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Mr. MacKenzie

Sales & Marketing

A Reputation Management Primer for Hotels: Answers to Your Top 13 Questions

By Josiah MacKenzie, Vice President , ReviewPro

In today's ultra-networked world, you are only as good as your reputation. Your guests are telling your story, and no amount of PR or advertising can stop this.

It doesn't matter how much you embrace social media: you cannot afford to ignore reputation management. Reputation management for hotels often focuses on reviews written by guests on sites such as TripAdvisor, but also involves monitoring other websites and networks.

In this article, we address some of your top questions on this topic, and include some thoughts from Brian Payea, trade relations manager at TripAdvisor.

1. Why should I be concerned about negative hotel reviews?

Consumers trust other consumers. Your potential future guests will be listening to what your past guests had to say. This is first created by the experience you're providing, but it requires you to be listening to what these people are saying about that experience.

Knowing exactly what your guests are talking about helps you take appropriate action. Many times, negative reviews require action at an operations level, so it helps to have a system in place for sharing this information with the management team.

2. How can I improve my hotel's online reputation?

Fundamental flaws that repeatedly leave guests unsatisfied cannot be glossed over with a marketing campaign. That's denial at best and borders on unethical.

According to Brian, "One of the reasons that TripAdvisor has grown so dramatically is that travelers trust other travelers. They prioritize recommendations from others who have similar tastes and needs in travel. While they may read and consider the information supplied by the property, the reviews from other travelers may have a bigger impact, because they feel they're getting the unvarnished truth. Because of that, an increasingly large number of hoteliers and innkeepers tap into the conversation on TripAdvisor, using it as a guide to what their guests think they're doing well, and what needs improvement.

So, as with all aspects of your business, the way to improve your online reputation is to first and foremost delight your guests. Then, you will inspire your happy guests to write positive reviews.

Hospitality business owners are increasingly taking an active role in the TripAdvisor community and many of their efforts have a positive impact.

Since TripAdvisor's popularity index rankings are significantly impacted by the quantity of reviews, quality of reviews, and how recent those reviews are, there are several resources in the TripAdvisor owners center to help a property receive more reviews without violating TripAdvisor's policies. However, the most important thing a hotelier can do is provide a good experience for their guests and respond to the feedback they receive."

Once these fundamental issues have been fixed , you can proactively work to improve your online reputation by beginning an aggressive content publishing effort. Content is the key to staying relevant in today's web. It's also the best way to build a loyal fanbase. Publishing a large amount of very useful content in multiple media channels is the only way to make sure your voice is heard. It takes a lot of work, but there's no better way to build a positive web presence.

3. Where can I monitor what guests are saying about my hotel?

You'll probably begin by looking at TripAdvisor, which is the world's largest travel website with more than 37 million monthly unique visitors. Check TripAdvisor every day for new reviews and use the feedback to make appropriate adjustments.

TripAdvisor encourages property owners to make the most of their listing by first registering at www.tripadvisor.com/owners to begin using their no-cost monitoring, listing management and marketing tools. (Owners can sign up for daily emails of new reviews so that they can stay current easily, and respond to reviews quickly.)

Brian notes: "Owners can opt in to receive notifications when they receive a new review. This will give them an opportunity to get user feedback in a timely manner. After reading the review, they may consider posting a management response."

But running an effective reputation management system requires more than just watching TripAdvisor. Some other tools you may use include:

• For Google: Google Alerts (email or RSS updates of the latest Google search results)
• For Blog posts: Technorati (the largest blog search engine)
• For Blog comments: Backtype (what people say about you in response to blog posts)
• For Twitter: Twitter Search (monitor real time feedback)
• For other social media: FriendFeed search (a social aggregator that combines YouTube, Delicious, Flickr and more)

If you're willing to spend a little money, tools such as Radian6 can allow you to monitor all this from one dashboard. I personally use Revinate, which has developed a suite of hotel-specific tools to track and measure online sentiment.

4. Why are guests leaving negative hotel reviews?

When a hotel has a poor ranking on TripAdvisor, it usually reflects problems with the property-grounds, staffing, cleanliness, service, or something else. Again, when you're listening, you'll know what you need to fix. It's been said that for every 1 person that complains, 100 people will be complaining privately to their friends.

Of course, not all reviews are created equal. As any hotel marketing manager will confirm, negative reviews typically come in [three] forms:

  • Constructive criticism - these guests leave fair and balanced feedback, highlighting the good and bad points of their stay. Often, you'll be able to extract insights you can act on from their reviews.
  • Rants - some people just have an attitude problem, and are just about impossible to please. You can try to correct factual errors, but you may just have to avoid giving them much online attention.
  • Raves - see note]

5. How can I encourage guests to leave positive reviews?

Try asking (nicely)! If your staff hears a guest mention how much they enjoyed their stay, they could encourage them to share that positive experience online.

Additionally, on every hotel's owners' page, TripAdvisor provides links that can be added to post-stay guest emails so that hoteliers can ask their recent guests to submit a review - the link makes it easy for the guest to get started. Also on the owners' pages are new "write-a-review widgets" that can be added to a hotel's website in minutes, so that visitors can write a review without searching TripAdvisor for the right page.

Launch a special blogger's campaign. As Malcolm Gladwell taught us in The Tipping Point, obtaining the help of a few influential people is essential to spreading a message. In the online travel community, bloggers often act as Gladwell's Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen - playing a big role in shaping perceptions. Take advantage of this by finding authors of the most influential blogs, and inviting them to review your hotel.

6. Can I reward guests who leave good reviews on TripAdvisor?

Brian from TripAdvisor says: "Owners may encourage guests to write reviews about their businesses. This is a great way to increase the amount of reviews they have on TripAdvisor, but it is strictly against our policies to offer any compensation or rewards in exchange for them. And, of course, reviews need to be the honest, unbiased opinions of real travelers who have stayed with their properties."

7. How can I respond to negative reviews authentically, and protect my reputation?

When you see a negative review of your property, it can be tempting to fire back with a nasty response. But be careful - doing that can damage your reputation even further. Instead, follow these best practices for responding to negative reviews:

• Thank the reviewer for their feedback.
• Respond to any positive comments.
• Apologize for any legitimate negative experience.
• Explain the steps you'll take to prevent that from happening again.
• Allow the guest to contact you offline if follow-up discussion is needed.
• How a hotel reacts to criticism is often more important to prospective guests than the negative comments themselves. So watch your response - but make sure you're giving one.

8. Should I respond to positive reviews?

Brian says, "In my experience, hotels that reply to both kinds of feedback - positive and negative - and engage people in a timely and consistent manner tend to be the most successful. Responding to all negative reviews, as well as a wide range of positive reviews shows you're listening and caring about what the guest thought. In the event that a guest misrepresents the facts, it's also ok to set the record straight."

9. How should I respond to misleading or inaccurate reviews?

First of all, avoid angry, abusive responses…or any type of personal attack. Usually, it isn't worth questioning the reviewer's legitimacy (yes, fake reviews do happen from time to time, but they can be very difficult to prove and it's better to avoid this accusation), but feel free to politely and diplomatically correct inaccurate descriptions of concrete and demonstrable features of your property (# of rooms, hours of operation for facilities, available meal services.)

Give your guest the benefit of the doubt when responding to an inaccuracy. If they say something blatantly false, assume that they're mistaken, not malicious. If you think a competitor is writing negative reviews, contact the review site directly, and explain your reason for concern.

10. Are there any common reputation management responses that I should avoid?

• Only replying with a discount or coupon (which indirectly encourages abuse)
• Corporate babble with no substantial change - such as: "We are sorry to hear about your inconvenience, and appreciate your comments here.

We are happy that you have spoken up so that we may better our property. We will be working diligently to make your stays much more enjoyable in the future."

If I had a poor experience at a hotel, the above type of management response would do absolutely nothing for me. I want specifics! It's unlikely I would return in the future to see if my stay is "much more enjoyable."

11. I've taken over a poorly-reviewed property. Is there any way to remove the previous owners' bad reviews from TripAdvisor?

Brian from TripAdvisor says, "If a new owner has just taken over a property with a poor reputation, they can go to their owners' page and fill out the 'change of ownership' form with details of the nature of the ownership change, along with documentation that the change occurred, and we can remove reviews from the prior owner's tenure."

12. Okay, I've fixed my hotel's problems. How do I let the world know?

Now that changes have been made, you need to go back to the audience and let them know you listened and acted on their suggestions.

• Tell the guests directly - in your replies on TripAdvisor and other guest review websites.
• Tell the story of how you did it - through videos posted to YouTube…or interviews published on your hotel blog.
• Tell the media - with a press release or full-scale PR campaign (depending on the changes you made, of course).

13. What is the #1 best way to protect my reputation online?

Build a great experience, and then constantly listen to guest feedback - taking the necessary steps to improve problem areas. Train or change your staff. Bring in advisors. Hire a designer…or maybe just a plumber for that leaky sink! Do whatever it takes with the resources you have.

It's no longer possible to hide your flaws with slick marketing. But even the perfect hotel experience will not reach as many people as it could if it's not paired with a strong digital communications plan.

alt text Brian Payea leads the Trade Relations practice at TripAdvisor. His focus is on fostering communications channels with the travel industry and strengthening the ties between TripAdvisor and the hospitality community. His department is building new tools for hoteliers and other hospitality professionals to take advantage of the wealth of traveler-contributed information on TripAdvisor. Prior to TripAdvisor, Brian led public relations, marketing, government relations and investor relations at internet companies including Zoom Information and Lycos. Brian lives in Boston near TripAdvisor headquarters.

Josiah MacKenzie is the founding owner and marketing brain of the Gradigio Group, a San Francisco-based collection of media properties catering to the hospitality industry around the globe. He also has roles in other ventures, with business interests in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia. Mr. Mackenzie has published over 100 articles, and has appeared in the Washington Post, MSNBC.com, and Entrepreneur magazine. His new book, The Savvy Hotelier's Guide to Hotel Marketing Ideas, reveals over 1,000 of the most profitable marketing tactics used by hotels. Mr. MacKenzie can be contacted at 415-671-9629 or josiah@reviewpro.com Extended Bio...

HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.com.

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