Social Media Scrutiny, Is The Sky Really Falling?
By Neil Salerno
Monday, 10th September 2007
There's a lot being written lately about Social Media -

Some people talk about it like it's something new; but social media have been with us for several years; does anyone remember AOL?

Some experts believe that it is flourishing because more and more people are using free web sites like My Space, You Tube. And others as a base for work/play on the Internet and to fill their need to belong to a social Internet community.

Now, there are those related to the hotel industry, mainly vendors, who would like us to believe that social media needs to be monitored so that hotels can react to the comments being posted about them on the myriad of social media; like Chicken Little, they would have us believe the sky is falling.

If we are to believe these fear-mongers, personally I don't, hotel management as we know it is about to come to an end. If some of these naysayers are right, there are millions of web pages out there strewn with postings about your hotel and if you don't address those postings, social media will do you in.

This concern about what is being posted on the social media reminds me about the paranoid guy who sat in the stands watching a football game, sees the team go into a huddle, and worries about what the players are saying about him. Are hoteliers getting that paranoid?

When TripAdvisor first arrived on the Internet scene, there were many people who predicted doom and gloom for the hotel industry. Knowing that we are a rather imperfect industry, many hoteliers feared that this public exposure of their frailties would cause great problems; it didn't. If you feel a need to monitor public comments, TripAdvisor would be my choice.

TripAdvisor, a respected travel social medium, has been around for a long time now and I doubt that any hotels have been driven out of business as a result. The fact is that there are far more good comments posted on their site than bad ones; our fears were unfounded.

It appears that many people are referring to TripAdvisor and other travel-related social media; it's interesting that experts believe that most visitors are actually making a reservation, then checking these sites simply to confirm their travel selection.

How big does an ego have to be to think that people just can't wait to post bad lodging stories about individual hotels on the Internet; as if the whole social media is out to get hoteliers? Some people would like us to believe that we had better monitor these comments before they do us in. What nonsense. Actually, HitWise estimates that only about 3% of social media postings have anything to do with travel at all.

Let's look at this from a practical viewpoint; let's pretend that a consumer does post a nasty complaint about a specific hotel. TripAdvisor gives every hotel an opportunity to rebut bad comments and complaints made about them, but the problem is that most rebuttals don't satisfy or settle the complaint. Rebuttals don't make the complaint posting go away or change in any way; but, use caution, if it's handled badly, the rebuttal could actually make things worse.

When I read a recent article about the social media, I thought I was zapped into the twilight zone. Are the people, who believe this rhetoric, suggesting that hotels should now plan to judge their service standards and proficiency from postings on all the social media sites?

Every hotelier, who has spent more than two days actually working in a hotel, knows that the best way to manage a hotel's offline or online reputation is to manage complaints while the guest is still in the hotel. Have we discarded the use of common-sense and the principles of good hotel management? If any hotel is operating so poorly that you need to respond to every comment posted on the Internet, you do have a problem, indeed; don't look up, the sky could be falling.

On the positive side, social media can be a good place to market your hotel; after-all some of these people are travelers also. But, advertising on social media sites is very much like print consumer advertising; unfortunately, very few hotels could afford to advertise in general consumer publications, like Time, Business Week, and others. If you've covered Internet pay-per-click, GDS promotions, SEO for your web site, group advertising, and other promotions, and you still have money left over, consider social media consumer advertising.

Ironically, the same people, shouting that the sky is falling, are also offering to monitor social media, including Expedia's TripAdvisor and others to see what people are saying about your hotel; they call it your online reputation. My concern is what you can actually do with this information once you get it; I suppose you can show your boss if they are good comments; it can't hurt. But, if they are bad comments, what will you do? Post rebuttals for every bad comment; knowing that rebuttals change very little?

If this monitoring is a free service, it could be worth every penny.

Hotel managers and marketing people have enough on their plates just to manage the productive tasks of their jobs today. Over the years, our industry has become increasingly more complicated and difficult. Trying to manage good service by reviewing comments that may appear somewhere on the Internet is like locking the barn after the horses have left.

Social media is probably here to stay and we should keep an eye on its evolution, but, for now, managers should continue to concentrate on more important issues like building business and providing good service. Put your time where it will make the most impact. No, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling.

Neil Salerno, CHME, CHA
Hotel Marketing Coach
Email: NeilS@hotelmarketingcoach.com
Web Site: www.hotelmarketingcoach.com
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