubleTree Chicago” and claims there is a $75 pet fee, the guest will be confused, not trust the information, and ultimately book elsewhere.

Blue Magnet also helps hotels differentiate themselves from the competition by creating responsive independent websites that provide high-res imagery, optimized and relevant information, and a flawless user experience across all devices. Many hotels (and guests for that matter) don’t realize that their localized listing on a brand site provides a very cookie-cutter experience.

For example, check out this Courtyard by Marriott property in Kaua’i, Hawaii vs. this Courtyard by Marriott property in Scranton, PA. Sure, one overlooks the crisp blue ocean and is surrounded by white sandy beaches and the other is located in Dunder Mifflin’s hometown in Midwest America, but the websites don’t make the destinations look all that different, right? Think about how many hotels within the Marriott family exist in one city – how would a guest choose which property to stay at when their websites all look identical? What sets one apart from the other?

Blue Magnet reinvents the hotel’s online persona by developing an independent site that reflects its own unique personality and provides a comprehensive content strategy. Take a look at this Cleveland hotel’s brand site vs. their independent site. Cleveland’s not exactly the hottest tourist destination, but the independent site is sexy and appealing and loaded with relevant information. It has several niche landing pages that provide shoppers with resources to help plan their itinerary, including an awesome local area guide and am East 4th dining guide, complete with descriptions and menus. These landing pages help optimize the site for niche organic search queries, such as “hotel near East 4,” and when a shopper lands on the page, sees beautiful images, and reads through the informative content, they will be likely to convert.

What is social media’s role in hotel marketing?

Social media is so beneficial to establishing and upholding a hotel’s brand. Guests want to interact and engage with brands that are human and relevant, so it is important for hotels to invest time and energy into creating a social content calendar and strategy that deliver just that. Hotels should be using social media, particularly Facebook since that is an extremely visual channel, to give fans a taste of what is happening on property. This include showing photos of a wedding that took place over the weekend, pictures of restaurant specials, images of renovations – both small changes and big – and any other events or staff moments that may be relevant to your guests.

Social media also plays a huge role in managing a hotel’s online reputation. Past, current, and future guests are talking about hotels whether or not that hotel is active on social media. It is very important that a hotel monitors their direct messages, comments, mentions, and reviews across all the major social sites and responds in a timely manner. If a hotel has a dedicated social media manager, they should be able to catch a lot of the fan comments that are directed right to the hotel’s channels (meaning the fan posts a question directly on the hotel’s Facebook page or tags the hotel’s Twitter handle), but it is even more important to use a monitoring tool to catch the comments that aren’t directed to the hotel.

At Blue Magnet, we use a social media tool called Sprout Social which allows you to monitor any keywords on certain social channels. So if the hotel monitors variations of their hotel name, it will filter in conversations that mention the hotel, but aren’t directed to the hotel. Imagine if a guest started tweeting about poor room service at the hotel but didn’t tag the hotel’s Twitter account. If the hotel was smart and monitoring their name, they would be able to completely surprise the unsatisfied guest with an apology and offer a solution. That is stellar customer service. Plus, it shows all of their other Twitter followers how much the hotel genuinely cares about guest feedback.

What are some trends you’re noticing in the hotel world, and where do you see them going over the coming years?

Hotels keep finding more ways to incorporate digital technology into the guest experience as an added convenience. I think this is nearly possible at some hotels already, but pretty soon, guests won’t need to interact with any humans during their stay. Guests will be able to do anything using their smartphones: check in and select a specific room number or upgrade their room type, open their door, order room service and additional amenities, change the TV channel or room temperature, etc. I see the hotel industry, particularly hotels that are more luxurious and high-end, continuing to adopt new, cutting-edge technology. I think this makes it even more imperative for hoteliers to stay tuned in on social media. If guests are able to check in and order things via smartphone and not need to interact with anyone at the hotel, they will certainly take to their smartphones to complain online as well. Hotels need to have an online reputation management strategy in place!

What can any business do to create and support a good online marketing network and strong social media presence?

Create a content calendar to organize your social posts ahead of time. Try to fill it in at least one week out so that you don’t neglect your social channels when you get too busy. But also remember to be flexible with it. Some things come up during the week that will be more important than what you have scheduled, and it’s okay to bump back your posts or rearrange as needed. Also, share the responsibility of filling in the calendar amongst the entire team. Everyone that works in a business or at a hotel has a different perspective – they have different roles, different goals, and interact with different customers or partners – and it’s important to share all of those vantage points with your followers.

For a hotel, perhaps you should have the food and beverage team fill in the calendar for Fridays, since they know what specials are on the menu and they can write a more compelling argument as to why someone should come eat at the restaurant for dinner. The sales team will be more familiar with banquets, receptions, and events, so have them provide an assortment of wedding planning tips and photos from past events every Wednesday.

Getting the entire team involved will create a well-rounded account of daily activities and help capture the true happenings on property. This ensures a relevant content strategy and active channels!

Being in the hotel business, do you like to travel? What’s your favorite place to visit?

Yes! I love traveling and have a very long bucket list of places I hope to still see. It is always so interesting to immerse yourself in another culture and experience the land, food, transportation, and language. My favorite place to travel is Tel Aviv. It is the most beautiful city, serves the most amazing hummus, and has the most exotic and carefree culture. The beach is always crowded and the sidewalk cafes are always bustling – I’m not so sure that anyone actually works in that city.

You can follow Andrea Mann and Blue Magnet Interactive on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.