I’m very happy to have been asked to work on this inaugural column. Much has changed recently in the independent property landscape, especially in regard to marketing. We’ve gone from a predominantly print paradigm to the Internet, and now to mobile applications and social networking as important marketing methodologies.
While at the AH&LA Fall Conference in November, Yelp, the user-generated guide website, put on a very educational session about their online community. Why does it matter? Well, take a look at these statistics:
- 38 million monthly unique visitors
- Mean income of visitors is $105,560
- More than 37 percent are 45 or older, and more than 50 percent are between the ages of 25 and 44
- 70 percent have a graduate or post-graduate degree
Sounds like small property aficionados, doesn’t it?
Thirty years ago, what was the easiest way to get a recommendation on a great local business? Likely, such a recommendation would come from a friend or family member. Today, that word-of-mouth is shifting to the Internet, where online review websites have become increasingly popular. In fact, a recent study by Pew showed that three out of five Americans use online reviews to guide their spending decisions for products and services.
Yelp is the most popular online review website for local businesses. With more than 14 million reviews, it’s become an important tool for consumers to guide their spending decisions. Yelp allows businesses to create profiles and promote their business in its online database using the free features it offers. Yelp’s tools allow lodging establishment operators to respond to reviews, upload unlimited photos, create a rich description of the business, post special offers, announce events, and monitor traffic metrics, all at no cost.
By unlocking these free tools and building out a rich business listing, lodging establishment operators can capture the attention of potential guests and increase the chances of someone perusing reviews becoming a “head in the bed”. More importantly, it allows hoteliers to join the conversation about their business.
As Yelp is becoming an important channel to attract new customers, it’s prudent for hoteliers and B&B operators to get involved. Yelp makes this easy, by providing a way to claim free business tools. Getting started with these tools is easy; visit www.yelp.com/business for more information, and biz.yelp.com to perform a search for your lodging establishment and unlock your free business listing.
As an example of how far-reaching social networking efforts can be, I want to share with you Peggy Mosley’s story (Groveland Hotel near Yosemite National Park). Peggy had blogged and posted on several different sites about her property’s resident ghost, Lyle (a gold-miner who died in 1927). This friendly spirit was known for haunting the room he occupied for several years preceding his death—making it the most requested room! Peggy’s son called her up one Saturday this fall to tell her that her property and Lyle were featured in an ABC program. Peggy got a tremendous response from Lyle’s TV debut. The snowball effect Peggy experienced is one of many Internet success stories, and goes to show the true value of a broad spectrum blogging and social networking and the affect that can have on a business.
Another example: The Mast Farm Inn, a luxurious getaway in Valle Crucis, North Carolina, began networking on Facebook, and after 12 months, achieved more than 80,000 fans on 28 themed pages. Innkeeper Henri Deschamps says, “Today I have the feeling 25 percent of our business is Facebook generated”.
So get busy! Here is a suggestion: find a staff member who loves social networking for an easy introduction to this fascinating subject. The wide world of social networking is right at your fingertips, waiting to help you promote, grow and excel as a small business.
Pamela Lanier is the host of the award-winning websites Travelguides.com and LanierBB.com, and the author of The Complete Guide to Bed and Breakfasts, Inns and Guesthouses International, which has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. She can be reached at Pamela@travelguides.com