Pelland Blog

Advertising Messages That Generate Immediate Response

March 28th, 2014

Most advertising is intended to build long-term brand awareness and customer loyalty, factors that are not measurable in immediate sales numbers. At other times, advertising is intended to generate a more immediate short-term response. This is the kind of advertising that is typified by the weekly department store or supermarket circular, with a list of specific items and prices. For a campground owner, both types of advertising will work, although short-term offers are generally far more effective after long-term brand awareness has already kicked in.

Let’s say it’s a Thursday morning, and you have 8 vacant campsites and 2 rentals available for the upcoming weekend. Leaving them unoccupied is lost income, and it is time to spring into action. If your average camping fee is $40.00 per night and your cabin rentals are $80.00 per night, just those vacancies on a Friday and Saturday night represent $960.00 in income, prior to any residual sales in your store, snack bar, game room, and elsewhere.

There are many cost-effective ways to reach people who are likely to respond to your offers, including newsletters, Tweets, and Facebook posts. The prerequisite is that you need a significant number of newsletter subscribers or followers on social media like Twitter or Facebook. If few people see your message, even an extraordinarily high response rate will generate little in terms of actual results. For a small business, that magic minimum number is generally in the 800 – 1,000 person range. With those 8 sites and 2 rentals to book, if your message reaches 1,000 people, you only need to attain a very realistic 1% rate of response. Building a significant number of people who will be likely to respond to your offers takes a combination of time and ingenuity, with ingenuity speeding up the process.

Building Your Numbers

Your first step is to grow the numbers of people who are subscribing to your newsletter or following your social media posts. Build your newsletter base by asking people to opt in during the online reservation process, asking them to “join your list” when they visit your booth at camping shows (preferably in real time, providing them with a laptop or tablet with Internet access), and including a sign-up form on your website. On Facebook, give people an incentive to “like” your page (but do not use “fangating” to force them to like the page in order to obtain the incentive). Encourage your followers to “share” and “retweet” your posts, helping to spread your message. Facebook Advertising is a highly effective and fairly inexpensive way to expand your reach. Just be sure to choose your demographics very carefully and always pay per click, not per impression. Of course, links to your social media pages should always be prominently featured on your website.

Very importantly, once you have gotten people to agree to receive your newsletter or to follow your posts, you must not abuse nor squander that privilege. Always provide timely and useful information that answers the reader’s question, “What’s in it for me?” Engage your followers, and get them excited about what you have to say. That generally means that you are providing them with some sort of offer that makes them feel like an “insider” who is receiving special treatment. Ideally, they will like what they read so much that they will look forward to hearing from you on a regular basis. Incidentally, that “regular basis” should usually not exceed once or twice a month for newsletters, three times a week for Facebook posts, and once or twice a day for Tweets. On one hand, you want to keep in touch, in order to avoid being forgotten. On the other hand, you do not want to become like an elderly uncle who seems to visit so often that he wears out his welcome. You work too hard to build a base of followers to see them unsubscribe or “unlike” your page.

Crafting Messages with a Sense of Urgency

Once you have the numbers of people within reach, it is time to present your followers with messages that will generate the desired response. There are generally three ways to accomplish this:

  • “Use it or lose it” limited time offers.
  • Limited availability.
  • Special bonus incentives.

Vacancies “this weekend” definitely constitute limited time offers, and “only three sites available” represents limited availability. Limited time offers have been a staple of price/item advertising for decades. Retail sales always have expiration dates, with occasional exceptions such as JC Penney’s disastrous attempt at giving itself a makeover and “retraining” its customers back in 2012. Even auctions on eBay generally show last-minute surges in bidding in the closing minutes (and seconds) of the sale of a popular item. On the other hand, if you have purchased airline tickets recently, you may have noticed that the airlines will often indicate countdown numbers such as the “last 2 seats” (true or untrue) for a given flight. That is an example of generating sales based upon limited availability.

Perhaps even more effective are special bonus incentives. In fact, special bonus incentives can be remarkably effective when combined with either a limited time offer or limited availability. What kind of incentive could help to persuade people to reserve those vacant sites? Experiment with different offers to find ones that fit. Examples might include free early check-in (which costs you nothing), a free bundle of firewood (particularly popular with tent sites), waiving the fee for additional family members (within limits), or a free one-hour boat rental (during certain times when you know that your boats would likely be tied to a dock). Maybe list three bonus options, and let people choose the one that they want. It has been proven that there is always magic in giving people a choice of three.

Rich or poor, from all walks of life, every human being likes to get a deal … or at least be given that impression. Once again, your ingenuity comes into play to make your advertising message both compelling and successful. Give it a try!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Y’All Come Back Again!

March 8th, 2014

Anybody who has been in business for more than a month knows that it is far easier to get a repeat sale from an existing customer than it is to generate a new customer from scratch. As long as you provide a positive experience at the time of stay, and a first-time camper enjoys the company of his fellow guests, your main task is to simply invite him to return. Most of us have preferred “go to” businesses for almost everything in life. We do the bulk of our food shopping at one supermarket, have one favorite restaurant, and have a long list of preferred providers of a wide range of products and services – from auto mechanics to hair stylists, from dentists to cell phone service providers. What you want to become is the “go to” place for camping.

Catering to your existing clientele in order to generate repeat business is nothing new, but some businesses and industries have capitalized upon this concept better than others. For years, airlines have teamed up with credit card companies to offer frequent flyer programs, creating an unprecedented brand loyalty in a market that is otherwise highly price-sensitive. Supermarkets and pharmacy chains have reward cards that encourage repeat purchases and offer product discounts. Then, of course, is the highly competitive credit card industry itself. One thing that they almost all have in common is a plastic card that implies some sort of exclusivity and “membership”.

The Card Is the Key

Good Sam CardKOA Rewards Cards

The Good Sam Club and its accompanying card have been around for years. For as little as $22.00 per year, members get a 10% discount at participating Good Sam campgrounds, discounts on RV parts and accessories at Camping World, discounts on fuel purchases at Pilot and Flying J stations, and other less directly monetary benefits. KOA, on the other hand, offers its KOA Value Kard Rewards program. For $24.00 for the first year, participants get a 10% discount on registration fees at KOA campgrounds and earn points that can be redeemed for camping rewards. After earning 20,000 points, memberships are automatically upgraded to VIP status, which accelerates the earning of additional points. There are many other camping discount and membership rewards programs within the industry, including Passport America, Camp Club USA, and membership campgrounds like Thousand Trails. The latest player is the AmeriGO RV Club, offering the same sort of 10% discount on stays at affiliated campgrounds, along with other values, for an introductory annual membership fee of only $9.95.

To succeed at this concept, you do not need to belong to a group or a franchise. Your goal is simply to generate repeat business for your individual park. In fact, it may not be necessary to offer your customers a discount on registration fees to lure their repeat business. After all, if a 10% discount becomes too commonplace, it loses its perceived value altogether. Let’s look outside the camping industry to see how to make the customer rewards concept work as productively as possible.

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime is a membership program that the online marketing behemoth launched back in 2004. The $79.00 per year bundle offers free streaming of more than 40,000 movies and TV shows (which capitalize upon the bandwidth that Amazon has at its disposal – through its Amazon Web Services division, the world’s largest Internet hosting services provider), free e-books (which help to spur sales of its Kindle readers), and – most importantly – free 2-day shipping on unlimited purchases of millions, without a minimum order size. Bingo! Shipping costs have always been the biggest barrier to online commerce, with free shipping the means to dramatically increased sales.

According to a recent article in the online edition of Forbes Magazine, even with Amazon’s logistical efficiencies and exclusive volume discounts with UPS and FedEx, the company loses money on its Prime program. On the surface. With over 20 million members (many lured in by the free 30-day trial program during the checkout process at the time of purchase), the Amazon Prime program has created a “go to” mindset that makes Amazon the first (and presumably only) place for its members to order merchandise online. According to Amazon, over 1 million buyers joined the program during the third week of December 2013 alone. Most are attracted by the free shipping, and Amazon reaps the rewards.

According to a recent report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, the average Amazon Prime customer spent over $1,300.00 with Amazon.com last year, as opposed to the average Amazon customer who is not a member of the Prime program spending about $600.00. Amazon is continually willing to experiment with its program, currently contemplating an increase in the annual fee, while extending the concept into its Prime Fresh discount, same-day produce and grocery delivery program being tested in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

That’s Amazon.
What About Your Campground?

First of all, determine that you are already doing everything possible to generate repeat business before creating a rewards program. The following are prerequisites:

  • When guests check out, do you ask them if you can book their next stay? Right then, before they leave.
  • Do you maintain a database of your active customers? These are probably people who have camped with you within the past two or three years, flagging guests who have already stayed multiple times.
  • Are you maintaining an e-mail marketing program and a direct mail program to reach out to these key customers both prior to the season and during any slumps within the season? Even a simple (and inexpensive) postcard, summarizing your weekend activities and mailed out during the winter months (for campgrounds in the North), can trigger early event-based reservations.
  • Do you have social media programs in place, particularly on Facebook and Twitter? Engage your followers, and encourage them to become a part of upcoming events.

Only once those prerequisites have been covered is it time to consider launching a rewards program. When you are ready, give your concept some serious thought to ensure the maximum success.

  • Order professionally designed plastic cards. They cost far less than you may think, and they provide a tangible sense of membership and belonging.
  • Determine the annual fee that you will charge for your program. It is entirely conceivable that you could provide your program for free; however, I would strongly encourage a fee-based program that will at least cover your administrative costs and a portion of the anticipated income lost from the rewards that will be offered. On one hand, you do not want to discourage participation by charging too high a fee; on the other hand, keep in mind that a paid service will intuitively have greater perceived value than an identical free service. The perfect balance will be a fee that users feel they will easily recover while enjoying added benefits from the program.
  • Allow people to sign up for your rewards program, immediately obtaining benefits, at the time of reservation and at the time of registration. The annual fee that you charge will represent immediate income.
  • Determine what you will offer as the key benefits of your rewards program, based upon both your profit margins and specific products and services that have significant perceived value among your guests. I cannot overemphasize that it is not necessary to offer a discount on camping.
  • Potential rewards might include express check-in, free site upgrades (if available), points toward a free future stay, waivers of early check-in and late check-out fees (based upon availability), discounts in your store and snack bar, free wi-fi or dump station services (if these are otherwise fee-based), discounts on things like mini-golf and boat rentals, a waiver of guest fees, free morning coffee in your store, and discounts for nearby businesses.
  • Be willing to experiment by changing your reward program’s benefits from year to year, based upon customer response and feedback.

Think about the types of benefits that will appeal to your customers, but also keep in mind the proven concepts that are working for others, most notably the examples and lessons to be learned from Amazon Prime. By offering free coffee or a store discount, you are getting people into your store, where they will buy merchandise, move inventory, and increase high profit margin sales. By offering free early check-in, you will stagger arrivals and reduce registration lines and the stress level of your staff. By waiving guest fees, you may be introducing your park to its next paying campers. And by offering discounts to local businesses, you open the doors to a wide range of reciprocal and cross-promotional possibilities. Imagine if, like Amazon, you could get your typical rewards program member to spend more than twice as much with you each year than your conventional campers. That would be a profitable program indeed!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Learn from the Best, Then Learn from the Worst

January 23rd, 2014

For years, I have been advising campground owners to look beyond the campground industry for inspiration and ideas on how to more effectively run their businesses. What your competitor down the highway is doing is far less important than what cruise lines, theme parks, ski resorts and boutique hotels are doing to not only meet evolving consumer expectations but to essentially raise the bar and redefine those very expectations. Companies like Viking River Cruises, Disney, Snowbird, and Marriott’s Renaissance and new Edition hotel groups are game-changers, not only within their industries but within the broader travel and leisure industries. With an emphasis on customer service, industry leaders rarely – if ever – need to compete on the basis of price. They have established themselves in a league of their own.

There are certainly campgrounds that have embraced this management philosophy, and they have been recognized as the leaders within their field. Particularly with the growing emphasis on luxury cabins and the overall concept of “glamping” (glamour camping, something that was certainly considered an oxymoron less than a generation ago), they are rebranding the camping experience as a superior alternative to the typical resort or hotel. As leaders within the industry, they set both the pricing thresholds and the consumer expectations for all parks, and they are profitable operations as a result.

There are certainly some infrastructural investments that help to differentiate the leading camping resorts from the rest of the pack. These include things like heated swimming pools, paved roadways, modern playgrounds, reliable wi-fi, 50-amp electric service, spacious pull-thru sites, and dog parks; however, most of what differentiates industry leaders has little to do with infrastructure and everything to do with attitude. Let me be clear that not every campground is destined to meet these new levels of consumer expectations, and not every camper is seeking out this type of experience. It is all about choices, and let’s be honest: have you ever worried about raising your rates by $1.00 per night, even though there are parks charging $20.00 or $30.00 more for a similar site?

It is easy to learn what sets certain businesses apart from others, and I encourage you to take the time – probably in your off-season – to personally investigate. Put your financial concerns aside for a weekend, and book a stay in a leading boutique hotel in a major American city. Take notes. Everything that you experience can be translated into an equivalent experience at your campground, from the doorman who welcomes you, to the valet parking attendant who parks your car, to the front desk clerk who puts you in a room with a view, to the concierge who gets the dinner reservations that you could not get on your own, to the front desk clerk again who calls to confirm that everything in the room meets your expectations, to the housekeeping staff member who knows when you are away and turns down the sheets and leaves a rose and chocolate (or the hand towel equivalent of a balloon animal) on your pillow. What they all have in common is friendly, personalized service that exceeds common expectations.

Yes, it is easy to learn from the examples of businesses that are setting themselves apart by doing things right. It is also possible to learn from businesses that consistently seem to be doing things wrong. Let me relate my recent personal experience with United Airlines, when returning from a family vacation in Mexico on a one-stop flight to Boston.

When we arrived at Guanajuato International Airport for the first leg of our flight, we were told that our departure would be delayed by about 45 minutes, leaving us plenty of time to make our connecting flight in Houston. We were told that the incoming flight had returned to Houston with some sort of mechanical trouble. Shortly afterward, we were told the delay would be three and a half hours, because the plane was being replaced with another aircraft. Nobody wants to argue with delays that are based upon mechanical issues, true or untrue, and we had no choice but to wait. In the meantime, the United Airlines ticket agent hand-wrote new connecting flight numbers on our tickets from Houston to Boston. Yes, that seemed a bit unusual. About two hours later, I returned to the ticket counter (of course, going through airport security checks each time) to ask for the assurance of real, printed tickets. Another desk clerk at that time admitted that the hand-written ticket revisions did not even represent an actual flight number! The new printed tickets contained the actual flight number and terminal but, suspiciously enough, no seat assignments. The connection time was tight, and our flight would arrive in Boston around midnight.

When we finally arrived in Houston, we knew that we had to keep moving in order to get to the correct terminal, get our bags checked, and make it through security. Even with TSA Pre-Check, we were not getting anywhere quickly, with perhaps 1,000 people bottlenecked in security and trying to get to their outbound flights. We could only presume that the airlines are aware of long lines in security and are aware of passengers who have not yet arrived at the gate. Being the last departing flight to Boston, and flying non-stop, you would think that the airline might delay the flight’s departure by 10 or 15 minutes. Think again.

When we arrived at our gate, the door was closed, and we were told to go to the United Airlines customer service counter. We were far from the only passengers who had missed our flight to Boston, and the counter was severely understaffed. When we finally got to speak with the customer service agent, he explained that 2 out of the 6 of us did not even have seats on the plane that had just departed! (Remember the tickets with no seat assignments?) The attendant was very nice (and seemed highly embarrassed by the United policies), but his hands were tied. He said that our bags made it out on that flight, leaving us without changes of clothing, personal items, or medications. We were also told that the next flight would be early the following morning, and were given hotel vouchers for a nearby Holiday Inn (we passed more desirable Hilton and Hyatt properties along the way on our shuttle), along with $7.00 meal vouchers for dinner and breakfast. In the meantime, our limo driver was already halfway to Boston, because United did not post the original flight delay online and we could not contact him until we were in Houston with the bad news. That incurred an understandable $300.00 charge. Thanks, United!

At this point, there were still people in line at the United Airlines customer service counter, including a young couple with two children in tow. It was 8:30, the lights were turned out, and the customer service clerks announced, “Sorry, we are now closed for the night.” Can you imagine having guests in line at your registration desk and telling them that you are closed?

 

Our dinners alone (nothing fancy, at the Holiday Inn’s restaurant) exceeded twice the value of all of our dinner and breakfast vouchers. Our displeasure with United Airlines was the primary topic of conversation during our meal. Toward the end, a man who had been dining at a nearby table stopped by, identifying himself as a United Airlines pilot. He empathized with our experience and urged us to complain as loudly as possible to and about the airline.

After four hours of sleep, we caught our flight the following morning and arrived in Boston. We went directly to the United Airlines baggage counter to retrieve our bags that we were told were on the flight the night before. Guess what? Half of our bags had arrived with us on the morning flight. I had earlier picked up a copy of USA Today in the lobby of the Holiday Inn. Interestingly enough, there was a graphic that displayed a summary of results for the 2013 American Consumer Satisfaction Index airline industry benchmarks. To nobody’s surprise, United Airlines occupies last place, with a consumer satisfaction index of only 62%, well below the industry average and far below first and second place airlines, JetBlue and Southwest (our airline of choice). Note that, a week or two later, JetBlue probably took a major hit, when they cancelled hundreds of flights during the so-called “polar vortex” cold snap. Consumers have a voice, and they will share their displeasure in as many ways as possible.

In the case of United Airlines, you would think that they had learned a lesson, with the “United Breaks Guitars” video having been viewed over 13,000,000 times on YouTube over the last 4 years, or the more recent “United Airlines Almost Killed My Greyhound” video that also involved a United Airlines flight from Houston to Boston. The power of the social media cannot be overemphasized or underestimated.

In one instance after another within our ordeal, the problem was not with United Airlines employees, but with the airline’s corporate policies. Ticket agents apologized, the pilot advised us to express our anger, flight attendants could not have been more cordial, and the customer service agent seemed highly embarrassed when he was told to turn out the lights at 8:30. As far as United Airlines is concerned, they fully met their responsibilities by putting us up in inexpensive hotel rooms for the night and providing us with $7.00 meal vouchers.

As a campground owner, you need to hire and train staff members who are friendly and obsessed with customer service; however, you must not interfere with the customer satisfaction process by implementing rigid standards that will be resented by your guests and lead to frustration amongst your staff. United Airlines seems unwilling to learn, but you – as a much smaller player within the travel and leisure industry – can clearly profit from their mistakes by implementing flexible policies that will always put your customers first.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Online Review Sites: Handle With Care

September 4th, 2013

In a recent post, I pointed out that it was necessary to take a proactive stance with regard to your business’ ranking on various consumer review sites. If you are lacking reviews on any particular online resource – or, worse yet, you have one or more unfounded negative reviews that are skewing readers’ opinions – you should make an effort to encourage positive input. The question is how to handle this task both properly and effectively.

Once again, a successful campground will be operated in a customer-friendly manner, and reviews of that campground are likely to be overwhelmingly positive. My advice is to proactively promote those reviews and the sites that contain the reviews, rather than simply reacting in a state of panic when a negative review appears, typically written by someone with an axe to grind.

Rather than hiding from reviews, campground owners should provide links to the major review sites – and to individual reviews – on their own websites and within the social media. Encourage your happy campers to post their own reviews, particularly if a review site has a less than stellar recent review of your park. The most recent reviews and the most intelligently written reviews (and responses) carry the greatest credibility. Older reviews or those written by somebody who is obviously on a rant are generally dismissed by readers.

What Is Different?

When taking this proactive stance at encouraging positive reviews, be careful not to cross any lines that might violate the policies of the review sites.

I recently made what I thought was a reasonable attempt at promoting one of our non-campground clients on Yelp. The client’s business was listed on Yelp, but had no reviews and, subsequently, no ranking. I added missing information to the client’s listing and uploaded photos. I then posted the following on their Facebook page:

“If you love our (products) and have visited our retail store, please take a moment to share your thoughts by writing a review on Yelp. It will only take a minute or two. When we have 5 reviews, we will choose one at random and that person will receive a $25.00 gift certificate. Thanks!” I then included a direct link to the listings page on Yelp.

One customer immediately posted a very flattering and positive review, with a 5-star rating. On the basis of this first review, our client then showed an overall 5-star rating … very briefly. Later that day, Yelp “filtered” the review, suggesting that it was of questionable origin. Apparently, our offer of the gift certificate – or possibly simply including a link to the listing page – crossed an imaginary line with Yelp, giving them the impression that we were bribing customers for their comments … which, of course, was far from the truth. A day or two later, the review was reinstated, with another review submitted soon afterward, and our client once again has a 5-star rating with two reviews, both highly positive.

To avoid this problem yourself, refer to Yelp’s review policy:

“The best word of mouth is organic and unsolicited. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, Yelp discourages business owners from asking people to write reviews about their businesses. It’s tough for an algorithm to tell the difference between a business owner aggressively putting a laptop in front of a client and saying, “Give me 5 stars!” and that same business owner flipping the laptop around and manufacturing a fake 5-star review about themselves.”

They continue, “As a general rule, Yelp has advised business owners not to offer incentives for reviews. It’s a slippery slope between the customer who is so delighted by her experience that she takes it upon herself to write a glowing review and the customer who is “encouraged” to write a favorable review in exchange for a special discount. In an effort to minimize spam and maximize trustworthiness of the site’s content, Yelp actively weeds out suspicious reviews through a combination of community self-policing and automated filtering; aggressively solicited reviews can ring hollow at times and end up flagged by users or the website for removal. The system is designed to ensure the reviews consumers rely on are as authentic and useful as possible.”

In other words, Yelp uses analytics to flag online review solicitations, and the worst case scenario could be the removal of your listing, not simply the filtering of the resulting review(s). Learn more about Yelp’s policy by following this link:
https://biz.yelp.com/support/common_questions.

How Do You Handle This?

Yelp encourages businesses to link to both their listing page and to individual reviews. When you have one or more positive reviews, provide links to them on your website and on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Let the power of subtle persuasion influence new reviewers. You may also hand out printed cards with the URL to guests as they check out and rave about their stay, but avoid directly asking for reviews in your online newsletter, on your website, or on your social media pages.

There is a similar policy in place at TripAdvisor, outlined in an extensive network of forum posts. One somewhat extreme example outlines a hotel in England that offered guests 10% discounts and free room upgrades in exchange for positive reviews on TripAdvisor, the Good Food Guide, or the Michelin Guide. Read more, following this link, shortened using Google URL Shortener:
http://goo.gl/cPmHxW

This scheme backfired and the property was red flagged, meaning that TripAdvisor posted that “individuals associated with this property may have interfered with traveler reviews” and showing users a record of the property’s alleged wrong-doing. How do you think that makes your listing look?

There are also companies that specialize in online reputation management, offering to repair damaged reputations for a fee, usually quite ineffectively. If you are considering a reputation management service, the damage has already been done, and you are no doubt at least indirectly responsible for the creation of that damage. There are even companies that will generate fake reviews for a fee, even though this practice is illegal in the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy. Quite naturally, those so-called “services” should never be considered. The best way to get positive reviews is to provide exemplary service that, in and of itself, will encourage people to share their enthusiasm!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Make the Most of Online Review Sites

July 28th, 2013

Years ago, as a business owner you were pretty much in control of how people perceived your business. You advertised to influence opinions, you went out of your way to please your customers, and you provided a quality product or service. Everybody was happy. In the rare instances where a customer was displeased, he told his friends and never returned. Things could have been worse.

Today, things are worse. Conventional advertising has lost much of its credibility and clout, and most people turn to their network of friends (including virtual friends online) for trusted opinions and recommendations. That dissatisfied customer from years past now has the means to amplify his displeasure before an audience of thousands. On the other hand, the same tools are available for your happiest of customers to share their experience and influence equally vast numbers of potential guests.

Most campground owners seem to fear review sites more than an attack of locusts. Those fears are unfounded. P.T. Barnum is often credited with coining the statement, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” and that concept is truer today, in the age of the Internet, than ever before in history.

First of all, a successful campground will be operated in a customer-friendly manner, and reviews of that campground are likely to be overwhelmingly positive. My advice is to proactively promote those reviews and the sites that contain the reviews, rather than simply reacting in a state of panic when a negative review appears, typically written by someone with an axe to grind.

Rather than hiding from reviews, I encourage campground owners to provide links to the major review sites – and to individual reviews – on their own websites and within the social media. Quote great reviews on your Facebook page and in Tweets, and encourage your guests to post their own reviews, particularly if a review site has a less than stellar recent review of your park. Some review sites allow you to respond to reviews, while others do not. Either way, the most recent reviews and the most intelligently written reviews (and responses) carry the greatest credibility. Older reviews or those written by somebody who is obviously on a rant are generally dismissed by readers.

If you are going to encourage your happy campers to submit reviews, you need to know the review sites that count. You also need to know whenever a review of your park appears online. Use Google Alerts to stay on top of what is being posted about your business online. When guests are checking out, commenting how much they enjoyed their stays, ask them if they would like to submit a review that puts that satisfaction into words. If they agree, send them a follow-up e-mail with a direct link to the review page for your park on the review site of your choice. (Don’t ask them to submit a review on more than one site, since that would be a bit of an imposition.) The following is a list of some of the review sites that need to be on your radar.

RV Park Reviews – This site has been online since 2000 and includes nearly 200,000 reviews of every campground in North America, including yours. If you are not aware of this site and have not read its reviews of your park, you have only yourself to blame. Use this site to your advantage. If you have the highest rated park in your city or town (based upon the average of your 10 most recent reviews, rated on a 1-10 scale), promote that fact by providing a link to the reviews for your park and its competitors. Use transparency to your advantage!

Yelp – This site was started in 2004, gets over 100 million unique visitors per month, and hosts over 39 million reviews. Originally designed to rate local business service providers (like mechanics, electricians, and plumbers), it now includes reviews to lodging services, including campgrounds. As a business, you can setup a free business account that allows you to post photos and additional information that will enhance your listing on the site, as well as generating free widgets that you can use to promote your Yelp reviews on your website. Follow this link to get started: https://biz.yelp.com

TripAdvisor – This is the world’s largest travel-related website. It gets more than 200 million unique visitors per month and contains over 100 million trusted reviews covering more than 2.5 million businesses around the world. Although the site originally concentrated on hotels and similar lodging, it now includes campgrounds under the Specialty Lodging category. If your campground is not yet listed on TripAdvisor, you can submit a listing by following this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/GetListedNew

Because of the volume of traffic, reviews on TripAdvisor carry plenty of clout. As a business owner, you can (and should!) create a free business account, allowing you to update your business details, add photos, receive e-mail notifications of new reviews, and – most importantly – respond to reviews. You can also generate free widgets that can link your website to your reviews. Follow this link to get started: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Owners

GuestRated – Campground owners are probably also familiar with the GuestRated program that was founded by industry consultant Bob MacKinnon in 2008 as the first ongoing guest satisfaction rating program relating to the private campground industry in the United States. Run in conjunction with National ARVC, this online survey program provides very useful consumer information and statistical analytics to campground owners, as well as providing an opportunity to respond to guest reviews. There are also widgets that allow campgrounds to feature reviews and ratings on their websites and that encourage visitors to initiate their own review process. Learn more about the program at: http://www.guestreviews.com

This is far from a conclusive list of review sites. There are many other campground review sites that generate less traffic and less impact upon public opinion. I would recommend not fretting over any of the more obscure review sites, particularly if any investment of your time would come at the expense of the attention that you should be devoting to these review sites that count.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

A Quick and Brilliant Social Marketing Campaign from Ace Hardware

March 15th, 2013

Yesterday on Facebook, I was presented with a link to a brilliant promotion from Ace Hardware. They call it Free Paint Saturday, and it encourages you to print a coupon for a free quart of Clark+Kensington paint. The coupon can only be redeemed at a local participating Ace Hardware store on Saturday, March 16th. It appears that the offer was also promoted on the Ace Hardware website and in its weekly circular. Here is the original Facebook post:

Note that within 10 hours of the original post, the offer had gotten 378 likes and – more importantly – 688 shares. No doubt, there were many more people who simply proceeded to download the coupon. The intermediate step took users to a Facebook App, shown below, that explained more about the line of paints and the services available through the local Ace Hardware store. It also included a link to print the actual coupon. This app had generated 309 original comments at the time of this post.

Finally, clicking on the link allowed users to print the coupon, shown below.

Okay, why do I say this is brilliant? Let me count the ways:

  1. Saturday is the highest traffic day in the hardware industry. By offering a limited supply of the free offer per store, customers are encouraged to arrive early, getting sales records off to an early start.
  2. Each store has an average availability of 40 quarts. How many things can be covered with a single quart of flat enamel paint? I believe that flat enamel paints are most typically used on interior walls and ceilings, where a single quart is going to provide very limited coverage. Chances are that customers will purchase additional paint (probably gallons) to go with the free quart.
  3. The offer presents a perfect opportunity to introduce a new product line or to attract customers who might otherwise not think of Ace Hardware as a paint store.
  4. No purchase is necessary; however, most people, once they have entered a store, are unlikely to leave without making a purchase. People who have gotten something for free are even less likely to leave without making a purchase.
  5. Each quart of paint probably costs Ace Hardware a maximum of $5.00. With participation on the part of the paint manufacturer, their cost is probably less than half of that. I cannot find statistics for the average consumer transaction per hardware store visit; however, this customer acquisition cost is extremely low.

Clearly, this is an example of how profitable it can be for a business to give products or services away, particularly when the reach of the promotion is dramatically extended through the social media. Can you think of ways that this same concept could work for the benefit of your business?

This post was written by Peter Pelland

SmartPhone Apps or a Mobile-Friendly Site?

February 15th, 2012

There has been a growing debate recently among small businesses attempting to choose between the development of SmartPhone apps and mobile-friendly websites. Let me try to cut through the clutter with a bit of common sense.

Let’s start with a few statistics. At the end of 2011, there were 140 million SmartPhone subscriptions in the United States alone. This represents over 50% of mobile phone customers, and well over 50% of the users of handheld devices access the Internet using those devices on a daily basis. According to a study conducted on behalf of Morgan Stanley, it is projected that the volume of mobile Web access will overcome conventional desktop access by 2015 (if not sooner)!

According to some of the “strange, but true” statistics compiled by the Mobile Marketing Association, there are more people – worldwide – who own a cellphone than who own a toothbrush. Here are some perhaps more meaningful statistics provided by the same organization:

  • 70% of all mobile searches result in action within 1 hour.
  • Mobile coupons realize 10 times the redemption rate of conventional coupons.
  • Although it takes the average person 90 minutes to respond to a typical e-mail, the same person responds to a text message within 90 seconds.

SmartPhone Usage Is All About Here and Now

Although the typical website provides a wealth of information that is carefully organized to be highly persuasive and carefully orchestrated to lead to a buying decision, SmartPhone users begin their search for information much further along in the decision-making process. SmartPhone users are dealing with a compact display screen and want to make a quick decision. It is not time to try to sell them (or force them to read) the Encyclopedia Britannica! You need a mobile website that is clean and gets to the point. It should be optimized for a small display and stripped of any non-essential text and graphics.

To start, look at your current website on your own SmartPhone. (If you are the last holdout on the planet who has not yet embraced the technology, ask a friend to show you your site on his or her phone.) Almost all websites will work on a handheld device, but some work much more effectively than others. Certain features are best avoided, such as the use of Flash (particularly in navigation), since that format is not supported by iPhones and iPads. You should also avoid framed content (generally sound advice for any website), streaming video, mouse-overs, and high-resolution graphics. In some instances, the amount of data on a page can exceed a phone’s memory capacity and prevent a page from loading. Sadly, a recent study has shown that 50% of small business owners have not taken the time to view their website on a handheld device, even though their Google Analytics may be showing that 10% of their visitors are accessing their website on a handheld device.

Now that you have viewed your website on a SmartPhone or other handheld device, what do you see? Chances are that you are seeing a totally functional website that is simply not doing its best to capitalize upon the characteristics of these devices. It doesn’t take long for a visitor to tire of the “pinch and zoom” style of surfing the Web, when they have to zoom in and scroll to read small text, and zoom out to navigate and to view graphics. Complicating matters, our thumbs are not nearly as precise as a computer mouse or our fingers on a keyboard. The bottom line is that a frustrated and inconvenienced visitor better really want what you have to offer because he is otherwise highly unlikely to become a customer. Your site is probably among the 97% of websites that were not considered mobile-friendly in early 2011.

The fact than only 3% of websites are mobile-friendly is not particularly surprising. In the overall scope of small businesses struggling to define their social media strategies, developing a mobile website is secondary in importance to the development of more pressing social media content such as a company’s Facebook business page. That said, an effective mobile presence is a very important secondary step for most small businesses. Going back to the statistic that 70% of all mobile searches result in action within 1 hour, it should be clear that you need to be an active player. The question involves which way to go.

For Most Small Businesses, the Answer is a
Mobile-friendly Version of their Primary Website

Here’s why. An app must have a practical use if you expect people to download it and then use it more than once. By far, the most popular apps are games, followed by mobile versions of established online services such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and Google Maps. Keep in mind that app development costs are significant. Although more than 10 billion apps were downloaded through 2010 – an average of 60 apps installed on each device – over a quarter of those are used only once. Users are also expected to download and install frequent updates, a non-issue with a mobile website that simply presents content that is updated on the server side, as needed. Beyond the development costs, plan on spending a tidy sum of money just to persuade people to download that app that they may use either infrequently or only once. The question you must ask is why users would use your app. An app makes perfect sense for businesses such as local television stations and newspapers, where they can present breaking news stories, weather forecasts, and sports scores. They also have the resources to promote downloads of their app. On the other hand, the “breaking news” of a more typical business might be better presented on Twitter or Facebook (which have their own SmartPhone apps).

Applications in the Campground Industry

My company is a major supplier of Web development services to the family camping industry, and many state campground associations are considering the development of both mobile-friendly sites and SmartPhone apps. I believe that a mobile-friendly site makes perfect sense; however, the development of dedicated apps for these associations makes little sense as I see it. I have already cited the expense of development (and don’t forget to double that expense because you will need to develop your app for both the iPhone and Android platforms) and the expense of promotion. Before one of these organizations takes that expensive plunge, there had better be a sound objective that will generate usage.

According to the recently released Special Report on Camping 2011, compiled by the Outdoor Foundation, over 50 percent of summer campers make their decisions more than a month in advance. Those making reservations for those trips book an average of 77 days in advance. Combine these statistics with the fact 70% of all mobile searches result in action within 1 hour, and you will begin to see the disconnect. SmartPhone users are generally looking to make a last-minute decision on where to camp this weekend, not weeks or months in advance. In the travel segment, this explains why some of the most popular mobile apps include Priceline, Kayak, TripAdvisor, Southwest Airlines, and Restaurant Finder. All of these apps are designed to alert flexible consumers of last-minute travel bargains. Of course, a campground association could present last-minute “unsold inventory” on their app, listing campsite and cabin vacancies prior to a holiday weekend, but the appeal will be limited. Most campers are loyal to a familiar campground or are at least looking to camp in a specific region of a state. Just because a site is available 100 miles away from their planned destination will not lead most people to be willing to make such a drastic change in their plans and preferences.

Regardless of your business or industry, before investing in a mobile app, give the concept a more careful analysis. Unlike that toy or power tool that you thought you couldn’t do without, but then ended up doing nothing more than taking up space in your garage, you are not going to be able to sell your SmartPhone apps at a yard sale or flea market. Unless there is a clear path to monetizing your investment, spend your money more wisely on something else.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

How to Avoid Turning “Likes” Into “Unlikes”

June 22nd, 2011

In the social networking world, whether your business is keeping in touch with its customer base using Facebook, Twitter or e-mail marketing, your message is only as effective as the number of people who read it. One of your primary objectives, therefore, must be to build your base of likers, followers and subscribers. Concentrating on Facebook business pages, although it should not be looked upon as Armageddon, you should do your utmost to avoid forcing those folks who have “liked” your page from changing their minds and “unliking” the page, effectively cutting themselves off from your marketing messages. The best way to maintain your base of fans and followers is to understand the type of content that they want and expect to see, and to understand the predominant reasons that people choose to leave.

Let’s start by looking at what people want to see in your Facebook posts.

• First of all, they want to see information that either directly or indirectly relates to your business AND ties in to their interest in your business. Try to be the first to present this information. If the information that you post is exclusively presented to your Facebook fans, that is even better. If it includes a special offer, incentive or coupon, that is best yet. Do not post irrelevant information about Lady Gaga, just because you think that she is of popular interest (for some reason that I could never possibly understand). Stay focused, topical, and on target.

• Secondly, as much as we all like to be informed, people respond in a more positive manner when they are entertained. They are also more likely to share entertaining content, expanding your sphere of influence and growing your base of fans. If you can present useful information in an entertaining manner, you have hit upon a winning formula! You will know you are on target when your posts generate a high percentage of “likes” and – better yet – comments that generate a conversation between you and your fans … and among your fans.

• Next, people want to feel that they are part of an active “in” place to be. If they visit your page, and the latest post is three weeks old, your page appears to be unattended, uninteresting, and unlikeable. You must post content on a regular and ongoing basis. The same thing, incidentally, applies to groups on both Facebook and LinkedIn.

How to generate more “likes”.

Forget the nonsense about building a ball park in a corn field. You have to seek out your prospective fans and hold up the Welcome sign. Here are a few random tips:

• If you are willing to spend a little money on Facebook advertising (which, incidentally, can be very cost-effective!), run an ad campaign that targets Facebook users who like your product or service, like your competitors, or like related products, services, or organizations. Send them to a landing page that offers them a coupon or other incentive to want to stay in touch with your company.

• When logged in as your business page admin, find and “like” related pages. For example, if you run a local tourism business, you may “like” your local chamber of commerce, tourism agency, or an annual event. By doing so, you may now post comments on those pages that will be of interest to their fans while subtly promoting your own page and business. If you run a campground, and an upcoming local event draws visitors from beyond the local area, you may want to post the fact that you have cabins or sites available for that weekend.

• Contact admins of groups that are related to your page. Provide them with news that will be valuable for them to share with their readers. Because of the manner in which information is shared within groups, this may allow you to reach people who would otherwise not see your message.

• Promote your Facebook page on your website, but also promote your Facebook URL in itself. To do this effectively, you should have a Facebook vanity URL. When you create your business page, it will have a long, cryptic URL that ends in a series of 15 digits that nobody will ever remember. As long as your page has at least 25 “likes” (enough to convince Facebook of its authenticity), you are entitled to a Facebook vanity URL that will make your address memorable and easy to share. Go to:
http://www.facebook.com/username/.

• Cross-promote your content across the social media, but beware of overdoing it. A perfect example of how to do things right is the “People of Walmart” music video produced by Jessica Frech, a talented, Nashville-based college student, singer, songwriter, and filmmaker. Her video was released on May 5, 2011, quickly went viral, and had over 1,000,000 views in less than 2 weeks. Above all else, it was the quality of the production that earned its accolades. As I write this post, it has now gotten over 2,770,000 views and has generated its own series of challenge videos! If you have not seen this excellent music video, enjoy it now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvxNgdFeWqM. The end of each of Jessica’s videos includes a self-promotional message that encourages viewers to download her MP3 and to visit her Facebook page, which now has nearly 5,000 fans. Bear in mind that this represents less than 2/1,000 of 1% of her views on YouTube that have translated into Facebook page likes. Social media cross-promotion is challenging for even the best of sites!

How to avoid “unlikes”.

People can “unlike” a page on Facebook just as easily as they can “like” it. If your content fails to meet their expectations, they will do so.

As you can see, the # 1 reason that people unlike a page is because the company posted too frequently. One of the pages that I follow on Facebook is The David Wax Museum, a talented musical duo out of Boston. Last night, they posted 25 (yes 25!) consecutive “events” on their Facebook page, which monopolized quite a bit of real estate on my wall. This was not a good idea, and something that easily could have led people to unlike their page. (I was more tolerant, at least this first time.) Another way to wear out your welcome? Re-tweet to Facebook. At first glance, this may sound like a good idea that will help to broader your reach, but the fact is that the frequency of posts on Twitter and Facebook are entirely different. What is more than acceptable on Twitter totally crosses the line on Facebook.

The # 3 reason for unlikes is repetitive or boring content. Again, provide stimulating and useful content. One of the pages that I follow (but which disappoints me) is for Florida’s Natural Orange Juice. I want discount coupons for their product. Instead, I get pointless, self-serving posts such as “LIKE this if you need to go grocery shopping!” and “Do you call it Orange Juice or OJ?” Somebody on the company’s marketing staff is totally missing the point! The company’s posts also tie in with the # 5 and 6 reasons for unlikes: Did not offer enough deals, and posts too promotional.

Examine this chart and the survey results carefully, and then ask yourself whether your Facebook presence is working to generate “likes” (not “unlikes”) that translate into an ever-growing and loyal customer base. Treat your fans with respect, meet their expectations, and you will reap the rewards.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Multiple Powers of Facebook Comments

June 3rd, 2011

Presuming that your business has a Facebook Business Page – as it should – there are some powerful tools at your disposal. One of the most powerful of these is your ability to comment and respond to comments posted by others. One of your key objectives should always be to build your number of followers (you may prefer to refer to them as “fans” or “likes”), particularly followers who have a true interest in your product or service and who will be likely to engage in ongoing conversations. These conversations will take the form of posts, allowing you to further a rapport with your followers in a manner that enhances your marketing efforts in a very subtle yet highly effective manner.

Responding to Posts

Your settings will allow you to determine whether or not you want to allow others to post to your page. Without exception, you want to allow people to post to your page. What happens when somebody who has “liked” your page posts a negative or otherwise unflattering comment? Let me present a few rules of thumb:

1) Use of profanity: In almost all instances, if somebody posts a comment that contains profanity, simply delete the comment. If you leave it there, you are sending a message to others that it is acceptable to follow suit, and you will be presenting your business in an unfavorable light. If you go into your page settings, you can keep this under control without your constant vigilance. Go to Edit Page > Manage Permissions > Profanity Block List, then choose your settings. The options are None, Medium, or Strong. You can also create a moderation block list that allows you to enter keywords that will be blacklisted from posts.

2) Criticisms of your business: In almost all instances, if somebody posts an intelligently presented criticism – even if you vehemently disagree with the criticism – leave the post. Particularly if your page is new or has relatively few followers, you must jump in and respond to the comment as quickly as possible. Remember that you are not trying to engage in an argument. You want to put out – not add fuel to – a fire. Try to see things from the other person’s perspective and use the criticism as a learning experience. You may want to respond with some sort of apology or admission of guilt, even if you were not directly responsible or involved with the incident behind the complaint. In most instances, the fact that you have responded in a prompt and professional manner will defuse a situation which could otherwise snowball out of control. If your page has a large number of followers, it is likely that your followers will jump in and come to your defense, and they are in a position to more strongly rebut the initial comment without the appearance of being defensive.

3) Comments that “cross the line” or a simply vengeful or retaliatory in nature:One of our clients was recently attacked on their Facebook business page by a group of people who had been guests at the client’s campground over Memorial Day weekend. The campers were disruptive, showed no respect for quiet hours, refused to comply with the requests of the park’s security personnel, and had a barking dog. Clearly, these were the type of people that nobody wants at a campground because they interfere with everyone else’s enjoyment. Apparently these folks took exception with being expected to follow reasonable standards of behavior. When they returned home, they began their online assault, “liking” the campground’s Facebook business page specifically so that they could post to its wall. Their comments were highly derogatory, referring to campers who abide by rules as “idiots”, using a mild obscenity, and naming a competing campground as a better place to stay. They continued a string of comments (that were only authored among themselves), with the clear intention of “getting back” at the business. Under these circumstances, the comments were deleted and the users were banned from being able to post. (To do so, simply hover over the posts on a page where you are an admin, then click on the “x” in the upper right of the post.) Had the posts been less inflammatory, it would have been preferable to let them remain, but this was clearly an attack that needed to be nipped in the bud.

4) Spam posts: Delete these immediately, and ban the user from posting to your page.

Responding to Controversy

When the posts were deleted from the page of the client who came under attack by disgruntled campers, the client posted the following message:

Some of the things that our campers truly appreciate are the quiet hours, dog policies, and basic rules of behavior that we enforce, when needed, in order to insure that everybody will have a peaceful and enjoyable camping experience. At (our park), we do everything possible to insure a perfect combination of fun-filled days and quiet nights, without disruption from another camper.

This post received several favorable comments and was “liked” by nearly 20% of the park’s followers. End of controversy! Feel free to paraphrase it if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Posting Comments to Other Business Pages

The situation outlined in the previous section demonstrates the importance of posting comments to your own page; however, are you taking advantage of the opportunity to post comments on other Facebook business pages? Early in the Spring of 2011, Facebook changed its policies in this regard and now allows business pages to “like” other business pages. What does this mean for you? It means that you can broaden your reach to expanded networks of Facebook users who are likely to have an interest in your product or service. For example, let’s say that there is a major event in your area that draws in visitors from beyond the local area. If you are running a campground or bed & breakfast that is located near that venue, you could post the availability of campsites or rooms during the event dates. Sharing useful information in this manner represents the use of Facebook networking at its best. (If you are running Facebook ads, you could also run specific ads in advance of the event, targeting Facebook users who have “liked” either the event or the types of interests that are related to the event.)

Keeping Yourself Informed

As an administrator (admin) of your account, you should receive Facebook Alerts – in real time – anytime anybody posts to your page. Read these as quickly as they arrive, and respond to them in the appropriate manner. Use the tips in this post as your guidelines to success!

This post was written by Peter Pelland