Thursday, September 11, 2008

Company Blog Checkup: Starwood Hotels

The first thing that you notice when you arrive at Starwood's The Lobby blog is how absolutely gorgeous it is. And I think they have done an excellent job of capturing the 'blogsite' look that seems to be popular now. Just stunning.

Ok now that I've calmed down from my gushing, The Lobby is a blog devoted to Starwood Hotel's Preferred Guest loyalty program. As always, two ways to focus the blog's content; on the program itself, or on the customers that the program is aimed at. The Lobby does the latter, by serving as a travel resource for visitors. The blog offers posts on local attractions for locales all across the globe. It also gives us advice on dining, as well as 'offbeat' attractions. There is some promotion involved as the blog occasionally talks about specials running at certain hotels that it operates, but I think that would be content that visitors to The Lobby would be interested in, and could aid them in planning their next trip.

I think as a whole, the content of The Lobby is pretty solid. It seems to be devoted mainly to the places that customers would be traveling to, which is fine. However, I would like to see a few more 'how-tos' and 'tips' type posts. Like stuff that you need to pack for an overseas trip, or preparations you need to make before traveling to Australia (or China, or Egypt, or...). There may be some of these posts on the blog, but I would like to see them spotlighted with their own tab at the top of the blog, as the other categories are.

Now, let's move to the comments. Almost no posts have any. This is always curious when you have a blog that's producing solid content, but has no comments. My guess is that the writers are spending little, if any, time on other social sites interacting with their visitors. It appears that Starwood is not on Twitter, that would be a good place to start. For the writers of The Lobby blog, I would make a list of the places where you think your customers might be spending their time (Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, message boards), and start interacting with them there. That will make it easier for them to find you, and my guess is you'll start to see more readers leaving comments, as a result. As always, the best way to grow your blog, is to leave it.

Now let's move to the posting schedule, and I also think we get a better idea of why many posts aren't getting comments. There's just too damned many posts! It appears that The Lobby is organized around 4-5 main 'topics', and is attempting to post a new post about EACH topic EACH weekday! The result is having 3-5 new posts up every weekday! Yowza! It's great to have new content constantly posting to the blog, but what happens is that each post is only 'new' on the blog for an hour or two, then it's bumped down the blog by the latest entry. So that means that it doesn't have as much of a chance to be noticed by readers.

For example, as I'm writing this post, I've left just 3 posts on here in the last 7 days. But each post has at least 15 comments, and they average 23 per. Part of the reason why, is because each post appeared at the top of my blog for at least 24 hours. It gave them more time to be noticed and commented on by readers. My advice to Starwood would be to cut back to 1 new post each weekday (which is still a LOT of posts for a company blog!), and have your writers spend that extra time on other social sites interacting with your customers. My guess is that your traffic would increase, as would your links, and you'd see that suddenly you'd start getting comments on almost every post. Try it and see what happens, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the results!

Finally, let's move to the sidebars. First, I have to say that I am in love with what The Lobby has done with its header. Notice that under the gorgeous header image, it has taken its main categories, and put them as tabs that you cannot miss if you tried. Such as 'Explore', 'Savor', 'Inside', 'Celebrate'. I *love* this because it helps organize the content for the reader. Almost all blogs have categories, but Starwood has put them up where they are most accessible to the visitor. Gold.

As we all know, I am a stickler for companies having pictures of their writers on their blog, and at least a link to their bios. The Lobby does this, sorta. First, they have a small picture of the writer of each post at the bottom of that post, with a link to their bio. And on the sidebar, they have a 'Meet the Experts' section that rotates, showing the pic and quickie bio for one writer at a time. If you click on it, you can see them all. I wish the Meet the Experts section was higher on the sidebar (or at the top), as it's pretty buried now.

Also, when you click on the 'More Info' tab at the top, then you suddenly have several options that should be default, IMO. Such as Archives (which only seems to link to posts in June?!?), several options for sorting posts (similar to categories), 'recommended articles' and 'recommended links'. In particular, I would like to see the 'recommended links' move to the blog's main page/tab, and be called a 'blogroll'. I would also like to see more travel-oriented and non-Starwood sites on there.

Overall, I think The Lobby is a better than average effort that does many things well, and misses the mark occasionally.

And now let's break down the scoring for the blog:

Content: 28 (Out of a possible 35) - Love how the content is focused on travel, but would like a few more 'how-to' posts, and more thoughts from travelers/customers.

Comments: 4 (Out of a possible 35) - Solid content, but almost no interaction in the comments section. Suggest writers spend more time OFF the blog, in order to build its awareness.

Posting Schedule: 10 (Out of a possible 15) - Actually a case where less would be more. If the volume of posts were cut back to one every weekday, it would be perfection.

Sidebars: 11 (Out of a possible 15) - Pretty solid, although a beefier blogroll and writer pics up top would help a bit.

Total Score: 53 (Out of a possible 100)

If anyone from Starwood Hotels wants to discuss this Company Blog Checkup with me, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me. If your company would like to hire me to do an extensive checkup of your blog, or if you want to launch your own blog, you can click here for more information on my blogging and social media consulting services.

Next week I'll profile another blogging company, and if anyone can think of a company blog that they want me to do a checkup on, feel free to email me! For a list of all the blog that have been profiled so far in the Company Blog Checkup series, click here.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mack,

I had some hard times with starwood. They might blog but they have an incredibly lame online customer service.

My anger against Starwood was the reason I started to blog again :)

Anonymous said...

Ironically I'm in the opposite boat as Philippe. I'm a loyal Starwood traveler and a Gold member of their SPG program. Even have the SPG Amex so I guess they really have me locked in.

So with that in mind, I'm a big fan of The Lobby for many of the same reasons you outline. For starters, their layout is just stellar with the 5 major categories. I would love to get that organized/focused on my own blog.

However, I am annoyed at the content overload you point out. I just simply can't keep up. Also, I'd like if you could filter by geography. I rarely travel beyond the US with SPG, but much of the content is globally focused. I have to look through a lot to find the nuggets.

Anonymous said...

Mack, Nice Post, Thank You.
We are taking the time to organize and transition our blog so the timing of this is great. We try to emulate a lot of what the hotel industry does in our business and in particularly Starwood with their W Brand, so it was good to see your comments regarding the style and layout. As always, thank you for your input and sharing of information. See you in a couple of weeks in Col!