Guide to Online Reputation

Boosting your property's reputation is not what it used to be. In the good old days (back when referring to your phone as smart would have seen you institutionalised) a good review from one critic published in a magazine could see your reputation soar and bookings would swoop in. Today, a single review is quickly overwhelmed by the opinions of the masses, shared with millions on sites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com. That’s why online reputation management (ORM) has become so important in the hospitality industry — every hotel has an online presence, whether they know about it and manage it or not.

Section 1: How the modern traveller shops

It’s not just who gets to wear the title of "critic" that has changed over the years, it’s also the way that people plan their travels, how they book accommodation, how they experience new places, and how they share their travels afterwards. The whole travelling process has changed, and to make sure that they are still being considered by these information-age travellers, properties need to change the way that they present themselves as well. Knowing the processes that modern travellers go through to find a place to stay can help you to make sure that they find you, and that what they find online makes them want to book with you over your competitors.

One of the biggest changes to affect the way travellers shop is the online search engine. Previously, when a traveller started to consider where they wanted to go, they would speak to friends and family who may have been to their chosen destination before, looking for advice on hotels to book and places to see. Then there were the guidebooks, magazine and newspaper articles, and travel agents to inform travellers about where the best places were to eat, sleep and be merry.

where-travellers-find-inspiration-online

While word of mouth is hardly going anywhere soon, and Michelin is still awarding stars left, right and centre, practically every phone has something that will give the average traveller a more balanced idea of a city, hotel or restaurant far quicker than any other method could: a Google search. That’s why Google and other search engines are one of the first places that 61% of travellers will go to when deciding where they want to go, followed by 42% checking review sites.

How do people do travel-related web browsing? [booklet]

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Making sure that the right information comes up when people Google you, or that your property comes up amongst the search results when people Google your area, will help guests to choose you over those that appear further down in the results, or don’t come up at all. After all — if you’re not appearing in search results, how will guests find out about you?

If you do a Google search for any hotel, from Four Seasons and the Hyatt to Hotel Hotel (it’s real, we promise) you’ll find that the top results include listings from online travel agencies (OTAs) like Booking.com and review sites like TripAdvisor, all of which feature reviews for the hotels to help those who are thinking of staying to decide whether they should book.

Updating your online travel agent (OTA) listings regularly (as well as your own website) with photographs, testimonials, news and your latest pricing will show potential guests how active you are, and getting lots of reviews, even if they’re not quite as glowing as you’d like, will see your property climbing the OTA rankings, since sites like TripAdvisor take recency and quantity as well as score into consideration when deciding where you rank compared to others in your area.

These reviews are much like the word of mouth that we’re used to, but rather than simply being spoken about amongst friends and family, they’re up for everyone to read. And whether the reviews are good, bad or ugly, you should be careful how you respond, since even a response to a negative review can show others how you treat guests and how much feedback means to you and your hotel.

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Section 2: Owned, paid and earned online media

Managing your online reputation usually means juggling and managing the different types of content that can be found about your property online. These types of content can be broken down into three distinct areas: owned, paid, and earned media.

Owned media is what you own and control without having paid another media owner. This includes your social media platforms, your website, or your OTA listings. Making sure that all of these are up to scratch and showing the latest photographs, information and prices, as well as showing your property in the right light through how you choose to describe and showcase your hotel, should be a matter of course. You don’t want guests to find different pricing across different websites, and you don’t want to be showing off photographs that were taken a decade ago that no longer reflect what your property actually looks like.

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Paid media is what you have paid another media owner for — advertising, whether it’s through Google AdWords, on websites or through social media; that premium TripAdvisor listing; or that feature that you paid to put in a magazine. These will always see your property being shown at its best, because you pay for it to be shown that way, and most people who are seeing your paid content will be well aware that it may not always show the whole picture. Still, paid content is extremely useful for reaching large audiences who may not have heard of you before, and helping them to find out more about you.

The form of content that your potential guests trust the most is the one that you have no control over — earned media. This is made up of reviews that people write about you, articles that are written about you without any money changing hands, or comments on your content — and people trust it so much because it's a form of social proof.

While it may be easier to manage your owned and paid content, since you are directly involved in their creation and commission, managing earned content can be far more difficult, since it can be positive or negative depending on your guests experiences, and it can be particularly damaging to your reputation if the feedback is negative and not being responded to. You may not be responding because you feel that it’s not necessary, or that everything has been addressed elsewhere, but other readers may see your lack of response and think that everything that has been said is true, and that you simply don’t care enough about your customer service to respond.

On the other hand, if the feedback is glowing, but is on a website with low traffic or is never being read, valuable social proof for your property may be getting overlooked by potential guests. Managing your online reputation when it comes to guest feedback means that you should be responding to feedback, highlighting and promoting the positive, and finding ways to fix the negative so that other guests don’t experience the same difficulties when they visit you.

Many hoteliers wonder "how do I promote my hotel" but very few ask "how do I get my guests to promote my hotel". We all know that positive word of mouth is the best kind of marketing that you could hope for, and getting guests to become promoters of your hotel should be a primary objective in your marketing strategy.

Section 3: Analysing and managing online reviews

When talking about online reputation, reviews about your property may be one of the first things that come to mind. And if they are, you’re on the right track, since online reviews are one of the easiest ways for potential guests to find out what a stay with you would be like. It comes back to that earned media that we were talking about a little bit earlier, which people trust because it’s not being paid for or written by you — it’s seen as an honest reflection of your property from an impartial guest.

Managing those reviews — making sure that you keep up to date with what is being said about you online, responding to both positive and negative feedback alike, and encouraging guests to give you feedback about their stays both online and off — can be a full-time job. But what happens when you start to feel that the reviews you’re getting aren’t telling you enough about your property? What happens when a guest had a great time, but still only gives you a three-bubble rating? It can be easy to feel like the job that you’re doing isn’t paying off, and that’s when reading between the lines becomes so important.

When guests share negative experiences online, they give you the opportunity to see your hotel from their point of view and may help you to identify strengths or weaknesses you never knew existed. If you keep track of trends in criticism and act appropriately upon negative feedback to rectify problems, you will improve future guests' experiences, and ensure that you earn more positive reviews through providing a superior offering.

Managing reviews shouldn’t just be about reading over them, it should be about analysing them to see where you can improve, and where you’re getting things right. That can be hard to do when guests only leave one line reviews, but according to Cornell, that’s usually an indication of a happier guest, since shorter reviews are usually associated with higher ratings. When a guest has had a negative experience at your property, they are often far more likely to give details that you can use to pinpoint what went wrong.

Even in the shorter reviews though, it’s important to read between the lines to understand the guest’s experience with you. Often a great review will come with a lower rating than you would have expected, and knowing why that is the case often comes down to delving into the review itself to see what aspect of their stay brought the rating down. The room could have been perfect, the atmosphere lovely and the staff on the ball, but an awful meal or a lift being out of order leading to long hikes to the top floor can put such a dampener on a guest’s experience that everything else going right still doesn’t quite make up for their perceived grievance.

One reviewer gave a hotel only one star, while still stating “This hotel is very clean, lovely comfy pillows & beds” but focussing on the noisy nearby road as being the reason for her poor rating.

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What it boils down to is a guest’s expectations and whether you are meeting them in terms of experience provided and the price attached. In the same study, Cornell found that while positive reviews often cited experiences as the reason for guests enjoying their stay as much as they did, negative reviews often cited value for money, indicating that it’s not the amount that they spend that leaves the naysayers with a bad taste in their mouths, but that what they paid wasn’t worth what they got from their trip.

When a guest books a stay with you, they will have certain ideas of what they are going to be getting. These expectations are usually based on the research that they have done about you, looking over reviews, perusing through the photographs of your property, reading about what a room includes on your website or on OTAs, and, of course, what they have paid for their stay.

If they then arrive and find an aspect of their stay very different from what they were expecting, it adds an immediate air of disappointment to their visit which can often be impossible to overcome. This means that one of the best ways to avoid negative reviews is to make sure that guests know what to expect when they stay with you by:

  • Keeping marketing materials up-to-date and accurate
  • Removing mention of any non-functioning amenities from your OTA listings and website
  • Forewarning guests of any difficulties that you might be experiencing
  • Making efforts to mitigate the effects of maintenance or problems wherever possible

If, for example, your elevators are being repaired, let your guests know before they check-in so that they can adjust their expectations, and offer rooms on lower floors.

Letting guests discover faults on their own will lead to frustration and disappointment over a stay that is already paid for and committed to, leaving them to feeling like they wasted their money.

A hotel that provides good perceived value for money by giving guests good experiences can charge more than a hotel with apparently similar features and amenities that does not provide a pleasant experience, and still be perceived as being better value for money.

Reading between the lines of your online reviews can not only tell you what areas of your property can be improved upon, but can show you what it is that your guests expect when they book with you, allowing you to better understand where you are falling short and where you are exceeding expectations.

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Section 4: Keeping an eye on your competitors

Often, managing your own reputation is going to be about keeping an eye on others, not necessarily so that you can follow the crowd, high-school style, but so that you can find out where there are chances for you to set yourself apart.

Staying aware of your online image is by its nature competitive. Your prospective guests aren’t looking up just your reputation, they are weighing it against that of your competitors. While monitoring reviews as they come in is essential, sometimes one needs go back to basics and follow your own path to purchase to ensure that your establishment is not only putting its best foot forward online, but also measuring up to and surpassing the competition.

The big players of the hospitality industry make keeping an eye on their competition a regular habit. Keeping track of how you are performing; finding out what it is that you offer that others simply can’t; and getting to know more about the accommodation around you are vital parts of online reputation management.

Defining your competitive set

But first things first, you’ll need to know who you are in competition with! After all, a five-star spa is hardly going to be catering to the same market as a budget backpackers. So, how do you determine who your competition is?

You can find them based on:

  • Experience type and quality
  • Location
  • Cost

When identifying your competitors, experience type and quality are related, but not the same. As we mentioned, a spa isn’t really going to cater to the same market as a backpackers, because they are providing entirely different types of experiences. Even if the two were in the same area, they wouldn’t be competitors, because they are targeting entirely different travellers.

Similarly, if you are a backpacker that provides an excellent experience, offering your guests not only accommodation, but local experiences, tours of nearby attractions, shuttles to and from the airport, or other add-ons that would make a stay with you exceptional, and you consistently receive the associated rave reviews, it would not be useful to compare yourself to a backpackers that provides beds and nothing more and receives the expected mediocre reviews.

Geographical location is arguably the most important factor when defining who your competitors are. When someone decides to travel, they seldom travel in order to stay in a specific hotel. They travel because there is something in an area that they want to do or see that they can’t find at home. Your location certainly does define who your competitors are, but it is your location in relation to whatever it is that guests are visiting that is important, so when you consider geographical location, make sure it's not just a circle drawn around your property. Just remember to also consider properties that are closely located to points of interest your ideal guest would enjoy when making your list of competitors.

Map-of-competitors-hotels-location

 

This map of Yangon shows the location of several hotels in the city, as well as the location of a popular tourist attraction, the Shwedagon Pagoda. If the hotel in the south of the city was to draw a radius around itself and include hotels within that circle, they would miss what is clearly a competitor, as the hotel in the north of the city is also close to the Shwedagon Pagoda.

 

Finally, and possibly least important, is the factor of cost. It’s least important, because many guests will dig deeper for a better experience, but it is still something to consider. Travellers do have budgets, and you should consider the properties that offer accommodation at similar prices to you when trying to pinpoint your competition.

Once you know who your competitors are, you should be able to successfully monitor their online reputations. Keeping an eye on competitors social media pages, OTA listings, websites and review sites will give you a good deal of information to work with.

Online reviews of competitors

An analysis of your competition's online reviews should be able to give you a wealth of insights into the way they do business and the experience they offer their guests. In particular, you should be on the lookout for:

  • What they’re getting right — reading through a competitor’s reviews will show you what it is that their guests appreciate about staying with them, giving you a bit of useful insight into what guests are looking for in a stay. Perhaps it’s something that you already offer, but aren’t highlighting in your marketing material, or perhaps it’s something that you could easily implement to keep yourself competitive.

By keeping an eye on your competitors’ guest feedback, you don’t have to make mistakes yourself to learn from them – just watch what your competitors get wrong and make sure you don’t copy them.

  • What they’re getting wrong — reading reviews won’t only show you what it is that guests appreciate, but what it is that they really don’t, helping you to avoid making the same mistakes as your competition and showing you areas that your competitor, and perhaps you, can improve upon.

Your competitors' social media presence

Often the way that a hotel runs their social media platforms can tell you a lot about the hotel themselves, as well as who their target guest is, and what they respond best to. If you have competitors with a bigger budget for social media than you, you can let them do the testing, research and development, and you can simply keep an eye on what their audience is responding to best, and use the learnings to inform your own strategy.

monitoring social media

Using competitive intelligence

So, you’ve been keeping an eye on your competitors’ pages and online presence, and you’ve gathered a lot of data about them, from reviews, tweets and Facebook posts, to pricing, specials and more. What exactly is it that you should be doing with this information?

The first thing to do would be to perform a SWOT analysis: an analysis of each competitor’s Strengths and Weaknesses, the Opportunities that you have to do better than them, and the Threat that they pose towards your property. Putting these analyses together will help you to not only make sure that you are considering the right properties when you think of your competition, but it will show you areas where you can improve, areas that you can focus on in terms of marketing and operational decisions, and areas that your guests are looking for when they consider booking with you.

swot analysis grid

Do bear in mind that keeping an eye on your competitors is not a once-off task, but a process that should be ongoing. And, if you consider a hotel as competition, it’s likely that they may be keeping an eye on you as well, checking your social media, reviews, OTA listings and website on a regular basis. After all, you can hardly expect to be the only spy around!

Section 5: What about social media?

We’ve been talking a lot about online reviews, your website, and review sites like TripAdvisor when it comes to your online reputation management. But what about the other sites that your potential guests are visiting?

Here are some stats that may interest you:

  • 83% of travellers find social media a top source of inspiration when browsing online
  • 60% of holidaymakers who use apps while away say social media is the type they use most
  • 76% of social media users post their vacation photos to social networks

When it comes to websites that your potential guests are visiting, social media platforms are high on the list, and if you are using them well, you can be turning that potential into bookings. But which platforms should you be using, and how?

There’s no curated list of fail-proof social media platforms that properties can use, but there are a few big players in the social media market that you will definitely have heard of.

  • Facebook — without a doubt, the biggest name in social media. These days it’s considered almost essential for any business to have a Facebook page. Without one, you would not only be missing out on an extra chance for guests to leave you reviews, but also the chance to be tagged in guests’ posts and photographs and the chance to boost your advertising strategy both through social proof and through Facebook’s paid advertising. If you don’t have a Facebook page, you’re almost certainly letting your online reputation fall by the wayside, since not having a presence on the biggest social media site means missing out on a big opportunity to connect with past, present and future guests.
  • Twitter — Though Twitter is as big a name as Facebook, many businesses pay less attention to their Twitter accounts, simply because it’s such a different platform. From the days when tweets could be nothing more than a text post of 140 characters, Twitter has come a long, long way. These days, tweets can include images, videos, GIFs, and pretty much anything else that you can think of and the character limit has recently doubled. Properties should be taking advantage of this opportunity to get in touch with their guests. As we point out in our 7 Top Twitter tips for hoteliers, there is a wealth of opportunity to proactively connect with potential and current guests using the site, making it more than just a marketing tool, but a great customer relations platform.
  • Instagram — While Facebook and Twitter are often considered to be the staples of the social media market, Instagram can certainly hold its own. The site is entirely visually driven, focussing on images and videos rather than text or tweets, and this makes it great for properties to show off their best side in a way that appeals to guests' emotions and inspires them to travel. This is the opportunity for you to show off your view, your restaurant, your surroundings, and attractions nearby, and having an Instagram presence will also encourage those guests who are image-driven to contribute by tagging you in their travel photographs.

These three platforms are hardly the be-all-and-end-all of social media presences. There are businesses in the hospitality industry that thrive using other platforms like Pinterest and Snapchat in interesting ways, and the more creative your marketing team is, the more ways they will find to creatively promote your brand on the various social media platforms. But, if you are new to social media, you should remember, it is better to start small and pick only two or three platforms so that you can post regularly on the platforms that you do use, to engage with and entice guests, and to show that you are actively in business.

The most important thing for your social media is for you to stay alive. All too often hotel marketers create social media accounts, put up a few nice pictures, and move on with their lives. Having a Facebook page where your last post was eight months ago might be worse than not having one at all.

If you are struggling to keep your content up to date, here are a few tips and tricks that can help you:

  • Keeping a stockpile of photographs of your property for use on a rainy (or busy) day
  • Make the most of the reviews that you get and share them on social media (great for social proof)
  • Schedule posts when you find the time rather than always trying to post in the moment.

These tips can come in particularly handy during the busy seasons, when all hands are on deck, and finding a chance to glance at your computer can be difficult, nevermind posting to Facebook, tweeting on Twitter or adding images to Instagram!