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February 18, 2014
For Hospitality Clients, Social Media is Essential
 
Online reputation management is a vital element of maintaining a hotel’s image. Keeping tabs on the conversation about your client's hotel and its services is a critical part of their success. But they can't hand the entire job over to an agency. Success will require a hotel manager or owner who will be dedicated to the guest experience at every turn.
 
According to TripAdvisor’s Online Review Study in 2012, nine out of 10 travelers said that reviews played a key role in their purchasing decision. Meanwhile, the continually updated Trip Barometer shows that 51 percent of travelers have written a review about a hotel or resort. With a majority of reservations and other travel plans being made online, negative reviews can easily reach a global audience and threaten your client's online reputation.
 
In the world of hotel reviews, hotel owners and managers should take a little time to address this online commentary. Guests must know that they are heard and appreciated. Negative reviews have a great potential to ruin your client hotel’s reputation and discourage future guests, leading to lost sales and decreased popularity in the marketplace.
 
Let Social Media Be Your Guide
 
According to the statistics, 80 percent of people say that they have received advice on social media about what service or product to buy. Seventy-eight percent of respondents trust peer recommendations, while only 14 percent trust forms of advertisement. Promote your client's review-site profiles by having the hotel inform customers about their online presence at the front desk, as well as on their website and ancillary blogs.
 
It’s generally best to be proactive and examine sites like TripAdvisor, FourSquare, and Hotels.com, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, to see what your audience is saying. If an issue does arise, make sure it's addressed quickly. While the hotel owner may be tempted to remove any negative reviews appearing with his establishment's name, it could cause an intense backlash and convince readers that the hotel has something to hide. Managers and owners should never engage in a war of words in the comments section with a frustrated guest, but encourage a dialogue offline.
 
Monitoring Tools Make Gauging Reaction More Convenient
 
For hotel owners, there are a variety of tools that can be used to monitor an online reputation. Google Alerts is the most popular among them. It’s a free tool that reports back search mentions and results across the Internet. Users must first obtain a Google email account, which can be set up in just a matter of minutes. Yahoo Alerts is a similar service that can also be quite effective. Conduct a thorough online search on Google, Yahoo, and Bing each month to make sure nothing has slipped through the cracks. When a customer complaint shows up, it can actually prove to be an opportunity for your client's business. Owners and managers must be willing to publicly put themselves out there as a hotel that cares about guests and will do everything in their power to make things right.
 
Measure the Response on Review Sites as a Whole
 
Review sites exist primarily to make money for their founders, and one of the key methods for accomplishing this task is to increase site traffic. When consumers seek out reviews for a business, they look closely at the overall star rating. Many times they will not even read the reviews. A review with misleading or damaging information may even convince a business owner to respond directly in the comment thread, which could lead to a heated exchange between the business owner and the reviewer. Review sites feed off the inherent controversy created by these comments, and enjoy an increase in site traffic and advertising revenue. Review sites will lose a significant amount of money if they remove negative reviews. Ensure that your client's profile is in good standing and includes the correct details about their hotel. It can alleviate some of the confusion and frustration inherent in such a high-profile industry.
 
Pay Special Attention to the Review-Site Leader: Yelp
 
Beyond the original website, Yelp.com, there are currently Yelp apps for tablets, smartphones, and other digital devices. People have complete and total access on a 24/7 basis. Yelp gives people a voice to share their opinions to a wider audience than they could reach through word of mouth. Originally established in 2004, Yelp today now welcomes more than 120 monthly million visitors. Not to mention that Yelp contains more than 40 million reviews. This extensive community is an excellent resource for consumers and businesses alike  – as long as the reviews are positive. Given the prominence of Yelp, the site is one of the highest-traffic locations on the Internet for consumers searching for stores, spas and restaurants. You and your client can have direct control over their Yelp profile by placing contact information and other details directly next to the hotel’s name.

One thing to note: Not all of the Yelp reviews are authentic. There are even so-called reputation management firms offering to write fake positive reviews for businesses. Researchers believe that physicians are given a high incentive to produce fraudulent reviews. In 2010, the Washington Post reported that many hotels were badgering guests to post positive online reviews. The trend has continued across the United States since this initial reporting. Stress to your clients that they should avoid the temptation to forge reviews from guests. Ask politely and they will often say yes.

A reputation that took years to establish can be erased with just a single posting. If you had been monitoring your client's online reputation, it’s possible that this issue could be prevented. If a competitor writes a negative review of your client's hotel on Yelp or any other online forum, you’re unable to stop it. Online reputation management is no longer an option, but a necessity. A positive online reputation for your client hotel means more returning guests and guest referrals. Your mission is to avoid any major damage as monitoring your hospitality client's reputation allows you to immediately intercede when a problem occurs. 

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Blake Jonathan Boldt has contributed effective and educational content to a variety of businesses and organizations. He provides writing, editing, social media and content strategy services for both domestic and international clients. His articles have been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers, and digital media outlets.
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