Ms. Lutz

Social Media & Relationship Marketing

Hotels: How to Communicate Effectively with Blogs

By Didi Lutz, President, Didi Lutz PR

Blogs (traditionally called Web Logs): A fairly recent type of medium, created at will for sharing news, opinions and information. Hotels are slowly beginning to realize the importance of these authoritarian online outlets that are taking the Internet by storm with postings of accurate and sometimes very inaccurate information. The worst of it is, blogs are most times not objective and heavily biased sources of news, but since they are so widespread they become an alarming concern. It is no surprise why PR professionals should keep this emerging type of media on their radar screens to protect the branding and image of their clients.

What is posted on a blog?

Blogs can be created at any time, and by anyone for whatever reason. The blog content could cover a particular interest or subject, and in some cases the subject is an organization. Pertaining to the travel industry, there are hundreds of travel blogs that talk about experiences in hotels and do not hesitate to become specific. Participants name everything about a travel experience, from the property's features to stories about specific managers and staff that either made a stay better or worse. These types of blogs resemble routinely updated online diaries that feature links to news and stories and even personal websites.

Who creates blogs?

Almost all blogs are hosted by a single person who is referred to as the Blogger. The majority of these self-proclaimed gurus are usually just Internet fans whose goal is to bring their individual views and ideas to the online environment in the form of dialogue. However, other bloggers can be leading industry experts, writers or journalists who create similar forums (blogs) just to express their opinions freely without the rules and constraints of editors, as it would in a newspaper or magazine. In that respect, blogs provide the ultimate freedom of speech in the online world, making it challenging for public relations professionals to recognize inaccurate information and react to it in time.

Blogs and Public Relations

I remember a couple of years ago when one of the items on my checklist was to perform an internet search for the hotel I was working for, to monitor online presence and performance. It didn't take long to notice a couple of local web logs (or blogs) discussing the hotel in an unfavorable manner, but without presenting any facts. As it later turned out, these bloggers had never even been to the hotel, and were just creating opinions of things they had heard or randomly thought of. This was obviously an example of negative publicity that needed to be contained at once. Since I could not appeal with a traditional letter to the editor, I had to approach the "bloggers" directly, and since the postings were recent I figured I had a good chance to respond effectively. Therefore, I decided to have the GM invite both bloggers to come to the hotel for a site visit, so that we could show them the features and explain our vision. They accepted the invitation and after their visit the blogs were nothing but positive, and my relationship with them today has grown into a great business friendship.

Pitching blogs with information about a hotel is challenging because this medium is still so new. Unlike magazines and newspapers, blogs are purely opinion based, and the outcome of the pitch could go either way. One of the most important things a publicist can do before pitching a blogger is to carefully read and monitor the blog to make sure it is appropriate to approach. In contrast to the beat reporters at typical media outlets, bloggers are unconventional when choosing their blog's subject matter. In order to communicate with a blogger, a publicist should present the pitch as a conversation starter. To do this effectively, a publicist must be very familiar with the interests of the blogger.

Many of my clients ask me if I think TripAdvisor is a blog, but it is not. It has many characteristics of a blog but it is not hosted by one individual, but rather by random online users. It is very effective and has influenced the travel world immensely, as more and more potential travelers choose to check out what others have to say about a specific hotel before booking a stay. There is no way to control a website like TripAdvisor, nor its popularity rankings, other than prompting your guests to post a review on the website after ensuring an enjoyable stay.

With hotel and travel blogs, PR professionals have the ability to approach and influence the blogger and get the right message across. Most bloggers do not have experience with being "pitched to" by publicists, so when communicated as a friendly email "conversation," the message will be understood.

It is crucial not to spam bloggers with e-newsletters or other e-mail blasts, because those tend to aggravate them. Instead, it is more effective to research information about them to understand what their respective interests are, etc. It is not advisable to ask bloggers to link to your hotel's website or a press release, because they are sensitive about becoming go-betweens for other organizations. It is important to remember that blogs are an open form of communication presenting personal opinions, and this idea is exactly what prompted bloggers to start "blogging." However, having said that, a lot of them are currently selling advertising space.

And this is a great way to establish a good relationship.

Blogs and Advertising

Many PR professionals choose to advertise on blogs that pertain to their organization and/or industry. Usually the cost of web banners on blogs is relatively inexpensive and the price varies with how popular the blogs is, how many unique visitors is attracts and other factors. Securing an ad placement is great way to establish a relationship with a blogger; while it does not guarantee that your message will always make it through, you at least have some peace of mind that bloggers will be on your "good" side.

I generally do not advise my clients to buy ad space in order to secure editorial placements, because I think that if a message is crafted correctly it will eventually reach the proper channels. But with this non-traditional, non-editorial medium, maintaining a good relationship is almost necessary, and when good information does not always make it through the gates, other forms of communication may. At least until the blog reaches a more concrete format, occasional advertising is definitely an option to influence bloggers.

Proactive Strategy

Since blogs are still developing their form, undertaking a proactive approach is the best way to manage the communication. Here are some tips:

Finally, the blog revolution is here to stay... and these opinion-filled online forums will become increasingly vital to the news media environment. As hotel professionals we need to practice what we do best to manage these authoritarian forums: Research, Anticipate, Take Action.

Didi Lutz is an internationally acclaimed hospitality public relations professional specializing in boutique hotels, luxury travel, destination and tourism communications. Prior to starting her own business in February 2005, Ms. Lutz was the Director of Communications for the Hotel Commonwealth, a 150-room luxury property in Boston. Within the first year of the Hotel Commonwealth's opening, she established the media relationship that led to worldwide recognition for the property as one of Ten Best New Business Hotels by Forbes.com. Ms. Lutz can be contacted at 561-628-7422 or didi.lutz@gmail.com Extended Bio...

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