How to Shine Online: Best Practices for Hotels Looking to Win Customers Doing Pre-travel Research

By Michelle Wohl VP of Marketing & Client Services, Revinate | December 23, 2012

Today, we have more access to real-time travel information than ever before. Are you curious about where to stay on your next trip to New York? Your network on Twitter, Facebook or Quora will likely have an opinion to share within the minute. Do you want to ensure that the hotel youíre considering will be just right for your romantic weekend? Thousands of reviews for any hotel are available on TripAdvisor, Expedia or dozens of other review sites and OTAs. Want to discuss the pros and cons of one hotel versus another with travel experts? All you have to do is log on to TripAdvisor forums, Flyer Talk or hundreds of other forums to get ideas and advice.

With so many places online for consumers to share lodging information, hotels are quickly realizing that they must be aware of everything that is being said about them as just one highly visible bad review can cost the hotel a booking. And the flip side is that a series of great reviews can mean increased awareness and sales. But staying on top of everything that is being said online can present a problem for busy hoteliers since manual searches are time consuming and usually donít yield comprehensive results. The first step to ensuring a great online reputation and shining online is to know where people are talking you.

Luckily, software services exist to help hoteliers aggregate all reviews and social media mentions. These solutions act as a firehose, listening for all mentions of your hotel name and bringing everything together into a single dashboard. When evaluating ORM (online reputation management) vendors look for a solution tailored specifically to the hospitality industry as there are very specific sources of data that you will need, such as TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Priceline etc. Many horizontal ORM solutions donít monitor travel-specific review sites. Given the importance of TripAdvisor in consumersí purchase decisions, itís also important that a vendor has a licensing relationship with TripAdvisor, and, if you are a full-service hotel, a solution for both hotels and restaurants.

While ORM solutions typcially cost less than a few hundred dollars a month, if youíre not ready to invest in a paid solution, there are some free services that you can use, although you wonít have the convenience of single-source monitoring. To capture mentions on blog, video and news sites, you can create a google alert by going to http://www.google.com/alerts. You will need to create separate alerts for your hotel name, your restaurants and anything else you want to monitor. To monitor mentions on Twitter, you can use TweetDeck or, if you are often away from your computer, set up mobile alerts using a free service like IFTTT.com. You might also think about creating mobile alerts for foursquare so you know immediately when someone checks into your venue. Finally, to monitor your online reviews on TripAdvisor and the OTAs, you will need to claim your venue and request email alerts, if offered by the site.

Once you begin to understand all the places where your hotel is being talked about, you need to have an action plan for managing your online reputation. Letís begin with TripAdvisor, the biggest online review site.

Research has shown that people want to read reviews before they book travel. If you, as a hotelier, donít provide them with the ability to read reviews on your own site, they will likely bounce to a review site, like TripAdvisor, to read reviews. If you arenít providing fresh reviews on your site via a review widget or manual process, you need to ensure that when your prospects leave your site to check out your reviews, you are able to maintain their interest in your property. Some things that might throw them off include poor photos, a bad ranking on TripAdvisor, and bad reviews.

Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.