In 2016, a TripBarometer study, by TripAdvisor revealed that online reputation management was the biggest area of investment for accommodation owners, with 59% investing more in this field than they did in 2015. The same study also stated that “93% of hoteliers said that online traveler reviews are important for the future of their business.” Indeed, reviews can make or break your hotel business.
And it all makes sense if you consider Daniel E. Craig’s warning earlier this year:
“Hotels that fail to meet the expectations they set for guests face a backlash in bad reviews.”
With these figures and warning in mind, it is easy to predict that online reputation management will remain the main concern for hoteliers in 2018.
Keep in mind that the TripBarometer showed that 81% of travelers read TripAdvisor reviews before booking a room as early as 2016 and the numbers have not changed much since. You can expect travelers to keep on reading reviews in the years to come, although TripAdvisor is no longer the only player of concern.
Users leave reviews on Booking.com, on Google, on HolidayCheck, and on many other sites, some obscure, others highly trusted. Even Facebook has added a feature to satisfy the needs of “reviews” and user recommendations in 2016. No matter how much media praises it, Facebook Recommendations is not as powerful as other tools, but it is indicative of a trend unlikely to slow down in 2018. Facebook Recommendations was rolled out in the last quarter of 2016, but so far, the adoption rate is slow because the process involves more effort than simply posting an update. Users have to “ask for recommendations” on the Recommendations bookmark on the desktop, or, on mobile devices, they have to publish a post a clear question, something like “Can anyone recommend...” This rather cumbersome process is only because the feature is still in its infancy. You can expect Facebook to push it forward in 2018, depending on adoption rates.
The list of sites displaying verified reviews will rise in 2018, but they’ll find it challenging to beat the main players. Still, this trend is indicative of a serious need for online reputation management, and hotels are best advised to invest in monitoring tools that will help them address at least the negative reviews if not all.
And there are several reasons why you should be looking closely to reviews: mainly because leveraging them will boost your direct revenue.
ORM tools you should employ right now
Since ORM is no longer limited to monitoring and replying to TripAdvisor reviews, the necessity of having software in place to alert you about brand mentions is not just a “trend” in 2018, it is a critical requirement.
There are many reputation management or ORM (online reputation management) tools that can help hoteliers or any other business owners for that matter. Of course, having too many tools to monitor your hotel’s online reputation can be a daunting, costly task. Ideally, you hire a digital marketing company to monitor your online reputation for you. Otherwise, you need to make a tough choice because not all tools are created equal.
Complaint Search Box by Go Fish Digital performs a Google search on over 40 complaint websites and alerts you when something about your business pops up. It’s an “OK” tool, albeit not enough if you are serious about monitoring your online reputation.
At the other end of the spectrum, and more useful for you, Reputology is a review management and monitoring platform that deals with Google, Facebook, industry-specific review sites, online surveys, feedback forms, and other websites to alert you when your business is mentioned. They monitor 24/7 so you can act quickly when something negative pops up, but you can also reward positive reviews, turning happy guests into dedicated brand ambassadors. Several other features make Reputology a good ORM tool, so check them out before deciding whether to use it or not.
Talkwalker has a free social search tool, plus a suite of paid services that can help you monitor and improve your online reputation. The free tool only covers the last 7 days, which, for small businesses is usually enough, while the paid service goes more in-depth.
Quite attractive and easy to use, Social Mention is a real-time search platform that scans over 100 social media platforms for news about your brand. It’s free so you may want to try it every now and then, even when you used paid services. They often catch social media mentions that escape some of the most expensive ORM tools on the market.
Then, the Godzilla of reputation management services, Salesforce, is a preferred tool for all mega hotel chains and big corporations around the world. For a good reason: they have one of the most advanced platforms for social media monitoring in the world.
TrustYou as a trendsetter
Another powerful one, TrustYou, as the “world’s largest guest feedback platform,” promises Eden for every business using its services, and they deliver. There are many reasons to pick this tool over anything else. TrustYou is the “mega-influencer” in the field of reviews because they have semantic technology that processes almost the full spectrum of data points to generate review summaries “that allow travelers to quickly evaluate your hotel's key attributes.” They are also the folks behind the famous “TrustScore” that appears in Google Search, Google Maps, and metasearch. And this is huge, because, according to their data, 76% of travelers are willing to pay more for a hotel with higher review scores.
TrustYou is important because they scan the web incessantly for verified reviews. These are the reviews that matter most for your online reputation because it is harder and harder for competitors to fake them. While in the past buying TripAdvisor reviews was a productive, albeit black hat reputation management strategy, things have changed, and TrustYou is one of the players that enabled a better, more reliable system. Instead of delivering words-baloney, TrustYou uses semantic technology to generate keyword-rich review summaries that hit home. Users love them, but so do the likes of Google, KAYAK, Hotels.com, and many others, which display the TrustYou score alongside verified review summaries. Therefore, the TrustYou label on a hotel website is a crucial ORM tool. The online review management platform offered by TrustYou is also straightforward to learn, allowing hoteliers to manage all ORM under the same roof – a “holistic” approach to ORM.
This is a company on a fearless path to growth. Under the umbrella of Japanese internet company Recruit Holdings Co., TrustYou will continue to innovate and expand.
TrustYou is also a trendsetter, a company that grasps the future of online reputation management. Their understanding of the summarized review content is already an industry standard. Even Google uses summarized reviews to display in search and Google My Business. The need of summarized reviews is not new. A study by the New York University and TrustYou from 2015 showed that online users prefer them over full-text reviews, and, with the rise of the mobile, they become even more relevant, as they provide a clear, time-saving overview of a hotel’s most desired and advantageous features:
“This research shows that summarized review content increases consumer trust while substantially decreasing the amount of time travelers need to read and digest review content. This trend is even stronger on mobile where time and space is even more limited,” said Margaret Ady, Vice President of Marketing at TrustYou back in 2015 when the study was published, and this statement is today more relevant than ever. (insert screenshot from NYX Milan)
A more recent study by TrustYou shows that hotels that integrate post-stay surveys into their guest experience saw a 2.5% lift in their average survey scores, plus a “4% increase in a guest’s likeliness to recommend the hotel over a period of 12-18 months,” which crucial to boosting the Net Promoter Scores used by hotels to measure loyalty. According to the study, post-stay feedback increases the number of online reviews, increasing visibility and rankings.
And the list goes on beyond TrustYou: you have an opinion mining solution with sentiment analysis from BrandsEye; you have smart social media monitoring from Trackur, and HubSpot’s Marketing Grader is just awesome if you want to know how strong is your website.
Sure, there are many other tools you can employ, and we will publish a comprehensive list soon, but, in the meanwhile, let’s focus on the trends and predictions for 2018.
ORM trends and predictions for 2018
ORM will slowly switch to mobile. While mobile still counts greatly on the World Wide Web to deal with data, new solutions will rise to make it easier for hoteliers to use apps and cloud solutions for their needs. No matter how fast smart solutions like wearables and AI advance, the WWW is still here to last and should not be ignored.
In 2018, mobile will be stronger than ever, and you can expect several new apps launched to help hoteliers deal with their online reputation management. “On the go” is the buzz phrase of the moment and things are not going to change. Nothing deals better with real-time than smartphone apps based on geolocation.
Review managers are in…
Although hotel automation software for reputation management is a preferred method for many businesses, this is the lazy way out. Hoteliers have one of the most difficult industries in the world: they deal with individuals, and, as such, anything that happens online or on mobile, must cater to a person too. Like a guest coming straight to your door, the online entity expects tailored treatment. Therefore, is paramount to reply to every single guest review or complaint, wherever this may be. As an hotelier, you may want to add a new position to your staff roster: review manager. Replying to reviews now is a management initiative often addressed by the general manager, by the guest relations officer, or by a PR. Third parties are not recommended for this task. The person that replies to online reviews should be intimately familiar with the workings of the hotel and know your business well. Consider the review manager your right arm, and train this person to know every detail about your business. The review manager should also understand the psychology of the social networks and should be able to monitor social media mentions across a broad range of channels.
The function of a review manager is not the same as the role of a social media manager. Replying to reviews can be an exercise in diplomacy, especially when the reviews are negative. Ideally, hiring a trained PR expert to monitor and respond to all reviews is the best solution. PR pros today understand how users think on the internet and can address reviews with diplomacy and flair.
Focus on the customer experience more than ever
Sometimes, as an hotelier, dealing with the demanding, unreasonable guest comes with the territory. But today you have all the necessary tools to attract the guests that share a common vision and interest with you. By creating guest personas that are aligned with your ideals, you can attract customers who will be satisfied with your services, thus becoming loyal brand ambassadors for your hotel or resort.
Hotel Speak recommends that you “build a tribe.” But I would go further. The guest persona or the “tribe” are standards that, once met, still leave room for the “individual.” And this is the most important detail to address. Once you touch the heart of the individual, your business is on the right track. “Customer experience is your brand,” as Brian Solis would put it.
In 2018, you can no longer afford to just provide a roof, clean sheets, WiFi, and complimentary breakfast. You have to get ready to add a plus of value without unreasonably inflating prices. There is always a myriad of choices for clients, but when you provide an experience they cannot find somewhere else when they trust you and appreciate your hospitality, they will return the favor by becoming faithful brand ambassadors. They may not always be “influencers” sharing their thoughts and images on Instagram to thousands of followers, but there’s value in their insight. Word-of-mouth still matters, and it will always matter. One bad review from a single individual may translate into ROI loss of proportions. As much as technology evolves, we remain human at our core.
It will also be important to offer guests the tools to communicate with your hotel directly. Some clients prefer to send you direct messages on Facebook, while others may enjoy communicating with you directly via email, or SMS. TrustYou Messaging also allows you to communicate with guests while they are still on your website, with pre-stay surveys that include guest preferences, as well as allowing you to ask for customer feedback while guests are still on your site. This will help you address issues as soon as they occur, resulting in less negative reviews later on.
Dedicated “influencer” or “blogger” accommodation
Several hotels around the world have “influencer” programs and invite “bloggers” to unique experience events, like food and wine tastings, or meetings of all kinds. Others, like Hilton, have dedicated “engage” programs for bloggers and social media influencers. These are still muddy waters for both parties, as for many readers, freebies (like free accommodation) may influence the tone of the review. But the trend is on, more prevalent on Instagram than blogs of late. This statement is hard to prove, as many of these influencers sign non-disclosure agreements with hotels and other hospitality businesses to hide the fact that they receive free services from the FTC (in the USA). But there are still honest ways bloggers and influencers will use to “get sponsored.” Businesses providing such services, like Buzz and Go., popped up several years ago, but bloggers and influencers are a stubborn crowd. They do things by the ear, and they are suckers for “preferential” (as in “individual”) treatments. The likelihood of finding them on platforms like Buzz and Go. is remote. They are hanging out in closed Facebook groups, where PRs and hotel management pros have no chance to reach them without a special invitation. Bloggers, also identified sometimes as citizen journalists, and influencers are a cast of people whose voices have weight on your online reputation management now, and in the years to come.
By creating accommodation to satisfy them in 2018, you pave the road to a good report with the people who can actually build up your brand. Bloggers and influencers prefer to approach you, and you will have a tough time selecting the ones who actually deliver on their promises. Sometimes a discount will be enough, other times, they will demand all kinds of freebies. If you have empty rooms, and they want to see you off-season, don’t be too picky. If you have an awesome campaign to attract them, even better. Every little bit helps. The voices of travel influencers are loud and colorful.
If you expected more AI and more tech for 2018, the industry is not there just yet. Give it another couple of years for technology to mature before we speak of ORM outside of mobile and desktops. In the meanwhile, address the obvious.