Online Hotel Reviews.. Are You Monitoring Your Reputation?
many hotels have yet to devise an online reputation management strategy and more worryingly, some hotels have no clue about what (positive or negative) is being said about them on the Internet.So where should you start?
The explosion of consumer generated content (UGC) has led to a very specific and important requirement for hoteliers to engage with online reviews, communities, and dialog regarding their property. The days of the suggestion box and comment cards have left us and we find ourselves surrounded by very electronic, very public, very influential customer comments.
Reviews are now online and there for the public to see, as are quality ratings. Moreover, research demonstrates that travelers are seeking out hotel reviews and consider the online review a vital decision-making component for their future travel plans.
Trip Advisor has stated that over 50% of consumers will not book a hotel unless they have read reviews. I personally think that in China this is low and that the figure is around the 65% mark but nonetheless this is a significant number of people turning to the Internet to check out the feedback of others and making booking decisions on what they find.
Online reviews empower the consumer but for many small, family run hotels this new era of information sharing is scary. Not necessarily because they do not fare well in the review stakes, but simply because they do not understand how to effectively manage their online reputation. Traditionally, hotels are comfortable with private reviews and feedback, but the Internet has enabled very public scrutiny. As I consult with many hotel groups in China the common theme is that there is not a consistent view from corporate on what the social media position is for the various hotel GMs. I would argue that many hotels have yet to devise an online reputation management strategy and more worryingly, some hotels have no clue about what (positive or negative) is being said about them on the Internet.
So where should you start? Resource limitation and budget constraints are common problems for hotels. I would suggest that one of the best investments that GM´s can make with their marketing dollars is to invest in an automated reputation monitoring tool. GM´s may be reluctant to spend money on a product that reports on the sentiment of the comments and information being ´discovered´ on the web as it is not ‘proven’ to generate revenue. But the facts cannot be ignored – credibility of reviews among consumers is high within the hotel sector and therefore has a direct impact on your revenue.
I am going to use the product, SinoBuzz to highlight the value an automated reputation monitoring tool can provide to hoteliers. Firstly, this tool takes out the effort of having to scan popular review sites on the internet. A hotelier would generally just monitor Ctrip, eLong, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Google for example. But what is being said on the BBS´s on Sina, Sohu and the hundreds of other review/comment sites? In the image below, SinoBuzz has ´discovered´ information about a particular hotel and has automatically scored the comment negative, neutral or positive. With the filtering, it is possible to just send the GM a list of the ´very positive´ or ´very negative´ comments´ to check for implications and feedback about his hotel.
The other advantage of using these automated platforms is the vast additional information that can be provided beyond just ´discovering´ comments. For example, you can track competitors comments/sentiment, look at the sites where your hotel is most talked about, even know the location of the author´s or sites posting and publishing the comments about your hotel.
Hotels have the opportunity to respond publicly to reviews on each of these platforms. Posting management responses to reviews is a great way of demonstrating commitment to customer satisfaction and it will enable you to remedy any complaints or issues that might have a negative impact. The key is to respond quickly and politely and to follow through on any reassurances or promises. If the complaint escalates, you should encourage the customer to discuss the matter privately.
Social media websites such as Renren, Kaixin, Facebook etc can also play a vital role in online reputation management, enabling you to cultivate relationships over the web with potential guests. Ideally, there should be synergy between social media marketing and online reputation management strategies. Consistent messages should be reflected through all mediums. If you get great feedback on a review website, you should encourage that person to follow your hotel on your SNS fanpage (renren, kaixin, Facebook, Twitter &/or Sina Microblog) or alternatively to follow your hotel blogs. Social media pages go further than simply providing a forum for reviews; they facilitate photo-sharing, comments, conversation and are a perfect arena for subtle and effective marketing campaigns. Launching promotions specific to your social media audience is a sure fire way of acquiring more fans and followers. Whilst this does not necessarily impede any future negative reviews, it is a fantastic method of engaging positive reviewers and potential guests sourcing future travel destinations and hotels.
When managing social media profiles, here are some key principles to keep in mind:
• The conversation about you will go on with or without you. Make sure you’re taking part or even steering it.
• Present your social media profiles as a way for people to connect with others to discuss your hotel – not solely to receive marketing messages. Encourage your fans to “tell the story”.
• Promote photo-sharing to your fans. Maybe consider a photo-contest.
• Get hotel staff involved in blogging, posting and interacting.
• Consider setting up a ´fan wall of fame´ where you can feature photo´s from some people on your Facebook to Renren pages
Hoteliers have sources at their finger tips to ensure happy guests are nurtured and public negative reviews are avoided. By demonstrating your commitment to customer satisfaction to past and potential future guests, you are giving your hotel the best possible chance of securing future reservations and evading any damage to your hotel’s reputation.