The internet has thrown up new challenges for hoteliers and the need for a robust social media strategy has become pivotal. We speak to Ioannis S Pantelidis, senior lecturer in hospitality and tourism management at London Metropolitan University and ask how UK hoteliers should develop a social media strategy and best manage their presence on social media and e-guide websites.
Hotel-industry.co.uk: What level of influence can social media sites and e-guides like TripAdvisor have on a hotel business?
Pantelidis: This is a tough one to quantify. The social media growth is exponential, so although we know it is taking the online part of the business by storm we really have no idea of its offline implications. It depends on a number of factors including the size of the company. For example, large corporations have the resources to manage their e-brand, whilst small hotels that are reliant on independent travellers could be badly affected by negative online reviews.
Hotel-industry.co.uk: Do travellers trust online reviews?
Pantelidis: Yes, and we have studies to prove it! A study by Lightspeed revealed that 71% trust online reviews, whilst a study by Harvest Digital showed that 21% trust sites reviewed by other travellers.
Hotel-industry.co.uk: How robust is the UK hotel industry at managing social media and e-guides?
Pantelidis: I would say that as an industry we need to double our efforts. It is hard to comprehend that with the multi-million pound revenue generated by online bookings that the industry does not take a more proactive approach – and I think the current dispute with TripAdvisor is a good example of how reactive we are.
I think the industry needs to plan ahead and strategise how to best address issues of e-branding. Having said that, service providers like TripAdvisor also have a professional obligation to identify false reviews and develop a system that cannot be easily hijacked by anonymous, non-genuine comments.
Hotel-industry.co.uk: You mention strategy – what type of social media strategy should hoteliers be looking at?
Pantelidis: Well, I think that the first step towards a strategy is to actually care about your e-brand. Even for businesses that do not have the resources to monitor the internet, basic solutions like Google Alerts can be used. The beauty of Google Alerts is that you can choose keywords that can highlight reviews about your business and deliver them straight into your inbox. I wonder how many hoteliers have actually created an alert for the name of their hotel?
Of course, if you have the budget you could invest in a company that specialises in monitoring and analysing your e-brand, or even developing an e-brand strategy.
Whatever your approach, do not attempt to “fix” the reviews by having your friends posting positive reviews – savvy customers will soon see through this!
In one of my research papers I discovered a hospitality business that only had one negative comment for about a year. Suddenly, several positive reviews popped up within two days – this is an obvious way of saying “do not trust me!”
Hotel-industry.co.uk: How should hoteliers react to and manage negative comments – both genuine and malicious?
Pantelidis: I would say deal with every one as if it were genuine. First, investigate the claim with your team. Don’t point fingers; rather use it as an opportunity to identify weaknesses and provide the appropriate resources as required.
If the negative comment is a genuine one, respond on the same website clearly identifying yourself as the owner/manager and explain what you have done to resolve the issue. I am a great believer of the “Paradox of Transparency”. If you did something wrong, own up!
Hotel-industry.co.uk: And if it’s not genuine?
Pantelidis: If it is a malicious review, respond by saying that you have investigated the incident but have not been able to find any evidence that could substantiate the claim. Be sure not to accuse anyone – simply state that if they would like to contact you directly you would be more than happy to investigate further.
This strategy works two-fold: if the review is genuine and you failed to identify the issue, you get another chance to do so and still make your property look good. If the review is not genuine, then it is likely that the reviewer will never respond. This demonstrates to other potential customers that you are willing to talk and resolve issues. Even if the reviewer responds with another malicious message, you have proven the fact that the reviewer is attempting to defame your property.
On this point, I think hoteliers should be careful not to allow things to spiral out of control by responding emotionally.
Hotel-industry.co.uk: What would be your advice for hoteliers looking to develop a e-brand reputation management or social media strategy?
Pantelidis: The first step is to have a presence and a dedicated person that looks after your e-brand, including social media reputation. If you are a small business, dedicate a couple of hours each week to this. Perhaps consider teaming up with other hoteliers to create a strategy that focuses on your shared location.
Be sure to create a plan with achievable milestones so that at least you can feel good about the time and effort you put into your strategy and tactics.
Do not attempt to do it all in one day; it takes time to develop a community and it takes skill and willingness to think innovatively. Forget about static web pages that simply provide info; rather, work with interactive and multimedia to communicate your message.
Create online and offline events that engage your community and, above all, measure the conversion rate. If the costs outweigh the benefits then you will need to reconsider the resources you invest.