TripAdvisor, the best thing since peanuts -
Just a few months ago, there were endless articles proclaiming that social media would revolutionize hotel marketing on the Internet.
Well, that hasn't happened. The very thought of having the ability to communicate, one-on-one, with millions of consumers made many hotel marketers drool with anticipation. I'm sure this was met by equal excitement from the social media community; just think about all that potential advertising money.
The uniqueness of social media is that it features user-generated content, but, therein lays its fallacy. This means no one can manage or impact its content. Now, don't get me wrong. I think the whole Web 2.0 movement is very exciting, but I have yet to see a practical program for individual hotels with the one exception of using travel-focused social media sites, like TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor has been aggressively refining its product to better serve the travel industry. At a recent conference, I encouraged hoteliers to embrace travel-focused social media but, for now, disregard sites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and other general media; leave those to hotel franchises with the need for promoting their brands.
The reaction came as expected, several people in the audience represented general social media sites. I knew some of them would not be too pleased with my statement. But, I stand by that advice until someone is able to provide a clear strategy for individual hotels to comfortably tap into the general social media market. Until then, TripAdvisor and, other travel-focused sites like it, are perfect for hoteliers.Don't Complicate a Simple Task
For me, it all began some time ago with an article, written by a web marketing company, which asserted "Do you know what people are saying about your hotel on the Internet?" That company even offered to monitor social media for individual hotels, as if a comment made on FaceBook would or could impact your hotel.
Instead of hiring a service to do this simple task, or worse yet, trying to do it yourself, take advantage of the growing number of free monitoring tools.
A quick way to start is to set up a free Google Alerts account for your hotel. It will search news, blogs, video, and more for your hotel name, then email the results to you. But, don't get too excited, comments made about individual hotels on general social media are pretty rare. TripAdvisor is way ahead of the curve; they include the option of creating a free RSS feed to keep you up-to-date on any comments made about your hotel. Paying for someone to monitor social media for your hotel is really pretty silly.Travel-Focused Social Media
There are only a handful of travel-focused social media sites and TripAdvisor is certainly the most prominent. The data shows that many travelers use TripAdvisor to either ratify their choice of a hotel or to find a hotel. User-generated comments made by actual travelers certainly have convincing veracity with consumers. This is the magic of Trip Advisor's success.
When TripAdvisor was first launched, I predicted doom and gloom for our industry; I imagined piles of "dirty laundry" being exposed online for the world to see. I could not have been more wrong. In fact, TripAdvisor reports an estimated 80% of all comments are positive rather than negative. Who would have thought that?
One of the contributing factors to their success is the nature of the travelers they serve. Once a traveler selects a destination, their next, and very important decisions are transportation and a where to stay. In the ‘ole days, many people called their favorite travel agent who often gave recounts of their personal travel experiences. It made travelers very comfortable with their travel decisions.
With the Internet, travelers are seeking the instant gratification of booking airline and hotel, in real time, through their computer. Travel-focused social media allows consumers to "get the scoop" about the facilities and service of hotels they don't know, from other travelers, online and in real time.How You Can Use TripAdvisor
More and more hotels are now adding traveler comments on their own proprietary hotel websites. Try using "As seen on TripAdvisor" along with those testimonials; this is especially helpful if you have a long stream of positive comments on the TripAdvisor site. Generally, travelers will check your site before they check TripAdvisor. This adds validity to your listed testimonials.
Obviously you will want to post an answer to any negative comment on TripAdvisor, but be careful with your response; you can make matters worse. Every hotel stumbles occasionally, a properly worded response can convert a negative comment into a positive one for your hotel.
There is currently a subjective dispute over whether or not to post a response to positive comments as well. It is probably a good idea, but I believe the same caution needs to be applied. Thanking consumers for their nice comments is always a good idea.
If you have money in your budget, it sure can't hurt to advertise on TripAdvisor. Advertising on general social media doesn't have the same impact for individual hotels; its interests are way too broad.
This economy is going to be tough for some time to come; there's no end in sight yet. Travel-focused social media offers free promotion of your hotel; learn how to use it. To me, TripAdvisor is the best thing since peanuts.
Neil Salerno, CHME, CHA
Hotel Marketing Coach