Industry Update
Opinion Article29 October 2015

Boost Your Brand Reputation by Listening to Social Content

By Jeff Catlin, CEO - Lexalytics

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Your brand reputation translates directly into higher revenue, and nowhere is brand reputation influenced more than online. The Internet is an enormously influential tool for consumers today: 80% of TripAdvisor's 340 million unique monthly users read at least 6-12 reviews before they book a hotel; another survey reported almost 30 percent of consumers saying that positive online reviews are the single most important factor in their booking decision.

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What is important to understand is that reviews are only one place where brand and experiences are being shared. Get too focused on them, and you miss the off-the-cuff tweet about a great meal, or a complaint to friends about a bed that's too hard, or a pool that needs some work.

This social currency, online reputation, directly influences a hotelier's sales volume: good reputation, higher sales — poor reputation, lower sales. The upshot is that in the hospitality industry, increasing your reputation (and revenue) means listening to social content and basing your business decisions on the feedback you receive from guests. And I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but remember that good reputation isn't just for high-end establishments. There's a lot to be said for value for money, and smaller, more modest establishments can often gain the most from careful management of their online reputation.

An article recently featured on Customer Experience Report encourages a focus on Return on Experience, rather than Return on Investment. This customer-centric viewpoint represents an excellent perspective to adopt; the genesis of any revenue increase is found in an upswing in customer satisfaction, and that satisfaction culminates from favorable experiences with your brand. Depending on your brand, and the "emotional expectations" of your brand, you may just need to ensure that everything is in order, or you may be called on to make this a truly special, personalize experience.

How, then, should you accomplish this? In an earlier article I discussed big data and text mining, and their myriad applications to the hospitality industry: for Customer Experience Management (CEM), text mining is the first step. The Internet is an ocean of information, and text mining tools are the trawlers whose nets gather what's relevant to your enterprise so you can act upon it. First and foremost in any CEM solution, you must hear; you can't expect to make informed decisions without first hearing from your customers. Along with the standard "review card at the front desk" – encourage your guests to tweet. Give them an @handle or hashtag to use. You can have fun with this - #summerstay or something topical. It is important, though, to make sure that if you have an @handle for them to talk to, that you actually do respond to questions and comments that come across Twitter.

As the buzz and budget permits, implement a Social Media Monitoring solution to analyze your position. SMM systems gather brand mentions from reviews, Twitter, Facebook, forums, and just about anywhere else on the Internet — the information gleaned from this text paints a vivid picture of your hotel's place in the social media web. Analyzing this social content will reveal actionable details to help you answer three key questions:

  • Who is talking about my competitors and me?
  • What specifically are they talking about?
  • How do they feel about it?

You want to know who is talking about relevant brands. This "who" of social content forms the basis for a picture of your hotel's reputation, sketching an outline of your position online and directing some of your decision-making. Who exactly is discussing you? Are they old, young, or somewhere in between? What area of what country are they traveling to and from? What income bracket are they in? What properties have they stayed at before? What did they say about those stays? Do they intend to return, and bonus if they say they have a trip coming up and you can reach out to offer them a special deal.

Note: Demographic information is an imperfect science, so, be prepared for lots of incomplete information.

The "what" is the substance of this picture, the themes and topics that can be as specific or as general as you like. From an individual air conditioning unit, to the patterning on the lobby carpets, to the fluffiness of the bath towels, themes and topics indicate exactly what your customers are discussing. Identifying topics and themes fills in the picture of your brand with shapes and forms. This can also be a discussion of attractions around your location, which can lead to some interesting partnerships and activities to which you can guide your guests.

The color of your picture, the feeling behind it, comes from an understanding of how people feel about the topics and themes they're discussing. Sentiment analysis of text paints a picture in shades of red and green — red for negative, green for positive sentiment. It is vital to know the tone of consumer conversations; references to air-conditioning, for example, may be positive or negative but without that knowledge you cannot and should not take real action.

Each of the above questions creates an impression of how your brand is regarded in the social web, but it takes seamless integration of all three to view the complete painting. Answering these three questions together reveals exactly how consumers view each aspect of your service. Even better, the same system can be applied to produce a view of your competition: so in a market as competitive as hospitality, you can listen to all of the chatter about properties in your area and cleanly differentiate yourself from them.

One very interesting application of social listening is guest customization for high-value guests. Get their Twitter handle. Look to see what sort of stuff they talk about – do they really like wine? What kind of wine are they talking about? Can you make a bottle available to them in their room on check-in? Are they really into flowers? Coffee? Same thing.

Keep track of these preferences, and analyze batches to determine the most popular items. Then offer the popular items as standard available add-ons, or send coupons and promotional emails tailored to specific guests profiles, and aggressively market these options. Social listening allows for you to get a picture of your guest that you can't get any other way – you're actually looking in on a portion of their life that they've chosen to share with the world.

On the subject of reviews, maintaining an active presence on review sites, social media, and the Internet at large is vital for improving customer satisfaction. Don't allow a bad review to go public and spiral out of control — identify the complaint through your Social Media Monitoring and respond appropriately. Stay objective in your comments, and offer thanks to anyone and everyone: thank any guest who gives a positive review, thank a guest's constructive criticism, and even thank the guest who writes a scathing debasement of your entire staff. Your calm and collected response will win kudos from readers. Brian Payea of TripAdvisor, writing for tnooz.com, laid out the results of a survey his company commissioned on this subject. Among other items, they found that:

  • 68% of travelers reported that the presence of management responses sways them to one hotel over another
  • 78% say a good management response to a good review makes them think highly of the hotel
  • 60% say an aggressive management response to a negative review makes the hotel look worse

You must take care to not make a bad situation worse, but responding to reviews is an important action to take: another TripAdvisor survey found that 87% of travelers had an improved opinion of a hotel after reading an appropriate management response to a bad review. Revinate suggests four steps to take when responding to negative reviews: first, thank the guest by name for taking the time to give feedback that you can and will use to improve your services. Then apologize for the guest's poor experience, acknowledging of their disappointment and missed expectations. Highlight any changes you have made or intend to make, briefly explain each one, and then minimize the risk of an incident going public by taking the time to encourage the guest to contact you privately. Finally, evaluate the need for follow-up procedures; send a private message to the concerned party, expressing your apologies and offering compensation if appropriate.

In no other industry is customer satisfaction and revenue so closely linked: proactive implementation of customer experience management solutions for hospitality will directly result in impressive rewards in brand loyalty, reputation, and revenue. Through text mining, listening to social content, personalizing guest experiences, and actively responding to reviews both good and bad, your brand will flourish and thrive.

Jeff Catlin

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