How Guest Targeting is shifting the OTA landscape

For years, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity have been entrenched OTA players in a static hospitality landscape. With back-end connectivity to the GDS, these OTA giants represented a simple, at-home entry point for many travelers. Over time, aggressive marketing and rate parity have established OTAs as a reliable retail outlet for hotels, airlines, and rental cars.

But in the past 18 months, a seismic shift has begun to change the landscape for the online travel agencies. Foreshadowed by Google's 2010 acquisition of ITA Software, the rise of "big-data" represents the greatest challenge to OTAs in more than a decade Click to Tweet and is beginning to change the landscape for many of the largest online travel agencies.

Armed with data on preferences, interests and even search histories, big-data providers like Facebook and Google have built platforms by which hoteliers can offer highly targeted packages and promotions to small groups of retail travelers. The result looks to net higher conversions at a lower cost of sale for hoteliers, all while delivering a more satisfying retail experience for guests.

This shifting landscape could bring the eventual downfall of the parity-based model for OTAs. Just this week, Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi confirmed to CNBC's "Squawk Box" show that Expedia is looking for ways to shift its offering to hoteliers away from parity towards a guest-targeting model. (Note: Khosrowshahi's comments about Expedia's future model begin at 2:20 into the video.)

In my opinion, the biggest challenge OTAs face in delivering a targeted guest model is the access to a larger guest dataset. While Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz capture travel search data, the legacy OTAs lack access to broader preferences that are game-changers for the big-data companies. OTAs will likely need to purchase guest data directly from their new competitors, Facebook and Google, Click to Tweet which will drive down profit and make the challenge even more pressing.

I believe that the pressure to build a more profitable, guest-targeted model may drive OTA consolidation. It's also quite possible that we will see the larger OTAs pursue big-data through acquisition of social media properties such as Pinterest or Gogobot.

Does this mean that Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz are about to fold up shop? Not at all. Although consolidation within OTAs is possible, the likely path for OTAs will be less emphasis on non-targeted results through the GDS and more focus on generating guest-targeted offerings at a higher margin.

How to Convert Social Media Followers to Buyers

Since the rocket-like launches of Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest years ago, organizations have been asking the million dollar question in regards to social media, "How can we convert fans into buyers?"

Social MediaCountless books, seminars, blogs have been devoted to the topic of social media ROI, but (sadly) most seem to miss the most obvious point.

While I don't proclaim to have all of the answers, the answer to the question of converting social media followers to customers seems a rather obvious one:  The same way you converted your existing customers.  

From my perspective, there's too much status placed on 'fans' and 'fan counts' by most social media "experts". The people who "like" your brand are essentially giving your company a virtual high five. Click to Tweet They appreciate something you've done or a perception you've created about your products. They may or may not be your current customers. And – unless you work to convert your followers into buyer – they may or may not be your future customers.

In a traditional sense, your Facebook fans and Twitter followers are the digital equivalent of window shoppers. Click to Tweet Some of them know your brand well, they enjoy your products  and actively share their experiences with their friends.

But some ¬†of your fans – a large majority – are standing on the sidewalk. ¬†They like your window display, but it hasn't compelled them to open the door and try your brand.¬†And this is where your business acumen and experience –¬†more so¬†than your social networking skills – come into play.

Social media is a tool for increasing your sales, not the solution. Click to Tweet

So ask yourself and your team: What do you do as a brand that brings potential customers in off the sidewalk?

If you can answer that question, then you can convert social media followers into buyers.

5+1 Changes to Make to Your Resume NOW!

I read an interesting article on Glassdoor entitled, "5 Changes to Make to Your Resume NOW" in which some often overlooked points were resurfaced. It's worth a read. 

One point that was not mentioned and should be emphasized is how important it is to communicate your social media handles along with your contact information. Your social media standing is a direct reflection of your professional interests and network. and can demonstrate industry engagement

This important engagement element should not be overlooked. After all, there are (literally) hundreds of studies showing that prospective employers are going to seek you out through social media. If this is a point of distinction for you, then you should showcase it, right? 

If you're actively promoting yourself professionally through a blog, Facebook page, or Twitter, you should definitely include a handle or link in the header of your resume. Don't miss a chance to make this positive impression!

The Unparalleled Importance of a Crisis Management Plan

As the stories of the Casa Monica Hotel firing an employee for wearing a US flag pin began to break this weekend, I was struck by just how unprepared the hotel and Kessler Collection were for the public relations firestorm which erupted in response to the media coverage. 

(DISCLOSURE: I once worked in Sales & Marketing for the Kessler Collection and, as I said on Twitter this weekend, it was troubling to see former colleagues in such a position.) 

Instead of arguing the merits of uniform policy versus patriotism versus two-year history of wearing the pin, it's important for hoteliers (and businesses in general) to take note of how this incident escalated from a policy decision to an immeasurable public relations incident.

Buoyed by (literally) tens of thousands of tweets, facebook posts, and hotel reviews through social media channels, the story grew from a local Jacksonville story on Thursday into a top five feature on nearly every broadcast and cable news channel in just two days time.

As this groundswell grew against the Casa Monica Hotel's decision, the Kessler Collection was notably silent on the issue. Neither the hotel nor the company responded to requests for comment by the local and national media. Neither the company nor the hotel made any posts to their official websites or social media pages to address the questions. In fact, the only tangible response the company seemed to undertake was to attempt to delete a number of strongly worded posts and comments from the hotel's Facebook page.

The Casa Monica Hotel finds itself at the center of a textbook public relations crisis – albeit one that it should have reasonably anticipated and managed – that threatens to damage its brand. The lack of preparedness and response beg the question: Does the hotel or company have a crisis management plan? 

Crisis management is not and never should be an extemporaneous endeavor. It involves forethought, resources, planning and practice. There are thousands of books, blogs, degree programs, etc to pull from but to briefly summarize, there are three active stages in a crisis – all of which need management:

  1. Before all hell breaks loose
  2. All hell breaks loose
  3. After the crisis

Before all hell breaks loose is the "simple" phase, although it is the one that requires the most work. The "voice" of the company must to be defined. Rules around when different members of the organization will be made available to the media must be written. Responses to reasonably anticipated situations (accidents, acts of God, etc) should be drafted. The channels by which the responses will be routed should be tested. And – most importantly – the entire act of responding to a crisis must be simulated and practiced by the entire organization. 

Once all hell breaks loose, which is where the Casa Monica currently finds itself, the work investing in stage one will begin to bear fruit. The most critical elements are the seemingly contradictory goals of speed and calm. Timely statements and media responses must be effectively managed to turn (and eventually tame) the crisis. 

After the crisis, there are two parallel, urgent paths – reputation management and response review. The company must review the root cause of the crisis and how it was responded to by the public relations team. Efforts must be undertaken to repair the brand's image both internally and externally. 

 

For those of us who are not involved in the Casa Monica / Flag Pin debate, it's important that use this opportunity to learn the unparalleled importance of having an effective crisis management plan. The inability to deliver timely statements and respond to requests for comment can do immeasurable harm to your business.

We will all have crises to face. The key is to remember the old Boy Scout motto: "Be Prepared."

 

 

5 words that generate the most likes on Facebook

In this era of social media, many companies are looking to increase guest and fan engagement on their Facebook pages. According to a new study from Buddy Media, increasing the number of "likes" your posts and updates receive may be easier than you thought.

After evaluating posts and status updates, the report found these five keywords that generate the most likes for posts on Facebook:

  1. Like
  2. Take
  3. Submit
  4. Watch
  5. Post

The success of these key words indicates that messages with "soft engagement" can be an extremely successful strategy in social media. 

Study: Facebook "Likes" mean less than you think

FastCompany details a new social media analysis by Dan Zarella that has some surprising results. Contrary to popular thought, Facebook likes do not mean that more people will read your posts. In fact, posts that are viewed more tend to get fewer likes.

Zarella's study looked at the correlation between impressions per post (essentially the number of page views a post gets) and feedback per post (a tacit measure of how interested the public is in the post material, measured in comments and "likes"). Using Facebook Insights data, which is only accessible to page admins, he looked at 12 months of data and found merely a "weak negative correlation." In other words, the posts that get slightly more views actually have fewer likes and comments.

This study, if it pans out in broader review, knocks a sizeable whole in the social engagement metrics that many companies are using. It will be interesting to see if this report reflects a blip or an actual trend.

Google+ Equals Zero … Four Early Signs that Google Plus Will Fail

There has been a lot of hype around the launch of Google's latest foray into the social space, Google+, this week, with "hype" being the operative word.

After spending time on the site, I'm convinced that Google Plus is destined meet the same fate as the brand's other failed social networking attempts. The reason? Google doesn't understand social networking. 

Here are four early signs that Google+ will fail:

  1. Despite being launched as a social networking site, Google has limited the number of people that can join at launch. This strategy has failed Google before in the social space (Buzz and Wave come to mind) and demonstrates that, for all that the brand does well, Google does not understand social networking. How can users be expected to establish their social network when their friends, family, or coworkers can't join the site? Meanwhile, Facebook and RenRen are immediately accessible to everyone. Not only does this limit the usability of the site, it squanders the initial excitement around the launch and frustrates any attempt to convert early adopters. Google's effort to ensure site stability has guaranteed its demise even before the doors open.
  2. Google+ is neither open nor closed. While Google Plus allows you to set sharing levels among your friends, the site permits strangers to connect with you and – in some cases – interact with your content. While there could be some upside to this model in professional or industry networking, that isn't the audience that Google+ is targeting. I don't think Mom is going to be thrilled when a college student from Brazil starts making comments on her recipes. 
  3. With nearly 800 million people spending one trillion minutes per month on Facebook, why should users bother to joining Google+. As of the launch, Google can't any functionality that solves a user's problem or represents a "killer app". Google Plus is simply another way to accomplish the same thing that users are already doing on Facebook. It isn't targeting a niche market or bringing anything new to the party. There is nothing being done in the space that is unique to Google+. Google Plus is elegantly designed, but the core functionality – including the sharing privacy methods that Google has promoted – already existing within Facebook. To put it bluntly, Google can't express any "reason" to join and, therefore, users simply won't join. 
  4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Facebook is strong enough to compete and innovate. For all it's fortunes, Google is the underdog in social media. For every gee-whiz thing that Google might be able to implement into Google+, Facebook can simply incorporate those features into their service and easily maintain it's 750+ million user base. 

Google has garnered the media's attention yet again; however, the early signs point to a quick and public end to yet another failed social network. 

 

 

Luxury brands are big fans of Facebook, other social media sites

High-end brands have woken up awakened to the power of social media because of some compelling statistics. "Households earning over $100,000 a year are on the Internet 23 hours a week and on Facebook six hours a week," said Bernie Brennan, co-author with Lori Schafer of "Branded: How Retailers Engage Consumers with Social Media and Mobility." And 80 percent of households with annual incomes of more than $240,000 use social networking, primarily Facebook, said Brennan. Luxury brands now realize "there's a new way to communicate and if retailers or brands are not engaging in social media, they're missing an enormous market opportunity," he said.

Some of the world's most exclusive names are quickly becoming the world's most engaging brands. Why? It's simple really. Facebook is the social media home to millions of affluents.

These statistics are the sirens song to luxury brands:

– Households earning more than $100,000 spend 6+ hours per week on Facebook

– 80% of households earning more than $240,000 use social media, primarily Facebook

Luxury brands are realizing the intrinsic value of having both affluents and aspirational customers interact with their brand and products at a time and place of their choosing.

So it's little wonder that BMW, Gucci, Chanel, Ritz-Carlton and Louis Vuitton have jumped headfirst into social media, particularly through Facebook.

Burberry has used direct engagement – such as asking Facebook users to submit photos and videos of themselves carrying the signature raincoats and handbags – to boost "likes" to more than 6 million.

One facet of social media metrics that is vastly underappreciated, however, is influence. When a user "likes" a brand, they broaden the degree of influence for that brand.

Even if the user themselves is aspirational and cannot yet afford the brand, generally users will have another 10-20 Facebook users within their network that can afford the brand. By "likeing" the brand, they are spreading the luxury brands influence directly to all of the users within their network. When that "like" shows up on their wall or stream, it serves as a call to action for other users to engage with the brand.

For example, if I "like" a new car from BMW, it will post to my wall. It will be seen by my entire network and the peer influence fundamental will prompt my friends to "like" that BMW and engage with the brand. If the average Facebook user has 130 friends, then Burberry's 6 million fans potentially influence tens of millions of Facebook users.

Luxury brands, with historically smaller traditional footprints and touch points, are finding a home on social media. And with 83% of affluents now making purchases online, Facebook and social websites have truly become the new showcase for the world's premiere brands.  

Retail Study: 1 Facebook Fan = 20 Visits To Your Website

A UK based study by Hitwise analyzed data from the top 100 retailers to find how much additional web traffic was generated by each Facebook fan.  The metrics showed that each fan of a Facebook page produced an extra 20 visits to the website.  In order to generate this number, Facebook traffic was analyzed and compared against Facebook Page data from Techlightenment.

The study also found that brands utilizing Facebook the most saw increased brand searches on Google, Yahoo! and Bing.  A top UK retailer, Topshop,  saw brand searches  increase by 54% after a visit to Facebook.  This was a trend that stayed true for all of the top 10 brands, with brand searches increasing from 19% to 54% if a user previously visited their Facebook page.

Who uses social media?

Pew Internet has released their updated social networking study and several of their findings are quite remarkable:

  • 47% of adults in the US use social media sites versus only 26% in 2008
  • The average age of social media users is now 38, up from age 33 just two years ago
  • 52% of Facebook users and 33% of Twitter users engage with social media daily
  • Myspace users tend to have the lowest level of education; LinkedIn users are the most educated

 

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Within these findings, I'm most intrigued by the growth of middle-aged and senior users. While adoption by younger users tends to mark the start of trends, the growth among older users indicates mainstream acceptance. In other words, it's clear that social networking – particularly on Facebook – has officially arrived.