Did you know that TripAdvisor is five years older than Facebook? In a world where the biggest social network dominates internet traffic globally, it is hard to imagine that another site we consider using as part of our everyday online lives could be so old. But today it is one of the most respected and also one of the ‘feared’ opinion sites. It’s also a website that can literally make or break a hotel, bar or restaurant. With another holiday period just around the corner in August 2013 and consumers looking for the best hotel with the best review, leisure brands will need to keep a close eye on online review sites. However, how much of this information can actually be trust as being impartial advice?
More than 200 million unique users visit TripAdvisor every month to read the 100 million plus reviews published, or upload something new at a rate of 60 new contributions per minute. In an article published in the Business Traveller magazine, you can see why online brand reputation is still a major concern for any business listed on TripAdvisor. The magazine referenced a study from 2012 carried out by Cornell University into the impact of social media on Lodging Performance. They discovered that a hotel that can raise its feedback score by one full mark (out of five), could expect to raise its prices by over 11% and not have any impact on its margins or occupancy rate! In other words, for those establishments that showed the greatest improvements, price was truly inelastic. The human race is meant to prefer simplicity, but the study proved that we do put a high value on customer service and experience.
But equally, a drop in rating can be extremely damaging for a hotel. The one problem many users have with sites like TripAdvisor is which reviews to believe. One gushing, glowing review on a hotel when all the other opinions have been neutral or negative is just as likely to damage a reputation than one that goes the other way and finds fault in every small aspect. And of course, there is no guarantee that the reviewer actually stayed at the hotel, ate at the restaurant or drank at the bar. Dare I say it, they could simply be engaging in good old fashion hazing of a competitor.
For a business that has a presence on the internet, or even more in the case of pure online businesses, brand protection becomes equally important as its goods or services. Unfortunately, these review sites become very hard to police in terms of knowing what is right or wrong. Some serial abusers will be recognized by their IP or email address and can easily be excluded, but negative sentiment can sometimes be very difficult to remove once it has been posted online. Companies, such as NetNames, have the technology to scour the darkest corners of websites and forums to find where brands are being talked about negatively, but more often than not on review sites such as TripAdvisor can be quite difficult to remove.
There could however be some good news coming around the corner. A number of new online review websites are due to launch shortly that will include a verification process on the authenticity of the reviewer. One such site, Hotelme.com have applied for a patent that will allow it to integrate with some of the biggest hotel brands in the world where they can verify if a reviewer ever actually stayed at the hotel mentioned in the review. They see the future of online reviews as a quality measure over quantity.
But even with this new approach any brand in the hotel and leisure sector needs to understand the impact of bad reviews, and more importantly, look at the bigger picture to be aware of what is being said and where. A number of major hotel chains already actively monitor TripAdvisor and will respond very quickly to any feedback, whether good or bad. They engage openly with reviewers who have left negative sentiment and comments, hotel brands can try to flush out any fake opinion, but this can be a dangerous game to play when it comes to building your brand online and fuels activity of reputation infringements on other social platforms.
It is very clear that protecting brands online is essential for businesses subjected frequent online review. Proactively looking at a brand protection strategies, even if it is to understand what is being said online, rather than just to eliminate the negative comments, becomes a valuable investment in long-run to safeguard brand credibility and protect customers and ultimately business revenue.
Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Commercial Operations and Communications, NetNames
11 July 2013