5 Best Practices for Managing Online Feedback

What a difference a few years make in your reputation

When I started working at Revinate in 2010, I spent a lot of time speaking to hoteliers about why it is so important to monitor online feedback and proactively engage with guests over social media. At the time, less than 4% of hotels were responding to online reviews and many hotels weren’t even reading their public guest feedback, let alone using social media in a business capacity. At the time, the research didn’t exist to show the impact that reviews make on booking decisions but over the last couple of years many studies have been published that leave very little doubt as to the importance of online reputation management.

In 2010, TripAdvisor and Forrester began polling consumers about the impact of management responses. The results showed that for the majority of consumers, a management response to a bad review is reassuring and that all things being equal consumers would book with a hotel that responds to reviews versus one that remains silent. TripAdvisor now reports that hoteliers now respond to 25% of new reviews. And, in 2012, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research published a study that put the impact of great ratings into perspective for revenue managers – – hotels with great reviews can charge more than those that don’t rate as high. While intuitive, the study was a big wake-up call for many who have been waiting for a serious ROI study before dedicating time and resources.

Today, the conversation has shifted from why it is so important to manage online feedback to the best ways to operationalize this data and measure it. Working with more than 15,000 clients across 120 countries, I see a lot of different practices around online reputation management. Following are my top 5 best practices, most of which were rarely seen a few years ago.

1. Get serious about measurement

In 2012 I saw many hotels getting serious about understanding the impact of online reputation management to their own bottom line. I saw tremendous presentations by clients, such as qualia in Australia, who used the multi-channel funnel in Google Analytics to measure the direct traffic and assisted conversions from TripAdvisor. In the case of qualia, with dedication to responding to reviews and focusing on improving quality ratings, the team drove 7% more revenue in 2012 than in 2010 and 2011 combined.

2. Show me the money

We all know that what gets measured gets done and what gets compensated gets done the quickest. Many management groups are now including online reputation metrics in employee and management compensation plans. Traditionally, management compensation packages have been based on factors such as market share, financial performance, traditional comment cards or guest satisfaction surveys and staff satisfaction. But what these measurements fail to account for are the factors that are driving real booking decisions today such as TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index, online review ratings, management response rates and social media engagement.  If you’re not already doing it, start setting goals and rewarding your hotels that do a great job. Then invite me to your next GM’s gala and I will happily give out the online reputation award for 2013.

3. Involve the right people

This best practice may sound obvious, but for a long time, many hotels had one or two people responsible for reading and responding to online reviews and they largely acted in a vacuum. Today, many hotels involve all teams in the process of monitoring feedback, responding to reviews, engaging guests and ensuring that feedback is used to improve the operation of the hotel. Many hotels and portfolios are forming committees to review feedback or ensuring that the leading issues from online reviews are presented during weekly stand-ups and action items are assigned to the people empowered to resolve the issues.

4. Use social media for service recovery

The press still likes to cover stories about Twitter being used at hotels for service recovery, so it’s clear that these types of engagement are still few and far between. Given the real-time nature of Twitter, actively monitoring your account gives you the best chance of nipping an issue in the bud, before it becomes a full-blown PR nightmare. The New York Times covered the story of basketball star, Chipper Jones, who was unhappy with his room at a large hotel in New York and took to Twitter to complain. Luckily, the hotel, a Revinate client, was monitoring Twitter and saw the complaints in real time. With a process in place to deal with guest complaints, they dispatched an engineer who went right up to his room to take care of the issues.

Another best practice for Twitter is to monitor the Twitter hash tag of any group meetings or conferences taking place in your hotel.  Doing so will allow you to monitor the comfort of your guests, and as a result, the satisfaction of your clients. Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego has made this a practice at the hotel and has caught issues around temperature and wi-fi in real time, leaving the clients floored by the hotel’s responsiveness.

5. Surprise and Delight

While engaging on Twitter and Facebook provides many ways to forge tighter bonds with your guests, there is nothing like merging the virtual world with the real-world by sending an old-fashioned amenity to the rooms of guests that check-in on foursquare, tweet positively about the hotel, or post photos to your Facebook page while they are on site. These surprise and delight tactics go a long way towards driving loyalty and word-of-mouth about the great service at your hotel. I have been the recipient of many fruit plates, cupcakes and bottles of wine as a result of my tweets and I never fail to take a picture to share with my network, praising the hotel for its great hospitality.

As we move deeper in 2013, I am looking forward to seeing these programs put into practice by more hotels. With real-benefits and hard ROI to back you up, we wish you good luck as you delve deeper into a new frontier.

3 Ways to Manage Consumer Generated Media

The continually rising number of people participating in creating media through social networks is increasing every day, which means the amount of consumer generated media about your company is also increasing on social sites like Facebook and Twitter, on review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, and also on photo and video sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube. This means marketers no longer control or have as much control over the brand message. How do you align this consumer generated media with your brand and make it consistent with the target market that your property is going after?

The challenge is letting go of that need to control the brand message and figuring out how best to manage the consumer generated media instead. The key to managing instead of of controlling lies in a few strategies of engagement and understanding.

1. Engage in a Dialogue with your Customers

Use social media to respond to consumer comments. It may take some time, but a customer who receives a reply, a retweet, or a thank you feels connected to your company. Knowing that someone is listening and taking their opinions and comments seriously creates a relationship. Responding to negative feedback and letting a customer know that “that isn’t how we run things” and “next time, your experience will be more ____” gives you the opportunity to say what your brand promise is. Replying and retweeting comments and photos that are aligned with your brand promise is another way to promote what  your brand promise is to more eyes online.

2. Promote Conversations that Align with your Brand

You can encourage customers to talk about some of their brand experiences along key brand themes. If your resort is family friendly, marketers can invite customers to share their stories, photos, videos, testimonials, etc. of their family having fun on your property either on their own social networks or directly onto your company website.

3. Analyze What People are Saying

A tool that I found to be very insightful and illustrative in gathering social media data is to create a word cloud with a tool like Wordle. Just copy and paste anything from one review to dozens and it will use a kind of algorithm to count the words that are used in consumer text. It then emphasizes certain words that really stand out, or that are used the most, and it creates a visual picture of what people saying.

A more involved approach is what’s called content analysis. And this would require a team of analysts or managers reading through customer comments and manually pulling out key themes. What do people seem to be saying the most?

Given the deluge of customer data that’s appearing in social media today, it seems clear to most that a more efficient and effective way to measure brand consistency across multiple channels is a necessity. Few have time to crawl through five or even fifteen social networks looking for and analyzing comments and photos.

Fortunately, a fast emerging vertical in the hospitality analytics space is ORM, or online reputation management. There are a number of new firms (such as Revinate, newBrandAnalytics, and ReviewPro) that have appeared in the past few years that have looked at this problem of this massive amount of qualitative consumer comment data, and asked “How can we make sense of this to enable hospitality managers to understand what people are saying as well as to make better decisions?”

What they do is they capture consumer conversations across a range of social media channels. They then aggregate and even score this comment data to give marketers both a sense of what people are saying, and whether this they call sentiment is trending in a desired direction or not. Such intelligence generated by these and other online reputation management providers is an enormous leap in our ability to assess brand consistency. Not only in terms of the marketer generated brand messaging, but perhaps more importantly in terms of consumer generated messaging, and whether or not the two are aligned as intended.

Communicating in Circles: Why This is Good for You

Within the last ten to fifteen years, new media channels have exploded into the daily lives of the hospitality consumer. There are now dozens upon dozens of new ways in which we can communicate with our customers, not just market to them.

It’s no longer that you as the hospitality marketer come up with a brand, come up with a way in which to symbolize or communicate that brand, choose media channels, and send that message out to our target customers. That’s a very linear approach, or presentation-based marketing communications. With new media, in particular social media, the nature of that communication has really evolved, and it’s now something where the consumer has much greater control over that message and of the brand itself. We call this consumer-generated influence or consumer-generated media.

In other words, marketing communications now is much more circular. You have to think not only about how you can influence the consumers’ perceptions of your brand, but also how they’ll influence others by interacting with your brand in their own social channels. Will they tag their location while on your property? Will they mention what a great time, what a beautiful lobby, what great food, etc. while they are there? Upload photos of your property to their friends? This is where the opportunity for dialogue between the brand and your customers comes alive.

Responding to Twitter, Facebook, TripAdvisor posts and the like gives you an opportunity to directly communicate your brand to your customers as well as learn more about how they perceive your brand and what they expect from it.


Is New Media Even Relevant to the Hospitality Industry?

New media in hospitality marketing is not evolutionary; it’s revolutionary. And its growth hasn’t been linear; it’s been exponential.

In the year 2000, less than 5% of hotel room revenue was booked online in the United States. By 2015, that number will balloon to over 35%, more if you include bookings by business travellers using mobile devices or their own PCs and even event attendees using software provided by the event organizers or the venues themselves.

In addition, Google became a publicly traded company in 2004 and today it represents more than 90% of search activities by users. Then in 2010, Facebook actually overtook Google in the number of weekly U.S. visitors. And finally, I’ll bet you have a mobile device in your pocket or on your desk right now, and a tablet in your possession or at least on your wish list.

New media (social, mobile, and search) is everywhere. It’s in the pockets, purses, desks, and living rooms of your potential consumers, helping them make decisions about their next purchase.

By leveraging these new connections to the target market, you are offering potential consumers the opportunity to engage with your brand in a more complete way than was previously available.  You are allowing customers to essentially “try” your product or property before even buying. For example: hotel web sites have evolved from kind of of the Web 1.0 version of online brochures to much more interactive sites where visitors can take virtual tours to explore property, they can play games, they can engage in virtual activities such as taking the participant’s view as they go down a water slide, or even watch short movies. Because there are so many new ways to connect with customers, creativity and uniqueness can be strong tools to set you apart from your competition.

New media is indeed relevant to the hospitality marketing industry. It is how you are going to project, promote, and protect your brand. And it is how you are going to capture more than your fair share of the desired target market.

Brand Consistency Across Social Media Is No Easy Task

eCornell recently launched a free online course focused on training hospitality professionals in the new media marketing skills needed for professional success. In Marketing the Hospitality Brand through New Media: Social, Mobile & Search, one of the key topics we talk about is managing a brand in today’s marketing environment.

Communicating the company brand across channels has always been a challenge, even before new media came onto the scene. Now it takes even more of a disciplined, concerted effort to create “one voice” for the brand. No matter the medium or venue, you want the consumer to take away a clear understanding of what experience they’re going to have with your brand.

As a hospitality marketer, you also want to make sure not to create marketing “silos” or messages that are so distinct that they are disconnected from all others. To do so would be to create confusion in the eyes of the consumer about what your brand means and what it stands for.

Add to that equation that an increased number of media channels are outside of the marketer’s control (for example, online travel agencies and review sites). It was hard enough managing the brand voice across traditional channels that were essentially marketer-driven, but now with consumer-generated media, the consumer very much influences the brand.

That doesn’t mean that that influence can’t be managed or shouldn’t be managed. This means across the company’s Facebook presence, for example, or in responding to TripAdvisor posts, or in Twitter feeds or whatever other social media or mobile media channels are used, that brand voice still has to be consistent.

Adding to the complexity is that social media strategists within the organization may not be working inside the silo that is the brand management team. The way in which they would communicate with customers through social media still has to convey the brand. It still has to use the same kind of language and symbolism.

In short, this makes the management of that communications task all the more complex but also all the more necessary, since this is a two-way dialogue between the brand and the customer.


Social Media, OTAs and New Distribution Channels

Potentially the best way to strategically assess new channels is to first ask, “Do they offer benefit to both suppliers and consumers?” While suppliers often speak negatively about OTAs, the value proposition is clear on both sides as they provide a great shopping experience to consumers and considerable reach and revenue to suppliers. While some newer channels should be analyzed at really a property level for their true incrementality, the burden really lies at that compset level – will a hotel lose market share if they don’t participate with a certain provider when their direct competitor is?

Also, when analyzing your hotel and your competitive set through the lens of social media lens, recognize that there may be a direct impact to your top line revenues if there is clear distinction between properties in the eyes of potential customers. So when considering a new channel, a good first step is to evaluate the opportunities from both parties and if the channel fails to deliver to both key parties, it may not be around for the long haul.

This is the summary from a paper I co-wrote with Jay Hubbs, Vice President, Regional Sales, ReviewPro entitled The Ever Evolving Distribution Landscape – A Focus on Emerging Channels:

Read the full article here.


How Tech and Social Media Now Drive the Travel/Hotel Industry

I was in NYC last week, along with Hotel Administration Dean Michael Johnson, to present my new research on how travel review web sites and hotel-industry elasticity are forming a tidal wave of change in 2013.

We were at the Westin New York at Times Square in Manhattan, as part of the Inside Cornell series, a monthly series featuring researchers and experts working at Cornell University’s centers in Ithaca, Manhattan and around the world. Click here to view the video.


What you need to know about new media right now

This article, written by eCornell CEO Christopher Proulx, was originally published in HotelsMag.com.

As the marketing landscape explodes with new media channels, hospitality marketers have an increased number of methods by which to raise the visibility of their brands. Gone are the days of relying solely on static print ads or run-of-the-mill television commercials. Instead, in the world of new media, hotels can reach customers in a more dynamic and engaging way. Finding the ways in which to maximize this opportunity starts with an in-depth understanding of the new media landscape.

Here are the top three things every hotel marketer needs to know right now:

Evolving media brings more opportunity for creativity

As dollars continue to shift away from traditional media to new media channels, there is a world of opportunity for marketers to shine from a creative perspective. By leveraging new media tools, hotels can offer guests a chance to more fully engage with a brand before making a decision to book travel. For example, some hotels provide virtual tours of rooms and unique property features (such as world class pools, water slides, spas). This allows customers to try before they buy in a way that’s much more meaningful than a static marketing piece. Video has also become an integral part of new media marketing as we see premium brands create professional pieces in an effort to convey what a guest might experience during a hotel stay. (The Ritz Carlton does this very well). Because there are now so many new ways to connect with customers, creative elements can go a long way in a new media campaign. Now more than ever, generating creative social media content needs to be built into a hotel’s marketing strategy.

Consistent messaging is key

With the increase in marketing channels comes the increased need for hotels to monitor their marketing message. One major change as it relates to communication is the consumer’s ability to influence the brand. Consumers routinely recommend hotels online, and reviews, both positive and negative are widely accessible online. That means that variation in the way that a hotel is discussed online should both be anticipated and addressed. In addition, the way a hotel is described through social media channels can differ from the rest of the messaging if the social media strategist is not working closely with the brand team. The result? A diluted message about what a customer can expect from a particular hotel experience. Now more than ever, hospitality marketers must be mindful of all marketing communication, including monitoring online reviews and discussion, responding where appropriate, and develop a tight messaging to be used throughout all channels.

The importance of search will continue to grow

Over the last several years, search engine optimization (SEO) has become critical to the hospitality industry. According to a recent Google study, 78 percent of all hotel transactions involved search at some stage of travel selection by the consumer, and 61 percent of people making online hotel transactions were directly referred to a hotel website by a search engine. With the migration fromhorizontal search (i.e looking at options a thousand miles wide but one inch deep) to vertical search (i.e. looking more narrowly at one particular point in the search process), the specific focus on the travel industry and the introduction of social filtering through search, today’s hospitality marketers must understand how to leverage search marketing in order to stay competitive.

The bottom line is this. In the fast-paced world of new media, hospitality marketers must stay informed and nimble. Each day is a new opportunity to reach potential customers in a meaningful way, which is why a deep understanding of new media tools is a must for hospitality marketers.

Can Twitter be used for Training & Development?

Twitter is a free social networking tool that keeps people connected with one another and with sources of information. Twitter users submit updates, called “tweets,” about what they are doing at the moment. These text-based tweets cannot exceed 140 characters. Twitter traffic is exploding and recently reached 50 million tweets per day. If you do a quick search using the tool, many brand name companies use Twitter as another way to connect and communicate with customers, partners, analysts and employees.

Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of “friends.” Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, SMS text, RSS, or through any ever-growing number of applications such as Twirl and Facebook for mobile devices.

Can Twitter be used for training & development? How? A few ways to consider:

Provide real-time nuggets of learning
Even faster and more digestible than rapid e-learning, Twitter tweets could be used to distribute real-time/just-in-time nuggets of information as needed. Consider a Twitter network of geographically dispersed sales people who can instantly and constantly share competitive information and insights AS THEY OCCUR IN THE FIELD. Articles, news items, YouTube videos…almost anything can be shared instantly (and easily using the “shorten URL” feature).

Follow-up/archive method
Twitter is a great tool for communicating and asking questions on conference calls and webcasts. Another benefit: using Twitter enables you to keep a record of the questions and comments in a format not unlike a chat or blog post.

Reinforcement & reminders related to processes, policies and procedures
Twitter can be used to reinforce new content because it allows you to send and see quick snippets of information…ideal for sending out reminders, how-to’s, examples and clarifications…all important when it comes to maintaining consistency related to new processes, policies and procedures.

Are you using Twitter in the workplace? Is it a viable tool for learning and development? Post your ideas and comments below.

BTW, follow eCornell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ecornell_online.