More and more hotel executives and marketing managers are relying on social media reputation management software to help them profit from the social web.
Rather then attempting to visit every single social media network to check for new mentions, savvy operators use a tool for data collection and save their valuable time for trend analysis and responding directly to guests and customers.
Using the right software can be very helpful in managing your online reputation, but what criteria should you use for choosing a tool?
Here are some questions to consider when evaluating the range of products on the market.Ask: What data types does it aggregate and index?
Reputation software is all about the data: both qualitative and quantitative. The best tools are designed to continually collect and index information from a wide range of sources. And there are many more sources out there than would appear at first glance.
Collecting reviews from just a handful of the top review sites results in missed opportunities. The web is all about the "long tail" of information - and a lot of travel discussion happens on niche sites catering to people in specific regions or with similar interests. These smaller travel review communities may be very influential in someone's buying decision, and cannot be ignored.
As a manager, you must be quickly aware of any mention of your hotel, regardless of where it is posted. Does the tool you're considering enable that?Ask: What is the international coverage?
It's not enough to be limited to a few countries. What websites, languages, and countries does the software collect data from?
Travel is by definition highly international and is only becoming more so. Whether you're managing a single property or a large portfolio of hotels, true international support is crucial.
There are a vast number of regional OTAs and hotel review sites that are major sources of information for millions of travelers. These are both country-specific like Hotels.de or Atrapalo in Spain - and also region-specific like Venere, Laterooms, Holidaycheck, Zoover, and Minube in Europe.
Will the tool you're considering support data collection from all relevant sources?Ask: Does the company have the right development team in place?
A focus on engineering and development will ensure the tool will grow with you and adapt to market changes.
When considering a partnership with a hotel reputation management software provider, try to determine what their development philosophy is - as well as their product roadmap for the future. How do they decide on new product features? Will they continue to innovate quickly?
Too many products I see out on the market were designed more or less with "build it once, collect the profits" philosophy, and the managers are not really committed to improving the product over time.
Because this industry is evolving so rapidly, you need a partner development team that can keep up and keep you ahead of the curve.
Also ask if their developers work from the company headquarters or if product development is outsourced. Outsourcing works in some cases, but better results are usually obtained through an in-house team. Close communication between developers, account managers, executives and people from your organization is important for providing you with the best possible product.Ask: What types of training and support are offered?
As with any new tool or technology, getting your whole team to adopt and benefit from it may require a substantial amount of training. Make sure that the software company you partner up with offers a strong training program - providing support and assistance along the way.
Try to find a tool that allows you to generate usage reports by user - so you can identify which of your team members might need more training to get the most possible benefit from the software.
The best companies will have a strong focus on education. Not only during the customer onboarding process, but consistently as the months go by. They'll teach you how to use new media and the social web to succeed in the market.
Things change so rapidly in this area that you need someone to stay on the forefront of innovation and teach you how to profit from changes in travel behavior.Ask: Does the tool enable communication and collaboration among staff members?
Effective digital communications today requires involvement from all departments. You need a tool that encourages this, and makes the process simple and straightforward.
Participating on the social web is much more than just a function of the marketing or PR department. Insights you gather from guest feedback online can be used among the management team and can also help front-line staff do their jobs more effectively.
But for this to work, you need software that can share insights and reports among team members. Make sure the tool you select provides position and role-specific reporting functionality - and the ability to share these insights with colleagues. Ask: What workflow systems are in place to encourage rapid resolution?
In keeping with the point above, it's very helpful if the tool provides powerful workflow functionality. When a general manager receives an online review, she needs to be able to assign it to the appropriate team member for resolution, pass along any additional information, and then track the progress of that issue to completion.
Ideally, this will be more than just an "e-mail review" feature. It's easiest if you can work within a dashboard that tracks progress of each item.Ask: Will it keep my team engaged?
Does the tool you're considering offer the ability to export reports in an attractive fashion? Can you print out data for your weekly meetings that instantly communicates the online status of your hotels? Can you schedule email notifications to everyone - from general management to quality and operations to sales and marketing to revenue and distribution?
Make sure you can share information with staff members that need to be aware of results but are unlikely to enter the application to look for the data themselves.
For some of your managers, these reports may be all they need. Maybe they don't need to be checking a dashboard daily to see what online reviews have been received, but they do need to see the overall trends and actions that must be taken in their departments.
Ease of accessing the data is important to keep everyone using the tool. If something is too complicated, people will avoid it, and the tool will be useless. The user interface of the tool itself plays a role in keeping everyone engaged, but especially important is the ability to provide reporting for people who don't have the time or desire to login to the program.Ask: Does it support semantic analysis?
Semantic analysis is becoming increasingly important in the field of online reputation management. You need a tool that can gauge guest sentiment and allow you to act accordingly.
Semantic analysis is more than just a tool for reputation - it can also be used for marketing and investment decisions. For marketing, you can determine which parts of the guest experience are most attractive to your guests, and highlight those.
For investment decisions, you can understand which parts of your hotel experience are most important to guests and make sure that investment goes into enhancing those areas. You can also identify any trouble spots and improve quality in the areas that need it most.Ask: Will it help me attract new customers?
A big part of online reputation management is the opportunity to create a great experience that gets guests to talk about your hotel - encouraging their friends to stay with you as well.
But you can be more proactive when it comes to attracting business. Try to find a tool that helps you use the reviews it collects to attract more reservations. This can be done easily for individual sources (like TripAdvisor), but the way to stand out is to collect reviews from multiple sources and post the overall aggregate guest opinion of your hotel.
Customer confidence is increased by social proof. Posting a review summary like this on your website helps verify the hotel's quality, and makes visitors feel it's not risky to make a booking.
According to R.J. Friedlander, CEO of ReviewPro,
"We are seeing innovative hoteliers driving revenue growth in three areas related to online reviews: maximizing online distribution revenue, increasing direct bookings on their own websites and optimizing their daily pricing related to their online reputation scores."
Some hotel managers I talk with also neglect to see the importance of reviews in their hotel's placement on 3rd-party websites. Many OTAs factor in online reputation in how they rank hotels; making sure your hotel is doing well in this area helps generate more overall revenue.
Special considerations for large hotel groups
Selecting the right tool to monitor and manage social media communication for a large group of hotels requires some additional special considerations:Ask: Can it organize and analyze data by groups and brands?
In managing a large portfolio of hotels, you need to be able to compare individual hotels, specific groups, and brands with each other and make assessments regarding their performance. This affects a number of areas.
Quality improvement - Will you be able to establish specific improvement goals for online reputation by property and track performance towards achieving these goals?
Accountability - Will you have a way to link a hotel's online reputation performance to the hotel directors' bonuses to align corporate objectives with guest satisfaction?
Competitive insights - Will you have the ability to gather competitive insights for each of these levels?
Especially for ownership companies and larger organizations, the ability to track hotels within a group is important for many management and investment decisions.Ask: Does the workflow system support the needs of large organizations?
Large organizations face unique challenges when it comes to operations management.
If a simplistic workflow system may work at a small property, it can be exponentially more complicated when dealing with a large portfolio of hotels.
As mentioned earlier in this article, you need to look for the ability to delegate items, pass along support information, and then track the progress in resolution of each issue. Ensure the tool you choose is robust enough to support the simultaneous management of hundreds or thousands of issues at once.Ask: Does it support the needs of each department manager?
Department reports combined with detailed competitive benchmarking can help to identify areas of improvement, set progress objectives and measure whether your goals are being achieved.
Make sure the reports generated are not too generic, and instead focus on relevant information that each department manager can use and succeed with.Ask: Does it integrate well with my existing systems and technology?
If you're a large organization, chances are good that you've invested quite a bit in technology infrastructure already. You need a social media reputation tool that syncs well with these existing systems.
Tools on the forefront of innovation in this area offer the ability to import and export data between their tool and your existing software systems. This is important, as it can help you make pricing decisions that affect your profitability. You can cross-compare guest satisfaction scores with your pricing strategies and maximize profitability.Ask: Does its semantic analysis support my needs?
For large groups of hotels, semantic analysis is especially important to provide detailed insight into what guests think about your brand and where you are positioned in the marketplace. It's not always what your marketing people might think!
Being able to gather insights through semantic analysis can help guide the overall strategic direction of your organization. It helps you allocate resources in a way that maximizes impact.In closing...
I strongly recommend you use some type of online reputation management tool, and select one that meets all the criteria above. I advocate use of a tool for this part of your marketing because I want you to spend less time looking for the reviews, and more time interpreting, analyzing, and acting on them.
Remember the whole purpose of our efforts here is to listen to guests and take actions necessary for improving their experience. By operating in this way, you will achieve higher profitability and market share. It's the only sustainable way to get ahead and stay ahead of your competition.Josiah Mackenzie is publisher of Hotel Marketing Strategies - helping 17,000 hoteliers worldwide use technology for better service, and is an industry analyst for ReviewPro - a customer intelligence tool for the social web: www.reviewpro.com About the author
This blog is written by Josiah Mackenzie, who enjoys exploring the relationship between emerging technology and the hospitality industry.