Ms. Coloccia

Social Media & PR

Online Reputation Management - How Important Is It Really?

By Jane Coloccia, President & Chief Creative Officer, JC Communications, LLC

If you’re keeping abreast of hot topics in hotel trade publications and at industry conferences, you’ll notice there is quite a lot of chatter about online reputation management. Some hoteliers seem to be fixated on what guests are saying about them on TripAdvisor, Facebook, and in OTA review columns; others display a modicum of concern and wonder if they should be doing anything about them; and then there is a group that frankly, just doesn’t give a damn. So where do YOU fall?

There was a time when all you had to worry about with regard to the reputation of your hotel was the actual physical appearance of the property, the professionalism of your staff, efficiency of operations, how your brochure and collateral materials looked, and what bona fide journalists said about you. Then the worldwide web arrived and opened up a new can of worms. Suddenly you needed to think about a website presence, then it had to have a booking engine, e-mail marketing was rearing its ugly head, and not being a technologically savvy bunch, hoteliers seemed quite overwhelmed.

Fast forward to circa 2014, and now there are all of these social media sites to contend with. But in the grand scheme of things, they don’t really matter right?

Dead Wrong

The White House Office of Consumer Affairs reports that “A dissatisfied consumer will tell between 9 and 15 people about their experience. About 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people.”

A decade or two ago, a guest would come stay at your hotel and have a bad experience with a dirty room or a surly front desk clerk. Maybe they would complain to you, perhaps they would tell their spouse when they got home if the situation was still bothering them. And then MAYBE it would come up in party conversation a week later when a friend inquired about their trip.

Now add in the key ingredient of a wired, connected, social media mad world, and suddenly telling a few people turns into 200, 2,000, and counting! Do you really want that many people knowing about a bad experience that a guest had at your hotel? This is why online reputation management actually IS quite important.

Today, if a guest has a negative interaction with your front desk clerk, you can bet this interaction will be reported on Facebook or Twitter by the time they get to their room. Suddenly all of your dirty laundry, so to speak, is visible to the world.

If this guest reviews your hotel on TripAdvisor and talks about his or her bad check-in, another guest writes about a dirty room, and yet another talks about the cold, runny eggs they had at breakfast, suddenly you have a collection of negative reviews about your hotel. And while they might all be isolated incidents from three out of the 2,000+ travelers you might welcome in a month, the fact is this negativity is out there FOREVER and it will give potential guests cause for concern.

In fact, a TripAdvisor survey of 35,000 travelers found that “55 percent consider 1-5 properties before booking an accommodation.” It also goes on to report, “travel review websites surpass feedback from family and friends as the ‘most useful’ sources of information when researching and planning a trip.” If you have been living with your head in the sand of late, set up a Google Alert for your hotel’s name, check “everything” when it asks if you want to be alerted about “news” or “blogs” or “videos” or “discussions,” and you might be quite surprised as to what people are saying about you out there.

This is real. This is the world that we live in. And while you may not want to worry about it or simply don’t care what people are saying about your hotel, you need to. Consumers are indeed taking the time to contact companies through Facebook and complain about a situation. In fact, many media today are actually advising consumers that if you can’t get a response through a company’s customer service line, go on Facebook or social media because you will get a more immediate response. And 9 times out of 10 they do. No company wants a dissatisfied customer ranting publicly. They do whatever they can to take that conversation offline immediately. And this is the philosophy you need to adopt as well.

This is your opportunity to make it right with the customer. How you handle it online is much the same as how you handle a customer complaining at the front desk right across from you. Perhaps you subscribe to the school of thought that the customer is a whining, uneducated troll, and you really don’t care what they think. But if you are of the mind that you view a negative situation as an opportunity to make things right and gain a customer for life, then you need to make things right online as well.

Sure, there are customers who abuse social media and use it for their own devices. TripAdvisor is well aware of the fact that many guests are blackmailing hoteliers into giving upgrades and freebies to ward off a negative review. There’s always going to be someone who tries to scam the system and you’re going to have to be aware of that.

But, online reputation management is definitely calling hoteliers to play a bigger game. Customer service and satisfaction have never been more important in your day-to-day business. You need to make things right with guests whenever possible. I hear hoteliers talk about TripAdvisor, question whether they should respond to reviews, and then think that if they just post a scripted, generic answer to every negative review, this will move them up in the rankings of their city. WRONG! If it were that easy, don’t you think everyone would be ranked Number One?

Responding to a guest who complained about something negative at your hotel with an apology and yet not actually doing anything about it to correct the situation is going to result in another guest who is going to complain online about the exact same thing down the road. Do you honestly think this is going to improve your rating amongst hotels in the city if you don’t actually correct the problems in your operations? Hoteliers should look upon social media and their online reputation as a huge opportunity. Whereas years ago, a guest might have left your hotel dissatisfied, vow to never come back, and you never actually knew what that reason was, today with social media, they are actually telling you — and unfortunately everyone else — what they didn’t like and giving you the opportunity to make it right if not with them, then for the next guest who crosses your threshold.

While I am completely of the mind that not all negative reviews or reports online are deserved, I do think in certain areas, you need to pay attention. Sure, you are always going to come across the guest who simply selected the wrong property. They have an “all-inclusive” select service type of mindset and staying at a four- or five-star hotel for them is akin to highway robbery. You can’t do anything about them. Or the guest who just didn’t do their due diligence and suddenly the fact that you aren’t located near the city center or don’t have children’s programs really isn’t your fault and there is nothing you can actually do about that. But if guests are repeatedly telling you that they had a slow experience at check-in, the food at your breakfast buffet is horrible, or the rooms are filthy, then maybe you want to check into why this is so.

And don’t think your online reputation management can be achieved 100% by technology. There are a lot of companies out there selling “Customer Intelligence Tools” — aka “software.” This can be helpful, as it will aggregate all of your reviews worldwide into a single dashboard so you can easily access what consumers are saying about you. But you still need to add the human element. Knowing what guests are saying about you and then responding to them are two very different things. You shouldn’t be doing one without the other. You need to actually take the time to respond to all of those reviews. Consider it just an extension of the hospitality you already pride yourself on delivering. A customer who has a bad experience just wants to feel heard. Show them you are listening by responding to their review with genuine care and concern. And if you respond to the good reviews too with a note of thanks, all that much better. Bottom line: it shows you care.

We live in a world where things are ever changing and, unfortunately, having to worry about your online reputation is just one more thing to add to your “to do” list. But keep in mind that while your online reputation might be negative, it could also be quite positive. What if people were Tweeting about what an amazing experience they had at your hotel? Or sharing a photo of your innovative welcome amenity — a cute cupcake or kale chips versus the dreaded fruit plate. Or they posted a photo on Pinterest of the dessert they had in your dining room that was “beyond amazing!” Now online reputations aren’t so bad are they?

I remember hearing a story about how one hotel was monitoring what people were saying about them on Twitter. A business traveler Tweeted how she was having a horrible day, her flight was delayed, she was sitting in a boring conference, and she couldn’t wait to get to her room at this hotel. The hotel then Tweeted back they were sorry she was having a bad day and they would have a special treat waiting for her when she finally arrived. This made such an impression on the guest that she proceeded to Tweet about it and share her experience on social media for days afterward. Here is just one example of how you positively manage your online reputation and how you leverage social media to create awareness for your brand.

Having to deal with an online reputation might not be exactly what you would have wanted, but welcome to life. It’s never as we planned. And for the foreseeable future, your online reputation is not going away. Get familiar with it, assign someone to take care of it, and take action if that is what your customers are asking you to do

Jane Coloccia is the President & Chief Creative Officer of JC Communications, LLC, a boutique agency specializing in communication for the travel, lifestyle, and food industries. She began her career on the editorial side as Assistant Travel Editor of Modern Bride Magazine where she developed a keen sense of what editors like and dislike when being pitched by a PR professional. With more than 20 years of experience in working with everything from big brand name hotels to independent resorts and small inns, Ms. Coloccia knows the hospitality business inside and out. In fact, she is probably the first and only public relations executive who has received the Certified Hospitality Marketing Executive (CHME) designation from the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International. Ms. Coloccia's expertise also includes a stint at The Leading Hotels of the World as Director of Communications, which helped to solidify her luxury hospitality marketing skills. Ms. Coloccia can be contacted at 310-456-4631 or jane@jcccommunicationsllc.com Extended Bio...

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Hotel Law: The Biggest Challenges
Given the size and scope of the international hotel industry, the subject of hotel law is equally varied and vast. From development deals to management agreements; from food and beverage liability to labor and employment; from claims management to anti-trust matters; to legal concerns surrounding the issues of risk, safety and security, the practice of hotel law relies upon the expertise of many different kinds of legal specialists and practitioners. Though the subject matter is broad, there are several pending legal issues which will loom large in 2014 and beyond. The Affordable Care Act will be fully implemented in 2014 and its impact on hotel companies and their hiring practices is still to be determined. Other significant labor issues to be addressed include lawsuits pertaining to tip credit and tip pooling; wage-hour audits conducted by the Department of Labor: ongoing negotiations with unions involving living wage issues and the right of workers to organize; and increased pressure on hotel operations to be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. On the business side of the industry, it is expected that there will be a wave of new hotel development that will engender all the related legal issues – land acquisition, entitlements, joint ventures and other financing, selection of hotel operators and brands, along with Hotel Management and Franchise Agreements. In addition, it is projected that there will be a substantial increase in foreign investment – particularly from the Chinese. Chinese investment will involve all the normal legal issues of an investment from due diligence, acquisition and financing, but will add layers of complexity to deal with tax and other international issues involving direct foreign investment in the U.S. These critical issues and others pertaining to Hotel Law will be explored in the December issue of Hotel Business Review.