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The Blog Bonanza

Blogs may be the oldest form of social media, but they've been underutilized. Until now.

Monday, June 22, 2009
Caryn Eve Murray
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Hotels' form of self-expression have been getting downright personal.

It is no longer sufficient for hotels to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, three popular but somewhat different means of social networking. Now some hospitality scribes have begun making dutiful entries online, “Dear Diary”-style. But in this case their diary is not just an open book but - in keeping with the computer age - an open blog.

Formerly viewed largely as a vehicle for individuals’ indulgent self-absorption or revelations, blogs are now maturing as the next big marketing tool in the social networking portfolio. The call to blog was so strong, in fact, for Embassy Suites that earlier this year the Hilton brand took its pre-existing Web site, businessbalance.com, and gave it a makeover. Businessbalance.com debuted in blog format this past spring, harnessing the talents of freelance bloggers who, each in their own way, address work-life issues that often challenge Embassy Suites’ business travelers: fitness and health, food, family life, managing stress and travel strategies.

“The perception has been in the past, and rightly so, 20 percent of the people on blogs account for 80 percent of the content, “said John Lee, vice president of marketing for Embassy Suites. “They were always talking about themselves and there wasn’t much real content folks could really use. We see that changing. And if it is managed correctly, we can see a lot of benefit.” Having third-party experts “gives the brand a little credibility, some third-party endorsement. It is not that Embassy Suites is saying you should be doing this. It is people like Jane and Michael Stern [the authors of ‘Roadfood’] who are updating the content for us.”

Lee said the Sterns and other bloggers hired for businessbalance.com help “extend our brand presence on line” by virtue of the subjects they advise on. It is a way for Embassy Suites to build a meaningful relationship with its return guests and would-be guests. “Most business travel is about performance,” said Lee, “and if that is true, the other question is how can a hotel brand enhance performance and be a performance enabler? There are three things we learned: a good night’s sleep, a healthy start to the day as a good breakfast and some kind of moderate exercise during the week. That is going to set you up better.” Give the advice on the blog, then – and at each of the properties, help deliver the fulfillment of those goals.

Most importantly, said Lee, “we don’t try to sell anyone anything. They are smarter than that. If they have a relationship with the brand because of this cool Web site, the bookings will take care of themselves. ..If we can grow share of heart, share of wallet will follow.”

Blogs are, for the most part, still uncharted territory in the hospitality industry, even though they predate the now-well-trod other social media now crammed with hotels and motels among their ranks. Unlike the realtime interactivity of Twitter, blogs can offer shelf (or screen) life, with the posts archiving for reference again later.

“There are more or less only a handful of blogs from hotels,” said Kent Lewis, whose Anvil Media is the marketing consultant for the Provenance group of boutique hotels. Marriott International’s chairman and CEO Bill Marriott was something of a pioneer when he launched his interactive blog about two years ago, said Lewis, “and then only the big guys were the ones doing it.” But Provenance was already getting its blog act together offline with the goal of establishing a blog foothold for three of the brand’s five properties.

The first goal, said Lewis, was to optimize visibility on search engines. “But we also looked at developing content relevant to our clients because they carry our torch. We had to have writing specific to the voice and the content of each of those markets.” To do that, Lewis made sure each hotel could generate its own blog, in its own voice, with its own staffers generating content.

Thus the blog, “On the Set,” evolved for the Hotel deLuxe in downtown Portland, OR, in early 2007, with news and other details about the film industry, film festivals and many things Hollywood-related. The biggest summer excitement – as seen on the blog – is the hotel’s rooftop film festival scheduled for July.

In Nashville, the Hotel Preston has been blogging its heart out since the autumn of 2007. “The Sounding Board” is a music-centric collection of posts. “It is what is unique to the vibe of the Preston,” said Lewis. The blog embraces the Grand Ole Opry, the CMA Music Festival and the Country Music Hall of Fame, and mixes its posts with specifics about the Preston, a hotel in the center of that music mix.

“You’re talking about adding value to the community,” said Lewis. “We treat it like a publication, somewhere between news stories and anecdotes, fun things, interesting things.”

Good writing has a particularly long history at the Newagen Seaside Inn near Maine’s Boothbay Harbor. Jason Schlosser, innkeeper, is quick to point out that writer and ecologist Rachel Carson was a summer guest there in the 1960s, and wrote portions of her landmark works, “Silent Spring” and “The Edge of the Sea”, while seeking respite and inspiration on the Maine coast.

“We are committed to this process,” said Schlosser, who said the blog went online 18 months ago. It now boasts videos and photos (some sent in by guests) and lots of tips about vacation-planning, wedding-planning and sightseeing, in Maine and in general.

“I find it challenging as an innkeeper to post on a regular basis,” said Schlosser, the principal blog author, “but I enjoy the creative side and it is an opportunity to promote other businesses locally. It has been a bit of a bridge-builder for us, with other businesses, and an excellent PR tool.”

It is also a bit of a history lesson for some who, happening upon the blog’s post of late August 2008, follow a link to a letter Rachel Carson wrote a friend nearly 40 years earlier. In that September 10, 1963, letter, which was to become her last missive from the inn, Carson herself becomes a blogger of sorts, too, writing about the nature of mortality, as reflected in the monarch butterflies seen that summer at the inn.

As such, the blog is indeed more an open book than a diary. “The blog is more about our customers than it is about me,” said Schlosser. “I have seen a lot of blogs about hotels and it is all about them. Who wants that? One of my favorite hotels is in Quebec City and when I go to their site I want to read about the artifacts, the archaeological digs, the food and culture of Quebec City.”

The inn, then, is a starting point for the blog, rather than an endpoint. “And it is continuing to evolve. I don’t know if we have arrived yet.”
Credit
Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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RE: The Blog Bonanza article link
Thank you for the reminder of what good business blogs can and should be! That blogs do have a longer shelf-life than other social media is indeed cause to not overlook this marketing platform.
Posted by: Ms. Frances Conklin
6/22/2009

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