Social Media & Customer Reviews – Subjective reasoning and what to do about it


Tripadvisor & Online Travel Agents (OTAs)

“Hotels.com will be integrating TripAdvisor hotel reviews on all of its 31 web sites across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The inclusion of the reviews is part of the brand’s mission to help its users choose the best property for their travel needs.”
http://www.hotelmarketing.com/index.php/content/article/hotelscom_includes_tripadvisor_reviews

Whilst Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are quick on the uptake, their philosophy into Social Media is pivoted around ensuring the customer receives the right accommodation based on their preferences. Travel agents are far more promiscuous in their promotion of individual hotels or holiday providers thus the TripAdvisor model suits OTAs better than it does the independent hotels.

Brands cannot hide from the Social Media space due to the global reach of TripAdvisor; embracing TripAdvisor within a brand’s e-commerce strategy has yet to prove itself across the sector to be beneficial; moreover brands are looking for ways to manage their online social status whilst maintaining their integrity. Ventures include Facebook ‘fan’ pages, YouTube video groups and bespoke social media solutions giving the brands a closed control on their online PR.

Brands

In communication with TripAdvisor, the following brands were cited as examples of successful TripAdvisor integration:
http://www.kkhotels.com/en/hotels/london/k-k-hotel-george/traveller-reviews/#startposition
http://www.libraryhotel.com/ (scroll down)
http://www.novotelstkilda.com.au/explore.html

The latter 2 examples show the more moderate embracing of the Social Review stratosphere.

It seems for many, TA raises more questions due to the very diverse range of views expressed. The key to customer reviews is the personal nature of the reviews and the particular experience of the user.

A “25 to 34” year-old couple visiting Hotel X may describe the hotel as “being surrounded by rotting seaweed” and commenting “wish we had saved the money and gone to Resort X just down the road”  is in stark contrast to the same hotel regarding “some of the negative reviews on here”.  After booking his break and then checking TripAdvisor,  Mr Smith  (a fictional character) states “[I was] somewhat worried about what to expect but gladly, I was not disappointed”. On the “rotting seaweed” he commented “the area is not the best area in the bay but for what I paid for I was very much impressed! Oh – and I’m a usually miserable 38 yr old so take this as praise! :-)”

Would you visit Hotel X? I’m sure a vote on this would be split at best, most perhaps siding not to stay at Hotel X.

Mr Smith rated Hotel X at 5/5 whereas Mr Jones rated Hotel X at 2/5. Both had contrasting experiences.

Delving deeper, Mr Smith is a middle-class office worker who spent the weekend at Hotel X for the location and enjoyed the accessibility and comparitively cheap price.

Mr Jones however is a Financial Director of a large law firm and expects much more class from a hotel. He thought Hotel X was more a hostel than a hotel and will probably fire his PA for booking Hotel X! Does this now change your perception?

From past experiences and analysis into customer reviews it has become a dangerous haven for many brands. Whether you’re a hotelier, retailer or financial institution these facts are hard to avoid:

  • Customers are more inclined to post a review when they’ve had a bad experience
  • Customers are likely to post a review if they’ve had an exceptional experience
  • Over 80% of online consumers trust, or use online reviews before making a purchase (apologies I do not have the reference at hand for that figure..)

If 2% of your customers have a bad experience, a further 2% have an exceptional experience and the remaining 96% had a good experience, how would this impact your brand? Would 80% of potential customers trust 2% of your actual customers meaning you lose business to a competitor? Food for thought…

To control or not to control…

The fear for brands with ‘uncontrolled’ customer reviews is the openness of interpretation. Without ‘some control’ on how the feedback is portrayed to the end-user, the branded website hosting 3rd party reviews such as TripAdvisor could well become a PR and Guest Liaison nightmare with more time spent negating the negative reviews. What Tripadvisor does extremely well is in leveraging social power to provide consumers with a great insight into destinations amongst other things. The damage this has on brands is that when you’re the owner of Hotel X, TripAdvisor to some extent doesn’t really care (at time of writing!) what the customer wrote as long as it is clean and honest. Now whilst the manager of Hotel X can go online and respond to comments, how many people will already have been put off, and will continue to be put off even if the Hotel X manager states that this is a one off..

Contextual Reviews

Tripadvisor are used as an example due to the fact that they are arguably the number on travel destination review website in the world! However this is by no means a dig at Tripadvisor. In fact Tripadvisor do currently attempt to provide context to reviews; whether this is enough I don’t know.

An alternative approach to a situation like this is to consider a bespoke solution, tailored towards your brand’s product, allowing categorisation of context for the review. How old is the reviewer? What was their expectation? How could their experienced have  been made better?By leading the customer you can ensure they cover as much of the good as the bad and allow the viewer to firstly make up their mind as to “whether this customer is like me”.

This can be placed against your brand’s own criteria for with some openness on who they’re targeted towards using subtle yet distinct copy. If your hotel is a budget hotel with a USP of  “the best budget view of the bay” then make sure customers see this when they see the reviews.

In summary the Internet world is ever-changing and sooner or later more and more brands will realise the potential business they’re losing out on by not embracing it. I can only hope brands start to realise that it is not really as scary as it sounds, with a little insight and know-how!

What do you think?

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One thought on “Social Media & Customer Reviews – Subjective reasoning and what to do about it

  1. Pingback: The InterWeb - Past, Present and Future « Depesh Mandalia’s Weblog

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