Creating a Virtuous Cycle: Integrating Online Reputation Management Into Operations and Culture.
By Daniel Edward Craig
Wednesday, 14th September 2011
At a time when the travel industry is still struggling to accommodate social media, which barged in like a noisy tour group speaking a bizarre foreign language, another demanding new function is banging at the door: online reputation management.

But rather than make life even more complicated, online reputation management (ORM) brings clarity and purpose to social networking. More than anything, reputation is the ROI of social networking. It drives demand and is now comparable to brand, price and location in influencing travel decisions.

Online reputation management involves actively participating in social networking to build awareness and shape perceptions of a company. It is the process of monitoring, responding to and generating online feedback and reviews, and using feedback to guide improvements to the customer experience.

Social media has dramatically changed how travelers research trips, make decisions and share experiences, creating platforms to share and compare trip information and advice with the sources they trust most: other travelers and people they know. Word of mouth is now public, scalable and measurable, and travelers are more informed and empowered than ever before. As a result, they're less influenced by traditional marketing sources.

But ORM is not the sole purview of the marketing department; it's a company-wide function that necessitates close cooperation among interdependent departments. Well orchestrated, ORM creates a virtuous cycle: management and employees generate customer satisfaction, which drives loyalty and advocacy, which in turn drive reputation and create demand.

The critical cog in the ORM wheel is customer satisfaction. No amount of clever marketing, savvy revenue management or aggressive sales tactics will overcome the adverse effects of dissatisfied guests on reputation.

Perpetuating a virtuous cycle in your organization means integrating the ORM function into the daily operations and culture. That entails taking a formal and structured approach to ORM activities. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Assemble the ORM Team
Yes, another meeting, but a critical one. Appoint a reputation leader to chair meetings, champion efforts and act as taskmaster, and a gatekeeper to monitor and disseminate reviews and feedback. The rest of the group should comprise of representatives from departments with the highest stake in your reputation.

a) Marketing. Today marketing is less about finding customers than about being found. That requires a content management strategy: sharing owner-generated content (news, promotions, photos, videos) and user-generated content (reviews, stories, imagery) on your website and social channels and engaging in search engine marketing activities to ensure content is found.

b) Revenue Management. The revenue manager manages demand, but it's the traveler who decides how much a room is worth, and that's increasingly influenced by traveler reviews and ratings. To maximize revenue and effectively manage rates and inventory the revenue manager needs an intimate understanding of reputation positioning. That secures him or her a seat at the ORM table.

c) Sales. Social media has become an essential tool for sales staff to research, connect with and be found by prospects, clients and influencers. Increasingly group organizers and corporate travel managers are consulting review sites and social networks when researching trips and making decisions, and the quality of reviews and content on these sites can have a significant impact on conversions.

d) Human Resources. More than anything, employees shape reputation. The HR department plays a critical role, using guest feedback as a training tool and ensuring staff understand reputation objectives and are recognized for achievements. Employees need to be trained and empowered to exceed guest expectations, to deem every guest as a reviewer, and to prevent onsite issues from escalating to online complaints.

e) Food, Beverage and Retail. Travelers and locals alike use social networks to find places to stay, eat, drink, shop, explore, relax, meet and celebrate. Increasingly, they're doing it on mobile devices. This has ramifications for every revenue outlet in an organization, and especially for walk-in business.

f) Administration. Creating a virtuous cycle means using customer feedback to guide decisions, from capital upgrades to staffing to enhanced services. That necessitates participation from the people who have the authority to approve budgets and effect change throughout the organization: executive management and, as applicable, representatives from ownership and corporate office.

If you run a small business, your entire ORM team might be just you—that should keep meetings nice and short.

2. Set strategies and objectives
You'll need a basic plan to chart your course. Start by deciding where you are in terms of reputation and where you aspire to be. Set clear, measurable objectives such as ratings and rankings on TripAdvisor, the OTAs, Google Places, Yelp and other major review sites.

Next decide how you'll achieve these objectives. Strategy involves four main functions: monitoring, reacting to, responding to and generating reviews and content. Assign responsibilities, identify the channels to administer and the time and resources required, and establish social media guidelines.

3. Find the resources
ORM doesn't require new positions or added expenditures; it's a matter of shifting resources from activities that have diminished in effectiveness. Are you still printing expensive brochures, sending direct mail, buying print ads and attending tradeshows? I don't suggest abandoning these activities entirely, but you need to be where the action is, and increasingly that's online.

If you haven't already, consider investing in a reputation monitoring tool to help aggregate and organize reviews and feedback from across the Web. It will allow you to quantify reputation performance, including your Guest Satisfaction Index, which today is as important as market share of rate, occupancy and revPAR.

To complete the virtuous cycle include ORM activities in month-end reports and annual planning and budgeting. Over time, managing your reputation will become second nature, as integrated into operations and culture as service and revenue management.

Daniel Edward Craig is a former general manager turned consultant specializing in online marketing, social media strategy and reputation management for hotels and the travel industry. He is the author of three novels set in hotels, and his blog is a popular resource for hoteliers and travel marketers around the world. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com

Copyright © 2011 Daniel Edward Craig. All rights reserved. Reprinted with special permission.
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