Editor’s Note:
 As we are building our SkiftEDU service for marketers and SMBs in travel, we recently launched a new initiative: our new weekly series on digital marketing tips and tricks, SkiftEDU How-Tos. These How-Tos are a series of free in-depth weekly articles around various topics in digital marketing, such as this one below.

The growing popularity of social media and review sites has given birth to a whole new reality that many folks in the travel and hospitality sphere sometimes wish would go away: online reputation management, or ORM.

In fact, consider these stats:

  • TripAdvisor reaches 350 million unique visitors per month!
  • There are more than 320 million reviews on TripAdvisor, covering 6.2 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions.
  • Yelp, which operates mainly in North America and has a strong focus on restaurants, shows more than 102 million reviews
  • Yet, it’s estimated that only 30% of questions, comments and reviews are answered by brands on social media
  • For hoteliers in particular, only 36% bother responding to comments left on review sites, social media and OTA such as Expedia or Booking (Source: Revinate)

During a talk at ITB in Berlin last year, a study found that ORM by hotels was expected to increase by 60% in 2015 versus 2014. That was more than other important areas such as small scale renovations (53%), marketing and advertising (51%) or even staff training (47%).

And if you think online reputation management is only for hotels and accommodations, think again. While TripAdvisor estimates 77% of its users come to validate hotels, inns and different types of accommodation, it also knows that 50% of its users are searching for restaurants and 44% are there to see about attractions, things to see and do at a given destination. And these figures vary per country: for example in Italy, it’s actually 75% of TripAdvisor users that search for restaurant options!

With this in mind, where should your ORM strategy even begin and where should you put your efforts? Here are the four golden rules to follow when it comes to online reputation management in travel.

1. Monitor conversations

The very first step should be to seek out who is talking about you, when and on which platforms. If you are a small pop & EDM music festival in an urban setting, it’s quite possible you don’t have the same target audience as an upscale boutique hotel or perhaps a family restaurant in the suburbs. Those audiences don’t use the same media or devices to talk about your brand, so it’s important to monitor the conversations and, if possible, engage with your audience, respond to comments and questions, clarify false statements and drive interest towards your brand and website or social accounts.

There are many existing tools out there that can tell you if your brand was mentioned in the media, blogs or forums, as well as on main social media such as Twitter, Facebook (if post was in “public” mode), YouTube and more. The most utilized is Google’s free tool, Google Alerts. But you may also want to consider these tools – some are free, others are freemium or paid tools :

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Tools like Hootsuite allow to monitor per keywords or hashtags, and monitor across a variety of social media and accounts.

These can be useful tools in order to identify influencers, as well as brand ambassadors and detractors with whom you may want to engage on platforms where you may not yet have a presence.

Once you know who talks about you, and on which platform you should put your efforts, it’s now easier to prioritize and strategize.

2. Claim your account

The second thing to consider is ensuring you properly manage your presence on key platforms you’ve identified for your brand. No need to be active on every social media there is, but certainly on the two or three deemed most important and where your target audience is most engaged. Here are the most important ones for travel and hospitality brands:

Google My Business

Google My Business is not a social media or review site per se, but without a doubt a very important site to manage. Basically, this is where you control how you show up on Google search results! It’s also where you can complete your business profile and bio, add pictures and respond to reviews. It’s also where you ensure Google has the right location for your property, which is of utmost importance considering Google Maps is the most widely used tool in travel, worldwide!

image02In this example, we can see this property (a small Inn) hasn’t yet claimed its account with Google, so the information posted may or may not be valid and up to date. And of course, management can’t answer user reviews since it doesn’t manage the account yet.

By clicking the “Own this business?” button, one is sent to a page where one needs to accept Google’s Terms of Service and prove one’s identity in order to manage the page.

TripAdvisor

Just like with Google My Business, you need to first claim your business on TripAdvisor if you want to be able to monitor conversations, respond to reviews, add photos and make sure your profile is as optimal as it can be.

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Once you click on the “Claim Your Listing” button you will have to authenticate yourself as a business manager, which can be fairly simple if you already are logged into TripAdvisor with your Facebook account… or more complex if you need to send in proof that you are a manager for the property.

Once you have claimed your listing, you gain access to analytics for your brand’s performance on TripAdvisor, can respond to reviews and send out emails, benchmark against up to 4 competitors and use the platform for cross-promotional opportunities (paid) if this is something you’d like to pursue.

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Yelp

With a very similar process to TripAdvisor, it’s fairly simple to claim your business listing on Yelp, allowing you to then respond to reviews, add photos and links, complete relevant details about your property and so on. Visit the Yelp for Business Owners section in order to get started with this process.

OTA

When it comes to Expedia, Priceline, Booking, Orbitz and all the big names in terms of online travel agencies, we are dealing with a different reality here. With all other platforms, there is no verified relationship – meaning users sometimes post reviews, questions or comments when in fact they were never clients of your business. This isn’t possible on most, if not all, OTA sites. Assuming your property uses these sites to distribute unsold inventory, it can become quite daunting to manage reviews and comments left on the various sites around the world.
Unless you deal directly with these sites, i.e. Expedia, or Booking, it may be worth considering tools that help accommodations manage their presence across a variety of OTA sites, as well as TripAdvisor and social media. The three top industry tools to consider:

Note: These tools are not free and monthly fees will vary according to size of property, number of properties and other variables. And of course, there are other tools out there that can help, but these three are simply considered industry leaders

3. Respond to comments

The third pillar of any online reputation strategy is perhaps the most important one, even though it’s often taken for granted: responding to comments.

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A TripAdvisor study published back in 2013 clearly demonstrated the impact of management response on customer opinion and the decision-making purchase:

  • 78% of travelers surveyed said that seeing management responses “made them believe the hotel cares more about its guests”
  • 57% of travelers surveyed said they were more likely to book with a hotel with management responses versus a similar hotel without such responses
  • 84% of travelers surveyed agreed that appropriate management responses to bad reviews “improved the impression of the hotel”
  • However, 64% of respondents also said that an aggressive or defensive management response to a bad review “made it less likely to book that hotel”

In other words, listed owner and managers should not only answer to reviews, but they must do it well!

The questions then becomes: Should You Answer Every Comment or Review? (The short answer is no, by the way)

4. Solicit feedback

Last but not least, how do you get more people to talk about your brand and spread the good word about your awesome tiramisu, that great new exhibit, stellar customer service or newly renovated presidential suite? And why is it important to get more reviews on deck?

It’s important to understand how the TripAdvisor algorithm works – it’s different for Yelp and social media reviews such as Facebook, but many variables work in a similar fashion. There are three main variables that impact your ranking:

  1. Quantity: how many reviews you get
  2. Quality: the ratio between 1-star and 5-star reviews
  3. Recency: how recent are reviews received

The first two variables represent about 30-50% of your score while it’s recency that has the greatest impact. So to put it simply:
If you have 5 reviews and your competitor has 2, you have the edge.
If those 5 reviews are spread between some 2-star, 3-star and a 5 star review, while your competitor has only 5-star reviews, they have the edge.
More importantly is when those reviews were published. If you got all your 5 reviews in the past month while your competitor’s two reviews were published in 2014 and 2015, you have clear win.

This is an oversimplified example, of course. But you get the point, and it’s by soliciting more reviews that you will get fresher ones that will not only positive impact your overall ranking, but also push older (and perhaps negative) ones further down the list…

So how can you solicit more reviews for your brand? Here are some suggestions:

Ask for reviews

Yeah, I know, too simple, right? Well, when was the last time you posted on your Facebook brand page mentioning your TripAdvisor page, asking your loyal base of fans to post a review? Or perhaps by mentioning it in your monthly newsletter?

Have offline visuals

Yelp, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and many others will offer to provide you with a sticker, so you can put it onto your restaurant window or check-in counter. Use them. Put them on your restaurant menu. Or elevators. Or business card. Or even with the receipt upon check out, by handing a business card or leaflet to remind the customer to post their experience on their preferred social network.

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Example of restaurant highlighting its social media presence as well as review sites for clients upon receiving their bill.

Have online visuals

If you received a certificate of excellence, be sure to showcase it on your website, on your Facebook cover page, in your newsletter and all your relevant digital outposts. Don’t take for granted that because you mentioned it once in a post, the job is done. Make sure the message spreads across social platforms, and through time.

Send out emails

For hoteliers, you already have the customer’s email address, so why not send out a satisfaction survey 24 or 48 hours after departure, with a link directly to your TripAdvisor page? If you own or manage a small property and can’t even dream of having a sophisticated email system in place, you can always use TripAdvisor Review Express, a free tool you can use, assuming you are already managing your account.

These are the basic pillars of your online reputation management, but they are only the beginning. However, if you cover this right from the get-go, you will have a solid foundation on which to build a stronger approach for your overarching digital marketing strategy.

Tags: ORM, Skift EDU