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Recently, we came out with a new report, The Next Phase of Online Reputation Management for Travel Brands, which examines what’s coming next in online reputation management for travel brands: strategies, technologies and main players in the sector.
Below is a short extract that addresses how the hospitality sector became hip to online reputation management and learned to live with and in it.
Statistics help tell the story. Specifically among U.S. travelers, 95% say they are influenced by online reviews.One-fourth to one-third of all consumers look at online hotel reviews and place a significant weight upon the reputation that such feedback helps to create.
However, the centrality of reviews in the decision-making process has, at times, come at a kind of price. Back in 2003–2004, a given hotel owner/operator might have said that the online world was against them.
“They felt that if something made it to Google, then there was very little they could do,” said Mark G. Johnson, an independent industry analyst who founded HotelChatter, in 2003, and Jaunted, in 2005. “They were very frustrated by TripAdvisor, and HotelChatter, and all of the different publications that were out there. Hotels felt very much behind the eight-ball. And from the consumer side, it was was also very difficult.”
Difficult because online interactions were limited in terms of vol- ume and effective methods of aggregation. Hoteliers struggled to manage the words that were written about them, whether by happy or unhappy visitors. Then, the approach started to change.
“The most savvy hotels started blogging, and interacting with blogs and comments,” said Johnson. “The general managers could now come in and get involved in the conversation.”
Responding to online reviews emerged as not only acceptable but also a crucial tool in the hotelier’s kit of options. The rise of social media further augmented the brand-response scenario and ORM, as a practice, began to formalize within the hotel space.
“By the time Facebook and Twitter had gained popularity, most forward-thinking hotels had been playing in the world of Trip- Advisor responses, on Yelp, and things like that,” Johnson said.
“We were at the point that somebody — probably working in the back of house — was pretty savvy with this stuff, and then that person took on Twitter and Facebook responsibilities” more of the time.
As the workload of managing online reputations continued to grow throughout the late 2000s, that individual’s role changed again, advancing from an adjunct activity to a focused mission for brands. Alongside all of this, third-party companies offered management services, aggregation, and deeper analysis.
“The hotels that do the best at getting loyal, direct guests are going to be the ones with the best
reputation,” Johnson said. “Life is going to be easier for them, mov- ing forward, and for the ones that don’t, it’s going to be harder and harder for them. There’s so much competition, now the stakes are just going to go up.”
One upshot of this increasingly complex ecosystem is that ORM is no longer a purely reactive space. It is a proactive process, in 2014, with brands seeking to shape and enhance travelers’ opinions, sometimes even before they can take hold online. And they are doing so in a variety of environments, often transcending the traditional consumer desktop-research experience.