Online Visual Reputation

Online visual reputation today is all about the images and video you feature online to tell your brand story and underscore your value proposition to the world. Everyone’s gone visual at the same time that customers are time starved and text weary. Forrester Research reports that a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. The bottom line is, most people will skip reading marketing copy if they can instead learn about your brand through photos, virtual tours and other video productions. This article offers proven techniques for building a strong online visual reputation.

Building a Strong Online Visual Reputation:  A Look at the Hotel Industry

Searching the word “hotel” on YouTube, got me nearly 3 million results. That same effort on Flickr delivered over 6 million images. Some of your hotel’s content is in that mix, which is a good thing. But just because your property uploaded a video to YouTube or posted images on Flickr doesn’t mean you have a social media campaign that will grow your business.

Beautiful images and short, clever video segments, like this one from the Mandarin Oriental Hotels, helps set guest expectations. Here are some action items you’ll want to move on if you haven’t already:

  • Set Up YouTube and Flickr Accounts

YouTube and Flickr are your friends and will help your hotel build a strong online visual reputation. Start a library of photos and videos for sharing. Once you’ve established a diverse collection of content, place widgets on your website and other marketing collateral to let guests know where they can find your content online.

  • Show the People and the Passion Behind Your Great Brand

Who will be the subjects of your videos and images? Forget stock photography, that’s cold and impersonal. Your customers are more interested in seeing and hearing from the real people that will shape their guest experience. Think about involving members of your team. Look around, you might have a James Beard award winning chef, a doorman that has been with you for more than 30 years, or an outstanding associate you want to show off. Spotlight your staff in your marketing collateral and social media campaigns. One thing’s for sure, we’ve all got to get more comfortable being in front of the lens.

  • A Cautionary Note: Don’t Make Photography and Video an Afterthought

When you put together your marketing plans and budget, give thought to your photography and videography needs, especially when you’re promoting a hotel opening, renovation, or new feature like a spa. In these instances, don’t cut corners. Work with the best if you want your multi million-dollar investment to pay off. An experienced hotel photographer or videographer that knows how to capture the specialness of your property is worth their weight in gold.

  • Empower Your Team To Contribute Visual Content

Amateur photos and videos produced by your associates can be highly effective and add important texture to your video mix. Their images and voices humanize your brand. This approach works particularly well in large hotel companies where it’s harder to communicate your specialness and unique location. Facebook walls, hotel blogs and of course your YouTube channel are great settings for this hotel-spun content.

Sources of Online Content

Let’s consider sources of online content for a moment. It’s easiest to look at online content as falling into one of two buckets. The first bucket is user generated content. This includes the images and videos that are fed to the web by those outside of your company, and adds authenticity to your brand value. The other bucket is where we find brand generated content. This includes images and video fed to the web by the company itself and contributes accuracy to your online reputation, allowing you to put your best foot forward.

For maximum control of your brand image online, your strategy should be to feed the web with a steady stream of your own visual content. This helps boost your rankings on search engines, outpace user-generated content, and increase the likelihood prospects will find and see your branded collateral first.

Monitor Your Online Visual Content

Type your brand’s name into a search engine and then click on images, what do you see? Now do the same thing and click on video, what can you watch? If you’re managing your online visual reputation, you’ll find a healthy balance of user-generated and brand-generated content.

Monitoring your online visual content is just as important as monitoring online reviews. Media content is growing exponentially, so be sure the brand monitor tool you use does an excellent job of reporting on your online visual reputation.

Customers Crave Pictures

People want to see accurate photos before they engage a brand. Nothing gets them angrier faster than feeling like they’ve been fooled. This can happen when a website’s images don’t reflect the customer experience. Unhappy customers will flock to review sites, share their experiences, and contribute negatively to your ranking.

Oyster.com has gained traction with traveling consumers. They promote the message that some hotels can’t be trusted, and warn consumers about vulnerability to “photo fake-outs”. Ratings-seeking national news programs overplayed this theme this winter by producing story segments that further encouraged consumers to turn to 3rd party sites to learn about and book hotel rooms. This is not a good trend for the hospitality industry, and action is needed to build trust and report with our customers in the online space to reverse this pattern.

Consider Your Website

Be ever transparent in showing what you have to offer, and never mislead. For example, if you are a hotel, don’t hide the fact that your property has views of a major department store. Instead, promote the fact that visitors gain easy access to premium shopping venues. During their stay you can deliver extra value through co-branded offerings with your neighbors. You get the idea. In today’s world, there’s simply no hiding or sugar coating the facts. Be straightforward about what you offer, and you’ll go a long way to build trust with your audience.

For your next website refresh, take to heart the reality that guests don’t read much anymore. Work on downsizing the amount of copy and upsizing the amount of images. Your goal is to create a media rich experience that takes viewers from thinking to feeling. Without a doubt, high quality, accurate pictures will sell your hotel.

Broadcast Your Hotel to the World

Video is the king of communicators and next to in person encounters, video is the next best thing for connecting with a guest. Cisco reports that in 2008 video represented 21% of all data flowing over the Internet. That is forecasted to reach 91% by 2013.

Hotels building a diverse video mix on their YouTube channel are moving in the right direction. Properties can use video in so many ways. For example, announce hotel openings, present brand portfolio news, show how you give back or go green, highlight associates good works, promote specials and seasonal offers, and share financial performance with investors. A word to the wise, edit your videos and know that shorter is always better. I’m a big fan of the two-minute video.

Tips for Balancing User and Brand Generated Content

Here are some things you can do to keep a healthy balance between user and brand generated content:

(1) Put someone in charge of capturing images and video for your brand, and give them the time and resources to develop your presence on YouTube and Flickr. Also, actively cross-pollinate this media content to your other social posts. In this way, you make it easy for others to share your content and spread the good news on you.

(2) Seek to positively influence user-generated content with well-designed social media campaigns that engage guests. Offer incentives, such as “the couple that submits the best wedding video featuring our hotel gets to stay free on their one year anniversary.”

(3) Engage customers in two way dialogue whenever possible. When you receive or discover online visual content from a customer, acknowledge and thank them. Upload your favorite user generated clips to your YouTube channel. If the content reflects unfavorably, don’t ignore it. You need to follow up with that person just as you would with an unfavorable written review.

(4) If having maximum control is all-important to you and you’re less comfortable with user generated content, be prepared to spend extra time, money and resources to outpace user-generated content with your own collateral. In this way, you tip the SEO scale in your favor and gain more control over the message by dominating the online space visually.

The Mobile Media Experience Ahead

As you strengthen your online reputation with images and video, be thinking about your mobile marketing strategy too. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2010 to 2015, two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2015. And, mobile video traffic is projected to more than double every year between 2010 and 2015. After you’ve worked hard to gather and create visual content on your hotel, you want to make sure it is seen on every device.

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