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Tim Peter Thinks

Tim Peter

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June 11, 2019

Hey, Hotel Marketers: What’s Holding Mobile Bookings Back?

June 11, 2019 | By | No Comments

What's holding mobile bookings back? Guest shopping for reservations on mobileLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


If anyone you're talking with describes 2019 as "the year of mobile," or some other such similar statement, I'd like you to smile at them, nod your head politely, and casually walk away. Why? Because that individual has no idea what they're talking about. 2019 is decidedly not the year of mobile. Not even close. The "year of mobile" has already passed us by.

In reality, we're not in the year of mobile; we're in an era of mobile, of shifting behaviors and business models alike. Uber and Airbnb and Venmo and Instagram all grew up in a world where mobile is the norm, not the new. And if you're genuinely committed to driving direct reservations for your hotels, you must accept mobile as the norm too. Whether you work for a property owner, management company, or brand, you must focus on providing an outstanding experience to guests – current and potential – on mobile all throughout their journey.

In case you missed it, a key data point underscores this reality. Mobile internet activity exceeded desktop internet use in October…2016, over two full years(!) ago. In fact, according to Stone Temple Consulting, mobile traffic now accounts for roughly 63% of all internet use, which is truly astonishing. Most hotels are seeing mobile traffic represent at least 35% of their total traffic and my own experience shows mobile traffic accounting for well over 40% of all sessions. And this shift creates significant opportunities for hotel marketers. Because one area where mobile has not bypassed desktop is its success — or more properly, its lack thereof — in delivering reservations.

Data from SmartInsights suggests that mobile conversion rates average only around 0.7%, compared with well over 2% on desktop. That's a significant decline relative to desktop with real-world consequences for reservations and revenue.

Consider a hypothetical hotel company that receives 12,000 site visitors per period (that period could encompass an entire year for a small hotel or a single day for a decent-sized hotel group; you can choose whichever is appropriate to your situation). If this hotel received only 40% of its traffic from mobile, it would potentially give away 62 reservations each and every single period (for you math wizards in the room, 96 desktop reservations from a 2% conversion rate minus 34 mobile reservations from a 0.7% conversion rate equals 62 "lost" reservations to mobile behaviors). Obviously, these numbers would be higher if your share of mobile traffic is higher. Given an average reservation value of $200, that's the equivalent of $12,400 in lost top-line revenue every period. Even if, by some miracle, 100% of those guests end up picking up the phone or booking your property via an OTA — which would be amazing…and unlikely — you're increasing your cost for those reservations by either the cost of the call or the OTA margin. That's not good. Like, seriously, not good. And that also ignores the fact that you already paid for the performance media or SEO efforts necessary to get that traffic to your website in the first place.

So, why are we losing bookings on mobile relative to desktop? What's holding mobile bookings back? Several reasons come immediately to mind.

Ineffective Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Even with increasing competition from hotels and OTA's, organic search typically represents a significant driver of traffic for most hotel websites. But beginning in March, 2018, Google began splitting its search index into separate versions for desktop and mobile, favoring sites for mobile searchers that specifically take mobile usage into account and penalizing those that work poorly in a mobile context. In fact, mobile-first is now the default for new sites Google finds.

While this change doesn’t directly affect conversion rate, it impacts your business all the same. Google's split of its index has left hotels providing a subpar mobile experience in a sad state, losing traffic and, of course, reservations.

Slow Web Performance
Your website's overall speed also plays a significant role both in SEO rankings and in your guests' website experience. Research from Akamai shows that "…fifty-three percent (53%) of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load" and that "…bounce rates were highest for mobile phone shoppers." And Google has publicly acknowledged that they now use site speed as part of their mobile search ranking algorithm. The search giant offers more favorable placement in mobile search results to hotels featuring websites that load speedily and help guests find the answers they need quickly and conveniently.

Poor Mobile Web Usability and Design
Of course, poor mobile experience isn't a negative solely from Google's point of view; it's bad for guests and bad for your business too. Many hotels are seeing significantly higher bounce and exit rates from guests visiting their site on mobile devices. Wonder where your low conversion rates come from? It should be apparent that guests bouncing off your site aren't converting. Again, speed plays a crucial role. But the need to improve usability and decrease bounce rate overall should be equally apparent.

Lack of Trust
As has been true for the better part of two decades, trust continues to play a key role in influencing conversion online. Slow, insecure websites with limited or outdated content – or most any subset of these issues — frequently fail to convert visitors to bookers. Screen real estate on mobile is limited and valuable. It must be used wisely to assure guests that you are the right choice for their stay and a trustworthy partner who will protect their information and payment details. Along with other elements, Google has also announced that trust plays a significant role in driving SEO ranking. OTA's invest heavily in content designed to reassure guests at each stage of their journey, but especially during the booking decision. Clear rates, quality content, and high-resolution images focused on answering guest questions represent key components in helping site visitors choose your property. Great hoteliers make guests feel comfortable no matter the situation. Helping guests feel comfortable that you represent a reputable option for their next stay is key to providing hospitality online. It deserves your full attention.

Complicated Checkout and Few Payment Options
Even given the current woeful state of mobile usability, checkout and payments present a particularly vexing challenge for users. The checkout process on mobile for many hotel websites remains far too difficult. A recent review of mobile booking engines showed that hotel websites typically require guests to fill in no fewer ten to fifteen form fields across three or four separate screens while completing a reservation. Given that the average guest must manage this while holding their credit card in one hand, a several-hundred-dollar piece of aluminum and glass in another, and type in these fields with, I don't know, a third hand, that's hardly the height of positive user experiences. Why are we making it so hard to do the one thing we most want guests to do?

Further, Booking.com's head of product marketing Morten Larsen recently wrote that "…one in five Booking.com customers don’t complete a reservation due to unavailability of their payment method of choice." Mobile wallets, such as those from Apple Pay, Google, Pay, PayPal and others can streamline the checkout process and can increase the options available for your guests. So, why are these so infrequently offered?

Improperly Configured Analytics
A fair percentage of guests visiting your site on mobile are likely to book via voice since, after all, they are holding a phone in their hands. But are your analytics properly configured to track clicks-to-call? For that matter, is your site properly configured to support click-to-call at all? Now, in fairness, this is less about improving conversion rate and more about measuring alternative reservations channels. But experience suggests that you may be receiving more reservations on mobile than you know, which can be skewing not only your metrics, but also any decisions you're making based on those skewed metrics about media spend or marketing efforts.

How to Make Mobile Drive Bookings for Your Hotel

Once you've identified the issues limiting your mobile website's effectiveness at driving direct reservations, you must establish an appropriate plan to correct these limitations.

First, focus on three key areas:

  • Site speed
  • Quality content
  • Rate parity

Why these three? Well, as discussed, site speed helps with both Google's mobile search index and improves overall usability — or at least perceived usability — by helping guests find the answers they need quickly. This often helps improve your search rankings and traffic, as well as helps lower bounce rate, retaining more of the traffic your site receives and lowering your costs for guest acquisition.

Quality content, both text and visuals, further enhances the guest experience. Content provides answers to the questions your potential guests may have and helps demonstrate the quality of your product. Clear, relevant content also builds trust among site visitors by addressing concerns they may have about your property and its fit for their individual stay. Content also plays an important role in overall search engine optimization and, if properly targeted and authored, may help your site rank better for specific guest queries.

Rate parity delivers multiple benefits for both you and your guests. The diffusion of disparate rates has taught guests that, if they keep looking, they're likely to find a better deal. Offering varying rates across OTA's, metasearch, and hotel websites damages trust in your direct channels by reinforcing the benefits for guests of continuing to shop around. And, when guests continue to shop around, you not only increase the likelihood that they'll book your hotel on a higher-cost channel, you also increase the risk that they'll book a different hotel altogether.

At the same time, make sure that your mobile site displays your reservations phone number prominently and that your phone number works correctly when a guest attempts to click-to-call. While many web browsers automatically convert phone numbers to clickable links, not all do. Automatically converted phone numbers may also fail to match your site's style and typically lack any tracking that shows whether they're being used. Work with your website developer and booking engine provider to put the proper code in place for your guests and for your business benefit.

Finally, work with your IBE providers to incorporate mobile payments and seamless checkout from digital wallets such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, and the like. Experience shows not only a better mobile experience overall, but also conversion rate increases for each new payment option added.

What's Holding Mobile Bookings Back? Conclusion

We've clearly entered "the Era of Mobile." Mobile represents a large and growing segment of your site visitors. And guests expect a quality, seamless, and, yes, hospitable experience when researching on mobile. They're not going to book your property directly on mobile until and unless you can satisfy their needs there. Google recognizes this fact and actively penalizes poor mobile experience. And OTA's have invested heavily to provide guests with the information and experience they demand. Your mobile web experience — in terms of site speed, quality content, trust, and usability — must meet or exceed their expectations. Or you can continue to muddle along and keep losing traffic and transactions to OTA's and others who do take mobile seriously.

Hotel owners, management companies, and brands alike have a vested interest in addressing these concerns if they're legitimately concerned with increasing direct bookings for their properties.

Mobile bookings aren't "next year's problem." They're not a trend you can afford to ignore. Lost mobile bookings dramatically influence your business right now, pushing guests towards OTA's as their first, last, and only choice for bookings, and driving up the cost of guest acquisitions both in the near-term and down the road. Fixing the problems takes work. But it's work that's well within your capabilities. Plenty of effective solutions exist in the marketplace to help you address these needs. But you've got to begin. Right now. Because if you continue to ignore the importance of improving your guests' experience on mobile, the thing holding back mobile bookings might just be you.

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

A version of this article originally appeared on Hotel News Now as "The Distribution Trend You Care About Most in 2019"

Tim Peter

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January 8, 2019

5 Key Insights into 2019’s Hotel Marketing Tech Trends

January 8, 2019 | By | No Comments

Guest using mobile phone to book, one of 2019's hotel marketing tech trendsLooking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


A client recently asked for some high-level insights into the hotel marketing tech trends available to drive more direct business this year. While this is a bit of a laundry list, the following offers a number of significant opportunities to help you increase your hotel direct business. Check out the list below and let me know your thoughts:

Make your website work. Obviously, most hoteliers at the chain and property level are making a big push for more direct business. Four areas worth investing in to help drive that direct business include:

  1. Improve your website's speed. Google increasingly pays attention to speed in its ranking algorithms. They've explicitly stated that in a blog post. The key takeaway: Slows sites simply won't rank. Guest behaviors show the same thing, with bounce rates climbing as page load times increase. We've reached a world where instant gratification isn't fast enough. Look at investing in a proper CDN and getting your tech team to improve your website's code to lower load times and improve the guest experience.
  2. Switch to HTTPS. Security represents another critical aspect improving ranking within search engines. Google Chrome now highlights insecure sites and data suggests that if you're site isn't using HTTPS today, you're hurting your ranking — and your opportunity for sales along with it.
  3. Ensure an outstanding mobile experience. Mobile accounts for more than half of all pageviews online. And Google split its index into two this year, ranking your site's mobile and desktop experiences separately. Given how many guests use mobile as their primary device when browsing and booking hotels, a poor mobile experience tells Google and guests alike that you're not interested in their business.
  4. Invest in content. Finally, when it comes to the web, content is, was, and always shall be king. A fast, secure, mobile-friendly web experience won't matter if your content doesn't help guests understand what makes your hotel the right choice for their next stay. Talk with your guest-facing personnel to understand the questions your guests ask most frequently, then invest in text, images, and video to answer those questions for your site visitors too.

Continue improving connectivity. Metasearch continues to grow as an option for attracting guests and driving direct bookings. Do your connectivity partners help you reach the right guests, not only on Kayak, TripAdvisor, and Trivago, but also on Google Hotel Ads too?

Don't just preach rate parity, practice it. Your guests often know more about your products, services, and, crucially, prices than many of your employees. They have more incentive to. After all, they're the ones taking — and paying for — the trip. And metasearch makes it even easier for your guests to find the information they need. Rate parity ensures your direct channels have an equal shot at converting visits to revenue. By the same token, rate disparity causes two problems:

  1. Guest might find a lower price for your property through a more expensive channel, and, even worse…
  2. They might find a different hotel altogether while shopping around.

Don't teach guests to shop around for a better rate. Provide clear and consistent pricing across your channels to connect with the guest and convert them to a long-term advocate for your property.

Become best friends with your data. Your guests provide you enormous amounts of data before and during their stay. Spend some time next year on getting that data into shape so that you can deploy AI, predictive analytics, and personalization more readily as those tools mature. OTA's and intermediaries such as Google have invested in learning all they can about your guests. It's time you do the same. Relatively low-cost tools like Google BigQuery and its competitors can help you get your data in one place and use it to better understand your guests. Make some time this year to get to know your data better so that you can spend next year getting to know your guests better. Obviously, you'll need to pay attention to privacy too — as Facebook's struggles over the past year illustrate. But, in either case, data matters this year and demands your attention.

Don't forget the on-property mobile experience. Many guests today would rather leave home without deodorant than leave their phones behind. Think about how you can help them put those devices to use to improve the guest experience and grow your business to boot. Already Expedia has taken steps to get deeper into the guest journey, such as with its investment in Alice. We're already fighting to keep bookings; don't cede the on-property experience to OTA's too. Whether through on-property messaging, mobile keys, or simply improved Wifi, look to integrate the mobile experience and the on-property experience for guests during each stay — and help them remember why you should be their first choice for their next stay too.

Now these are just of few of the hotel marketing tech trends you want to watch in the coming year. Of course, you need to remember that even the best marketing technology won’t save you from a bad hotel marketing strategy. But these should point you in the right direction and give you a great place to start.


If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

Tim Peter

By

July 31, 2018

There Are Two Ways To Grow Hotel Direct Business. One Of Them Has A Future

July 31, 2018 | By | No Comments

Grow Hotel Direct Business: Guest searching for hotel reservations Looking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


Here we are in mid-2018, gearing up for our 2019 budget season, and once again everyone’s talking about how important it is to grow hotel direct business and get guests to book direct. Brands are putting increased emphasis on loyalty — or at least on offering heavily discounted rates to guests willing to sign up for their loyalty program. Individual hotels are touting their best rate guarantees — or offering heavily discounted rates… Are you sensing a theme here?

In truth, all this is great. Seriously. I’m absolutely in favor of driving direct business. But too often it’s focused on the booking. And on discounting. We’re spending money to buy the booking. Why aren’t we willing to invest to buy interest earlier in the process? We’ve become so focused on the booking, we sometimes forget how to talk to guests before they’re ready to book.

It’s time to change that reality.

Why OTA’s are Winning

One study shows that guests who start their booking journey on an OTA reserve through OTA’s around 93% of the time. Meaning that guests who start on an OTA will choose to book direct only about 7 times out of 100. By contrast, guests who start on a branded website book direct about 60% of the time (though, admittedly, they may not always choose your property to book direct).

To put it more plainly, guests can’t book direct, ever, if they don’t come to your property or brand website at some point while shopping for travel. Period.

So where’s the investment in attracting guests to visit early in their decision-making process — the dream and plan phases, not just when they’re ready to book.

Think of it this way. A 150-room property selling for $130/night and running at 64% occupancy with an 18% OTA margin — all roughly average in the current market — typically surrenders about $100,000 in topline revenue to OTA’s. How many have demonstrated the willingness to invest a healthy share of that amount in content creation to attract guests early in their browsing, shopping, buying activity? We’ve said for years that content is king; shouldn’t we be more willing to invest in it?

By contrast, that same representative property will generate roughly $900,000 in revenue through its website (assuming industry-average 20% website revenue and giving no credit to web for voice or walk-in). If you include voice and property-direct, those numbers roughly double. How much are you willing to invest to drive that number higher? Would $50k sound too expensive? Remember, that’s still half what you’re already paying OTA’s.

Content Marketing Matters for Hotels

Does this sound crazy to you? Well, here’s a crazy idea for you: Google has announced a new program that brings a professional video director to your business to shoot a video advertisement. The price tag? $350 in YouTube advertising. That’s it. The search giant clearly understands what customers want; those customers literally tell Google what’s important to them millions of times every single day. Do you think Google might know something useful here about customer behavior?

Guests are starved for content about your property, your destination — the attractions, events, shops, festivals, concerts, entertainment and businesses near to you. And the first rule of selling travel to consumers remains “sell the destination first.” Research from Google shows that travelers tend to start their travel planning by searching destination-related terms. This is a huge opportunity to attract guests to you early in their planning, place your property at the center of their consideration set, and then turn them into reservations. But only if you’re willing to make the investment.

Growing Direct Business — Conclusion

Budget season is right around the corner. It’s time to start thinking about where to put your money, where to invest to grow your business next year. This isn’t about building a new website or finding a new booking engine or — heaven help us — planning for a new “closed user group” you can sell your property to more cheaply. This is about investing in “the painting” — your property’s content — not just “the frame.” It’s about telling a story designed to attract and capture interest from potential guests. It’s about getting them to start their journey with your hotel in mind.

Or you could just continue to pay “loyalty” programs and OTA’s and intermediaries to do that for you — to you — again. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Hotel News Now, where Tim Peter writes a regular column for the magazine’s Digital Tech Impact Report.

 

Tim Peter

By

April 24, 2018

Great Marketing Technology Won’t Save You From a Bad Hotel Marketing Strategy

April 24, 2018 | By | One Comment

Looking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


Great hotel marketing tech won't save you from a bad hotel marketing strategy: Team planning hotel marketing strategy

I don’t know about you, but I’m so done hearing about the tech that will save the day for hoteliers. Another topic enters our lexicon of trending terms that will undoubtedly “…break the backs of intermediaries and upstarts” virtually every single day. You could call them the ABC’s of disappointment: AI, blockchain, chatbots and a host of other technological marvels that claim they’ll completely upend the status quo and return hotel marketers to their rightful place at the top of the mountain. Just recently, Airbnb announced it will now accept — for a modest fee — hotel listings alongside your nephew’s spare air mattress and those undersold condos down the block.

Whoop-dee-doo.

Now, don’t let my snark suggest that these are all bad ideas. I believe most of these platforms and technologies offer opportunities to improve how we connect with guests. AI already plays an enormous role in shaping how we find, attract, and convert customers not just in the future, but today. Blockchain represents an exciting foundational technology that may disrupt business every bit as much as the internet has. Chatbots offer the potential for guests to access information they need in simple spoken language while reducing the heavy overhead associated with contact centers (though, admittedly, not without introducing some substantial overhead of its own). Even the Airbnb announcement likely represents an effective, low-cost distribution channel for your unused hotel inventory.

Those all are positive developments, ones you should put to work for your property. But only when and where appropriate.

The reality is that we’ve got to stop pretending that some mythical, magical event exists — can exist — that will disrupt OTA’s, restore sanity to inventory and yield management, and return hotel owners and operators to their rightful place atop the distribution landscape. There’s no silver bullet here. As stated so eloquently in a recent television commercial, “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.”

The only way you regain control of your distribution and marketing is to, y’know, take control of your distribution and marketing. It’s to take the time to understand the changing needs and behaviors of guests, to uncover the best sources of revenue and profitability for your property, to focus on providing guests differentiated service, and to develop a comprehensive hotel marketing strategy that connects those with effective processes for finding, attracting and converting customers to loyal, repeat business for your hotel.

You’ll see any number of sources out there selling FUD — Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt — around whatever the sexy tech du jour happens to be. “You’re not using [insert their propriety platform or process]?!?” they’ll say, aghast at your lack of knowledge (or, more likely, aghast at the fact you’ve yet to cut them a check). “Oh, no. Well, I guess you can survive in this environment without it, but, I’d hate to see where you end up if not.”

That’s not helpful. It increases confusion, decreases understanding, and only really helps those selling services that way. More importantly, it diverts you from building and following an effective plan. Don’t listen to that. Instead, listen to your guests. Learn what matters to them throughout their journey. Then use only the technologies that help you improve their overall experience.

Yes, it can be fun to play with new tech. And your plan should accommodate testing new ideas, new channels, and new opportunities. But if you’re constantly chasing the, quote-unquote, latest and greatest, without integrating those into a thoughtful, holistic hotel marketing strategy, you’re really just chasing your own tail.

So, sure, listen to what’s happening with technology. Understand how it affects guests throughout their journey and how it can help you create a positive experience for your guests. But keep your carts and horses in the right order; use technology to support your overall strategy, not in place of that strategy. After all, when you take care of your guests, helping them throughout their journey, meeting their needs, that’s where the real magic happens.

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success:

Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Hotel News Now, where Tim Peter writes a regular column for the magazine’s Digital Tech Impact Report.

Tim Peter

By

March 28, 2018

How Will Facebook’s Data Scandal Impact Hotel Marketers?

March 28, 2018 | By | No Comments

Looking to drive results for your business? Click here to learn more.


What Facebook's Data Scandal Means for Hotel Marketers

I’ve long been an advocate of the hotel marketers using social media to benefit their properties. In a post that asked, “Is Social a Waste of Time for Hotel Marketers?” I wrote:

“…booking provider eviivo… offers independent hotels and B&B’s pretty terrible advice. Their claim? Quoting Travolution here, “social media has negligible impact on hotel bookings.” And someone’s done the research, so it must be true, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong in fact…

Social media marketing is not a waste of time for hotel marketers when you do it correctly. Neither are OTA’s. Or search. Or email. Or… well, you get the point. They each play a role to help your guest choose your property when they’re ready to book. When you choose your channels appropriately and manage your resources effectively you’ll find that you rarely waste time. And that your business performs well, too.

I doubled down on that sentiment when making the case for social as your hotel’s “secret sales force,” noting the powerful role that social plays when guests tell a positive story about your brand to their friends, family, fans, and followers on social. As that column noted,

According to Nielsen, most people trust the recommendations they receive from their friends and family on social. And on average each of your guests connects with roughly 200 friends and family on Facebook and other social media. Your existing guests offer you a trusted connection with these potential customers.

Just consider the math for a moment. Let’s say you’re responsible for a 100 room hotel, that runs at 60% occupancy and hosts 1.4 guests per room each night. That’s almost 31,000 guests per year that you can put to work telling your brand story. Which, y’know, is a lot of people. And, even using conservative numbers about how many friends each has on social media, those 31,000 guests can reach millions of other potential guests on your behalf …”

Of course, all that was before Facebook’s disastrous week. Two separate scandals in the last week — so far — about the consumer data that the social media giant captured, used, and shared with marketing partners have suddenly led to campaigns encouraging users to #DeleteFacebook.

Folks like Elon Musk took this message to heart, deleting his company’s Facebook pages between the announcement of the first and second Facebook scandals. And that’s in addition to the 2.8 million young users who beat #DeleteFacebook to the punch by abandoning the platform last year.

So, what does this mean for hotel marketers? Should you #DeleteFacebook too?

Will Facebook’s problems change how hotels use social media?

As much fun as it might be to join the chorus calling for Facebook’s demise, the question isn’t “Will Facebook’s problems change how hotels use social media?” The bigger, more important question is, “Will Facebook’s problems change how guests use social media?”

If the answer to that is “yes,” then the decision of what you should do as a marketer is straightforward.

Except for exceedingly rare cases, you probably didn’t start using Facebook while it was restricted to college campuses — not just because because you couldn’t, but because there was no good reason why you would. Your customers simply weren’t there then.

And, as ever, you must watch where your customers go on this one, too. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t take a principled stand. If you genuinely believe Facebook hurts society — that they’re the only bad actor here — then I certainly won’t criticize you for following your conscience and deleting your hotel’s Facebook presence.

I suspect the reality is a trifle more complicated though. Yes, Facebook definitely used consumer data in ways that customers didn’t understand, sometimes because Facebook made it difficult to understand — and sometimes because they made it difficult to choose a better option to protect your data if you did understand it. That’s… not good. They should be held to account for these actions and offer — ideally on their own, but by regulatory oversight if necessary — better controls and protections for consumers.

They’ve also executed — and, frankly, continue to execute — one of the worst public relations responses to a crisis of this magnitude I’ve seen in a while. For a company that facilitates communication, they’re remarkably bad at communicating. They keep trying to frame the problem as one where a few bad guys broke the rules instead of acknowledging the fundamental breach of trust between the company and its customers. Plenty of lessons there worth learning.

It’s also true that Facebook is hardly the only guilty party here. Their practice of collecting call data on Android phones worked because Android’s parent Google allowed it to work. Do we know who else captured similar data and for what purposes? Has Google acknowledged how many consumers have had their data exposed? Or what happened to all the data after Google changed its policy? I’m not aware of any public answers to those questions. And yet I haven’t run across a #DeleteGoogle campaign so far. And, if I had, would you be willing to dump the search giant from your hotel marketing plan? Could you if you wanted to?

Worse, these scandals are likely far from over. I’d expect at least a few more shoes to drop before we find our way to a “new normal” — at this point I’ll be more surprised if another scandal doesn’t emerge.

So, what should you do in the meantime?

How should hotel marketers respond to Facebook’s troubles?

Best practices suggest taking a measured response that minimizes risk to you, and more importantly your guests, while not giving up on what’s working today. Review the following points as you plan your response to the situation:

  • Avoid collecting any data on Facebook that you’re not already gathering. It’s possible this drags on for months or years, complete with congressional committees subjecting Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandburg, and other Facebook functionaries to public confessions and the floggings that follow. It’s also entirely possible this blows over in a couple months as some new, more juicy scandal attracts media and mainstream attention. I mean, it’s not like there’s some crazy story coming out every day that distracts people from the crazy story that happened the day before. But when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging. Facebook is in a hole; there’s no need to grab a shovel and jump in with them. More plainly, don’t give their critics a reason to come looking for you too. We’ll have a much better sense of where things stand soon. This is a time for patience.
  • Don’t automatically stop what you’re doing today. All that said, unless you have reason to believe you’re doing something customers will hate, you’re likely fine with keeping your current activities in place. Again, this is a time for patience.
  • Keep an eye on your Facebook presence’s performance. Let’s assume the #DeleteFacebook campaign steamrolls towards success and consumers start abandoning the social network en masse. Should you immediately cut your losses and jump ship too? Probably… not. It doesn’t matter how many users Facebook has. It matters who those users are. If your guests continue to use Facebook, you probably need to continue to engage with them there. By the same token, keep a close eye on what’s happening with the reach and engagement your hotel’s posts receive. Look for signs that show how your customers are reacting — or not — to Facebook’s struggles. And, just like you should do with any channel, react accordingly to the reality, not the rumor.
  • While you’re at it, examine your own data practices. Facebook’s day of reckoning offers a warning to all marketers about the dangers of data collection. Consumers clearly care more about the risks in “free” services like Facebook than they did just a few weeks ago. Yes, this could blow over. But the more likely outcome is that they approach all marketers with a greater degree of skepticism about what data gets collected, by whom, and how it gets used. So be upfront with your customers about the data you collect and how you use it. The coming GDPR regulations require this, by the way, so you may as well get on board before regulators everywhere require it. Conduct a serious data audit and ask yourself whether you even need all the data you collect. Ultimately, you want to demonstrate to your guests you’re a trusted partner looking out for their best interests, ideally by being a trusted partner looking out for their best interests.

Conclusion

Clearly, Facebook is taking its lumps right now, both for its actions and for its woeful response to the situation. But despite the best efforts of the #DeleteFacebook campaign, nothing suggests that guests are abandoning the platform in large numbers. That could change at any time.

Your best bet is to ensure you’re doing right by your customers and their data. Ensure you’re acting in an ethical manner and, as is often the case for hoteliers, acting in the best interests of your guests. Make it easy for customers to understand the data you use and what you use it for. Keep track of how your customers are responding to the Facebook scandal to see if the social platform continues to provide value for your hotels — or if it’s time to find a better option.

And, as ever, continue to dig past the headlines of these stories. We’re undoubtedly going to see more of these issues in the weeks and months ahead. Knowing how to respond today is useful; knowing how to respond in the future is vital.

Social media likely will continue in a key role for hotel marketers, Facebook’s missteps notwithstanding. The key for you is how continue you make it work as you — and your customers — move into a new normal. Because failing to listen to customer concerns and respond to those appropriately — regardless of whether Facebook is involved or not — would be the real scandal.

If you’re looking to learn even more about how changing customer behavior will shape your marketing going forward, be sure an register to receive a special report I’ve produced in conjunction with hotel marketing firm Vizergy, “Digital Hotel Marketing in a Multiscreen World.” While it’s targeted specifically at hotel and resort marketers, the lessons apply to just about any business. You can get your free copy of the report here.

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Finally, you might enjoy some of these past posts from Thinks to help you build your e-commerce strategy and your digital success: