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Posted by on Jan 9, 2018 in Digital Industry News

Well That’s an Interesting Area!

If you’re like many of us here at MDS, travel is a big part of your life. One of the most interesting aspects of travel is what happens outside of the hotel. How do the locals experience the city? In July 2016 Google rolled out a little-known update, Areas of Interest, which aims to help you “Discover the action around you.” You’ve likely already seen this update in action when using Google Maps. In the example below, you’ll notice that certain areas are shaded orange. This indicates that the area has a high concentration of bars, restaurants and retail establishments. When coupled with Google Reviews, a traveler can easily pick a destination frequented by the native crowd.

Google Areas of Interest(Image Source: Google Blog)

On a recent trip to Chicago, I decided to give the tool a test. I’m familiar with the city and wanted to know if any of my favorite restaurants made the “Areas of Interest” cut. Just steps from my hotel in all directions are several orange shaded areas. All I have to do is tap on and area of interest, and then zoom in to find potential destinations for dinner. Sure enough, one of my must-visits The Purple Pig is included as an area of interest. I can then easily click on the restaurant’s flag marker to read recent reviews and see a live estimation of wait times for a table.

Google Areas of Interest on Mobile(Image Source: Starla Middlebrooks)

As a hotelier, this is important because you often offer more than a great night’s stay. Your bar, spa, restaurant or golf course might be favorites among the locals, but businesses without an online presence appear to have a distinct disadvantage within Google’s Areas of Interest. Without a strong online presence, your outlets won’t be very visible to map users.

To ensure that your outlets are considered for inclusion in Google Areas of Interest you’ll want to claim and optimize your Google My Business Listing. This helps potential guests easily obtain contact details, hours of operations, images and reviews. In addition, you’ll want to engage with your online community and respond to all negative reviews. You may also consider personally thanking those who leave very positive feedback. You want to make it as easy as possible for a guest to find you. You can learn more about Google My Business Listings on their dedicated website. Visit Search Engine Watch to learn more about Google Areas of Interest.

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Posted by on Jan 2, 2018 in Digital Industry News

Clickbait: You mean everything I read on the Internet isn’t true?

Clickbait, Sensationalism & False News! We’ve all heard the sayings, but many of us aren’t aware of the widespread impact this misinformation has on our lives. Whether it comes in the form of an enticing headline or a seemingly trustworthy tidbit from your favorite online news source, the Internet is loaded with fabrications designed to cause confusion, waste your valuable time or convince you to spend your money. Even though we know to take things we hear or read on the Internet with a grain of salt, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.

As a hotelier, digital marketing is becoming an increasingly integral component of your guest acquisition strategy. Although we want to get the attention of our guests where they live online, we need to be careful not to utilize content that could be considered spammy or misleading. There is a fine line between using a bold attention-grabbing email subject and perpetuating the use of clickbait. Once a potential guest feels that your marketing practices are questionable it throws doubt upon the entire book-stay experience.

To combat the ill effects of clickbait, many of the world’s digital giants have recently taken big steps to help ensure that their businesses are not contributing to the problem. In fact, Facebook and Google have declared clickbait enemy #1.

Google

Google has recently partnered with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and is putting effort into two main areas of misinformation mitigation: increasing the number of verified fact checkers around the world and offering free fact-checking tools for use by mass consumers.

With the help of Google, several online sources now offer self-service fact checking databases so that digitally savvy news seekers can do their due diligence and avoid falling victim to false news stories. There is still a need for increased coverage, and for fact checkers to operate locally, in-language to cover regional news stories and sources. I encourage you to visit a site like Snopes.com, one of the most popular online fact checking sources, the next time you find yourself questioning the accuracy or plausibility of an online article.

In a bold move, making use of their powerful computing resources and globally available fact checking tools, Google has now added tags to searched news stories. The reader can easily view the Google tag at the bottom of the search result to determine if the news story has been properly vetted:

Google Fact Checking Example
(Image Source: Google Search Guide)

Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO who once casually dismissed the online social media giant’s role in spreading misinformation has stated publicly that he regretted his early dismissive statement. Although adamant that they are a technology company and not a media outlet, today Facebook is proactively attempting to combat the ever-growing problem of false information and news. Unfortunately, clickbait is rapidly evolving and difficult to control despite their best efforts.

Facebook was an early leader in trying to combat clickbait and has implemented the use of AI to try and limit its appearance in its newsfeed. The Facebook Journalism Project was launched January 2017; part of that initiative involves better collaborating with media outlets, creating tools and training for journalists and launching education efforts for the general public. In March 2017, Facebook debuted their “Disputed” tag, which appears beneath news stories on the site that have been deemed inaccurate or fake. Stories flagged as fake by users will be reviewed by independent fact-checking organizations including Snopes.com and then receive the tag. Most recently Facebook launched “Trust Indicators” in partnership with the Trust Project, an international consortium of news and digital companies. This small icon on newsfeed articles is designed to allow users easy access to information so that they may determine if the publisher is a source they trust and if the story itself is credible.

Snapchat

When Snapchat first launched in 2011 it was essentially a messaging app, but since the platform’s evolution to include “Stories,” the Snapchat content feed, false stories have become more of a negative influence within the platform. In response, the product engineers at Snapchat have decided to unmerge social & media allowing for a content feed that is more customized based upon individual user actions. AI will be used to suggest this content and lessen the impact of misinformation.

Baidu

Baidu, one of China’s three largest internet players, engages AI technology to spot potential clickbait articles and then relies on local agencies such as the Cyberspace Administration to verify information before the tech giant makes it available to the Chinese public. In addition, Baidu is putting together a network of 372 police agencies who will monitor and respond to false information, news and blog posts across the popular search engine. Baidu’s approach allows the Chinese government to intervene directly with misinformation.

While combating sensationalism is becoming increasingly difficult and the digital leaders continue to trial new solutions it will always remain the responsibility of the reader to proceed with caution. As a result, I’d like to leave you with a few tips for spotting fake news and misinformation.

  1. Consider the source or author.
  2. Read beyond the headline.
  3. Check the date.
  4. Check your biases.
  5. Consult the expert fact checking organizations.
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