Firstly, do not equate this post with ‘how to manage Trip Advisor reviews – there are reams already out there on this, and its part of, but anything but the whole story
We will focus on online reputation management, and try to give you some interesting pointers as to how independent hotels can score over their branded counterparts in this area. For brand, read ‘hard brand’ or major hotel brand, or what we call ‘rational brand’. Many independents may be ‘soft branded’ – i.e. branded by emotional factors.
For all hotels, brand or independent, reputation management is an integral and essential component of, but not the same thing as
2 Marketing – especially content marketing and local marketing
4 Revenue management
and it needs to be present as a component of all these to be effective. Additionally these areas need to work together. This is rarely present these days, especially in brands, see below. Reputation management is a process – which integrates all 5 above with each other, and with organisational engagement and communications. The reputation management process essentially has 4 parts
Recovery of reputation – e.g. where there has been a complaint
Reputation management is a relatively new phenomenon surprisingly. Travel shoppers rely heavily on peer experience when making buying decisions. Today is the day of the ‘its all about me’ customer – so that your online reputation is shaped by these customers, not by you – yet you have to manage it, and you must – and yes you can evaluate, act. communicate positively, and shape your on line image on line – blogs, posts, tweets, PR, mobile, social media, internet new sites – you name it..
The stronger your on line reputation the more likely you’ll grow sales, revenues, and rate/yield. You’ll also have a viral effect people more likely to recommend you) – and a displacement effect (people looking for hotel A on e.g. Trip Advisor, se you (hotel B), and switch to you.
Many small businesses think reputation management is only for the big boys (brands &c), or that they can’t afford it, or that its too big a chore. We will hopefully dispel these myths below and give you some instances where independent hotels can actually steal a march over brands when it comes to reputation management – hence converting it into an unmissable commercial opportunity. Here we go:-
1 You are closer to your organisation than a big brand can possibly be to a unit franchisee or licensee, or managed unit. So you can effectively merge the 5 essential parts of reputation management outlined above. Big brands are corporate monoliths. They are slow to change, they are ruled by corporate governance. We know of brands where reputation management is seen as unimportant, there is no separate department for or manager of it, and it seems to fall into a black hole usually somewhere between operations and marketing. In other words, there is no place for it in the corporate organisational chart with many brands currently – or it is not high on the strategic agenda.
2 This is borne out very convincingly if you look at trip Advisor. In most of the top UK destinations, brands are way behind independents in the popularity/review ranking stakes. This corroborates both brand lack of interest, and the opportunity for the independents to gain an advantage
3 Many years ago when the internet began seriously, all hotels had a level marketing playing field, we remember it well. Over the last 15 years, the evolution of travel distribution on the web has meant that this playing field has been massively eroded, what with OTA,s paying for preferred placements which only the larger hotels can afford &c ^&c. However one way currently that the independent or small hotel can redress this imbalance is actually in the area of reputation management. Here are some tips – –
A The big OTA’s are now huge sources of travel shopper reviews, either their own, or in partnership with e.g. Trip Advisor. Independents are in a unique position to manage these more carefully and aggressively than brands, and OTA’s will tend to place properties with great reviews and competitive rates higher in the pecking order, we know this to be the case in practice.
B The billboard effect means that, whether they meant it or not, OTA’s are used as search engines and the booking is made elsewhere e.g. on the hotel website or over the phone. Another good reason to manage your reviews on third party websites.
4 A hot topic in web and social media metrics right now is ‘attribution’ – tracing the channel/s that ultimately lead a traveller to book a room. Once commentator, Josiah Maceknzie, says that 30% of travellers switch hotels at the last minute after looking at Trip Advisor scores. Need i say more?
5 Reputation management is part of the SEO success pyramid. It fosters trust, higher traffic, better conversions, and better and more proactive feedback. Independent hotels have the flexibility of operation, and don’t have the barrier to change of the large corporate brands where there is often a relationship imbalance between the macro(brand) and ,micro (individual/local hotel) level.
6 A brand is a reputation, a unit hotel is a business at the micro level where reputation services are not offered by the brands, nor do they care. They see reputation management as a macro thing on social media(where it has been widely reported that brands are finding SM a virtual waste of time as an engagement tool) – again this is is an opportunity for the independent.
7 With the major brands, there has been a recent obsession with the room as the ‘default’ unit of sale and the core of everything they do, a multi product independent hotel doesn’t need to suffer from this and needs to, and should easily be able to – ensure that its reputation management is spread over all products – rooms, weddings, packages, meetings &c – brand website are woefully short when it comes to market segmentation. Again here is a big opportunity for the independent – remember if you are a wedding hotel, one wedding booking is worth many room sales!
On another issue, integrity and trust are huge components of reputation management. We believe that small businesses in particular, as opposed to brands, live or die by customer referrals. This has 2 implications for independents and reputation management
1 remember that iof you are doing flash sales e.g. with Groupon, these may introduce a demographic mix to your business that may be uncomfortable. Additionally, we find paradoxically that a hotel’s highest [paying/yield ing customers are often their least ‘complaining’ customer segment. Lash sites have the potential to greatly disrupt your value equation and your integrity.
2 practice market segmentation in reputation management, as you would with channel management and revenue management. To illustrate this point, a stayer may be a potential wedding customer, if you do weddings. Therefore make sure you have great wedding reviews from guests, and remember to manage all your key channels right across the board from a reputation management point of view. Big brands just don’t do this.
Here at Navarino, we take a serious interest in all critical control points in the ecommerce and conversion process. We do not provide reputation management services, but two of our partners do, Innfinite and Review Pro. You should take the ReviewPro demo, arrange this through Innfinite (www.innfinite.co.uk) You’ll be staggered at the scope and management capability of this tool, and also by the amount of reviews you have that you don’t even know About. Your Trip Advisor reviews may be less than 20% of your total on line reviews, yet the current press and ob sessions about Trip advisor would sometimes suggest it is the only game in town.
Alos as a point of interest, many of the big brands have joined together to create RoomKey (www.roomkey.com) – this further polarisation of brand from independent will yield opportunities to the independents. Also social media sites, especially Facebook, are hot on the heels of brands for ad campaigns, yet many Facebook users have said they don’t want to be served adds on their pages. There are issues for reputation management here. Also as two further suggestions
1 ask your webmaster to create an on line guest survey for you, so that you can ‘use’ your guests to evaluate you on the key products and services you are most concerned about
2 if you have a social media page e.g. a Facebook Fan page, get your trip Advisor links embedded here, this is easy to do, most webmasters can do it for you
That’s it for now on reputation management, this is an evolving topic, no doubt we will revisit it