Every day businesses are judged. You are evaluated by the people who enter your place of business. The customers or guests come from all walks of life with a host of perceptions, expectations, and experiences. Some of these potential influencers will share their experience with the web in the form of the mighty “customer review.”
For hotels, resorts, short-term rentals, and vacation properties, these shared experiences will have an incredible and uncontrolled impact to your future bookings. (Check out page 35 of this report.) How should you handle online reviews? How can you protect your online reputation in the era of Trip Advisor, Yelp, Bookings.com, and Facebook?
Signalfire’s president, Matthew Olson, was invited to appear on a panel at the Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Annual Conference. The discussion focused on hotels, resorts, and bed & breakfasts (B&Bs) and how they manage their online reputations.
Why are online reviews important for hotel properties?
Online reviews are a critical element to your hotel, resort, or restaurant’s relationship with the traveling community. Reviews are part word of mouth, part gossip, and part customer service. All of this adds up to a serious customer-facing component to your brand. Online reviews must have the following considerations:
Trust – Guest experiences shared in an open environment. Whether the reviews are positive or negative, the perception of honest reviews build credibility in the eyes of the traveler. A potential guest will trust “Barb” from Salt Lake City far more than your website.
Community – Engagement is everything. Your property should be seen and heard in the review community. THANK EVERYONE. Good and bad.
Performance – Reviews are being considered by search engines. Not for the number of stars, but for the content of the reviews. Be sure to think “Search Smart” in your replies.
Don’t get hyper focused on one platform. Only focusing on one platform such as Trip Advisor, Yelp, or Google is a bad idea. Make sure you’re reviewing the discount sites such as Booking.com, Orbitz, Hotels.com, and others. Even Facebook’s reviews can deliver staggering results. Reviews should be monitored and replied to regardless of the platform.
How can lodging properties use online reviews to build their search credibility?
We all love Trip Advisor, and a whole lot of searching goes on from that platform, but how does it compare to Google? Google is taking reviews into search consideration. While it doesn’t weigh too heavy on influencing search performance, it does play a factor in local performance.
That said, search performance is different from search credibility. Demonstrating you care about the reviewers’ feedback is critical. Empathize with the reviewers. For example, if a recent guest posts about a confrontation with a front desk team member – empathize with the poster first. Show you care about their opinion and finding a resolution to the situation.
When in doubt: take it offline. Offer to call, email, or move the conversation to a private environment.
While this approach can be seen as basic customer service, look how infrequently it is practiced on review sites. This doesn’t just apply to bad reviews. Don’t forget to thank and celebrate the good reviews. Always call out your team members who did a great job. Always invite them back.
How should lodging properties prioritize which reviews to respond to?
Let’s change the medium: What if a review was a phone call to a voicemail box? Would you leave a message if the greeting said something like;
Thanks for your call. Please leave your message after the tone and if it is something we think is important, we’ll get back to you in the next few weeks. BEEEEP.
Ultimately, ALL reviews require a response. Look at the review from this perspective: a customer has taken their personal time to actively seek out your property on a review website, compose a summary of their experience, and sign their name to it.
This gives you the opportunity to build on this experience. Repair the relationship if the experience was less than expected, or expand the relationship if the experience was a positive one. Business.com has a fantastic and quick read on the topic.
How “big” of a reply should you offer? Base it on the review. If someone posts a quick review like, “loved it,” respond with a short thankful reply. If someone puts a 500 word review, make sure your reply is as complete as the review. Whatever you do, make the reply personal and not cut-and-paste from five other reviews.
“Wow,” says the small innkeeper, “that’s a lot of time to post replies.”
Yes, it is. It is also one of the most important marketing investments you can make with your time. Show you care. Share your passion for getting it right.
What significant trends do you see taking shape in how travelers interact with lodging properties online? How will they impact the way brands do business?
There are a few noteworthy trends:
Influencers are the hidden superstars of marketing
Social platforms are mainstream and not secondary channels. Find the active travel Instagram hotshot with 500,000 followers. Find the regional travel podcast that has a crazy number of subscribers. These influencers often have comparatively small fees for reaching a disproportionally large pre-targeted community. Frequently, all you need to do is ask.
Monitoring tools are folding in social media AND review sites
Reviews exist in more than review websites. Some of the highest traffic travel sites such as Booking.com, Hotels.com, and others frequently have reviews associated with your lodging facility. However, don’t forget that many social media channels can have reviews.
You can use reputation management software to monitor these and streamline the process. Combine this with easy access to the social media platforms and you have a powerful monitoring tool. Platforms like Review Trackers can help monitor and manage your efforts. However, don’t let this replace checking and responding to reviews! Another helpful tool is Google Alerts. You can setup a simple email notification any time Google finds a page with your property name.
Marketing for experiences and volunteering, not destinations and amenities
Millennials and Gen Z aren’t interested in your indoor fitness room. While everyone makes wild generalizations about these two powerhouses of travel spending, don’t mistake their young ages for inexperience.
These true digital natives are looking for experiences. Combining your lodging options with experiential activities will entice them back. Mix up the experience offerings such as silent sport packages, exclusive brewery tours, or even volunteering packages. Giving back is just as important of an activity for these travelers.
Lodging is front and center in the world of online reputation management. Like it or not, the reviews your travel community post strongly impact bookings. Relegating the management of your reviews to an intern or blanketing reviews with canned replies can spell disaster for your property’s brand. Stay engaged and stay empathetic.
If your property needs help developing a plan for managing reviews and reputation, call us. Signalfire’s creative marketing guides and outfitters can collaborate with you to develop an impactful strategy.
Connect with us through our website. We can help you navigate these challenges and arrive at a powerful brand reputation.