Mr. Jost

Social Media & Relationship Marketing

The Circle of Trust

By Benjamin Jost, Co-Founder & CEO, TrustYou

Your parents. Your siblings. Your spouse. Your best friend. Your closest colleague. Traditionally some combination of these, if not all of them, would likely comprise your "Circle of Trust." It would be an intimate grouping of those closest to you, those who know you best. They tell it like it is, but would not have a bad word to say about you outside of this sphere. It's a safe place.

What if I told you that your "Circle of Trust" was composed of thousands of people. Most of them you don't know personally. In fact, many of them you have never even met before. They know you and have a strong opinion of you. The people in this circle are talking about you to their neighbors, to all of their social media friends and even telling people they have never met about you. They are writing about you; in a best case scenario they are saying very nice things. At other times, not so much. If you are a hotelier, what I just described is part of your "Circle of Trust."

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Guest feedback is growing. It's exploding. Feedback that was once confined to an in-room survey is now a billboard in the form of online reviews, social media posts, photos for all to see and yes, there is still traditional word of mouth. Your "Circle of Trust" is now made up of all these people, sharing all these stories, anecdotes and details of their stay. If it's all working well, this circle is a source of referrals and powerful ones at that. An astonishing 92% of consumers worldwide said they trust "earned media" (word-of-mouth, friends and family) above all other forms of advertising (Neilsen Global Trust Survey). This is an 18% jump since 2007 and social media and review sites have no doubt contributed to this increase as the process of sharing recommendations has become much easier, often times unsolicited (as it pops up in your Facebook stream and you think, "I should try that hotel the next time I am in New York"). The bottom line is that people trust recommendations from people they know. And who they "know" is growing as you see what friends of friends have to say and suggest across social networks. On review sites you might not even know the person, yet they become a trusted source of information just by the high level of detail they have shared about a particular experience and the number of past reviews they have posted. Put this all together and you can see how and why the "Circle of Trust" that relates to your hotel is multiplying. You can't stop its expansion, but you influence it.

Get Them Talking More: How to Increase Review Volume via Surveys

Let's face it; reviews and social media absolutely have an impact on booking decisions and ultimately your bottom line. Specific to review sites, higher-ranking hotels earn better visibility, which lends itself to a greater appeal amongst travelers, which in turn results in more heads in beds (and revenue). So you need more reviews. I know what you are thinking: "Easier said than done." My response: "It is easier than you think. Just ask them."

We have seen a tremendous spike in reviews from hotels that use the survey functionality of our platform. By simply customizing a survey and sending it to past guests to fill out you have a wealth of information that can live in the form of user-content on your very own website. Review sites are still very important, so there is the option to decide where you want the feedback and content to live. We give hotels the option of distributing reviews across a number of sites. Maybe you send 25% to your own site, 40% to TripAdvisor and the rest to some combination of Yelp!, Google+ and Booking.com. As I said, the more reviews, the better the score. The better the score, the higher the visibility. And you can charge more as your scores improve.

We've found that hotels with a TrustScore higher than 90 have shown an increase of about 10.5% in ADR when the TrustScore increases by 1%. The TrustScore, a ranking, based on a possible top billing of 100, is a compilation of guest feedback across all major user-generated sites to measure how a hotel is rated in one easy-to-read score. Content from over 250 sites go into the determination. What doesn't? The star-rating of your property, which means three- and four-star accommodations can compete with the once superior five-star set if the service delivery and experience is there and the guests are posting positive comments. Hotels with a TrustScore lower than 90 also benefit and have shown an increase of about 4.6% in ADR when the TrustScore increases by 1%.

Engaging with guests on social media platforms - before, after and during their stay - also helps to strengthen the bond within your "Circle of Trust." And let's not forget that no matter how many reviews there are, regardless of how make "likes" you get, if the service, experience and overall delivery aren't there, you're fighting an uphill battle.

Making Sense of It All and Bringing Calm to the Chaos: Monitoring Tools

Now you have them talking more, the reviews have multiplied, your hotel is being talked about across too many sites to name and it's all abuzz on social media. Fantastic. Then you get that email passed along. You know the one; from someone within the hotel's ownership group. A friend of a friend of his mother-in-law's stepdaughter found a really bad review about your hotel on a site that you pay little to no attention to. And no one responded to it (or even knew about it). And even on the sites that you are monitoring more often, it's just too hard to keep up. Some of the reviews are just falling through the cracks. You need eyes in the back of your head to keep up. Or more sensibly, a monitoring platform to keep track.

You are running a hotel. That doesn't mean you need to be running on empty and trying to find ways to harness all of the online content and bring together. That's what us tech and data geeks are here for (why aren't we ever call tech and data Gods?). With over 50 man years of university research behind us at TrustYou we have the technology and tools to aggregate and analyze the tremendous sea of data out there about your hotel. With our semantic analysis technology we can break down what is being said and deliver the trends and sentiment behind all of this online feedback. And we do this in over 20 languages so you can actually understand what your international guests are saying about you. This is brought together into a centralized dashboard that shows the number of new reviews, positive vs. negative, what guests are saying about service, location, food, beds and more. It also shows the management response rate and allows you to reply to reviews directly from the tool (I hear the large sigh of relief from those of you who have to go to each site directly). What's more is that you can benchmark against your competitors to see how you are doing in review volume, responses and virtually every other category we're keeping tabs on.

Let's go back and focus on responding for minute. It should be a focus because the act of replying can have a big impact on your "Circle of Trust." Hotels that respond to online guest reviews, whether positive or negative, average 6% higher review scores than those who don't. Management responses are so important that 68% of people say they would choose a hotel with management responses over a comparable hotel without them. Even negative reviews that have responses have a positive impact with 79% of travelers saying they feel reassured by the seeing the hotel is listening. So tell me again why you are too busy to respond? You need to. Your "Circle of Trust" relies on it and is strengthened by it.

Shout It From The Rooftops: Marketing Your Success

You've listened to your guests. You've pulled the trends of positive and negative; then made service and operational adjustments accordingly. You have gotten more reviews and higher scores. The "Circle of Trust" is working well; they seem to like you (or at least your hotel). Don't let this hard work go unnoticed. There are marketing strategies that you can implement and widgets you can add to your website to show off the all of the accolades. Remember the TrustScore I mentioned earlier? There are dozens of hotels that use this as a seal of approval. You're not telling everyone how great you are, you're simply pulling together all of the user comments and adding them all together to get a collective you are EXCELLENT! There are some brands that have the TrustScore as the headliner of the guest testimonial page. Here are a few examples in Chicago, New York and Hawaii.

Embrace Your Circle of Trust

So let's review how the "Circle of Trust" works:

  • Guests stay at your hotel and become part of your "Circle of Trust." (Like it or not, so make it count and take every opportunity to wow them!)
  • Above mentioned guests go and write reviews, post comments on their social media platforms, which get commented on by friends, and those comments are seen by friends of friends, who go and tell their friends that the just heard about a great hotel in Rome. (The "Circle of Trust" is growing and you don't even know these people.)
  • Out of all these new comments and new sets of eyes you get new influencers who ultimately impact booking decisions. Since 81% of all reviews are positive (and you took every opportunity to wow them), you get new guests who check in.
  • Now it's back to the top and these new guests stay at your hotel…

The circle keeps going round and round and expanding, as should your revenue if you're doing a fraction of the things we spoke about. Embrace your "Circle of Trust" and it can be your best friend, similar to the original definition that you had in mind when we started this discussion.

Benjamin Jost is co-founder and chief executive officer of TrustYou. Benjamin is an expert on social semantic search and is leading the big data revolution in hospitality. Prior to TrustYou, he spearheaded the Southern European M&A team for one of the world’s leading renewable energy providers and oversaw hundreds of investment cases covering a profusion of renewable technologies. He started his career in venture capital at Siemens Venture Capital and Xange Capital. Mr. Jost holds a MsC in engineering from the University of Technology in Munich and conducted research at the ENST Paris and the University of Washington Business School, Seattle. Mr. Jost can be contacted at 011 49 176 83074860 or benjamin.jost@trustyou.com Extended Bio...

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