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Has Social Media Become The New And Improved Version Of Word Of Mouth?

This article by Michael Kessler, CEO of ReviewPro, originally appeared in HotelExecutive.

Technology is developing at lightning speed, but one thing that is not going to change is word of mouth. Once, people would gather at a friend’s house after a trip to look at a slideshow of their holiday snaps and hash out the highs and lows, today we happily browse our friends’ (and friends of friends’) Facebook posts and Instagram stories. Kodak moments have become #instamoments and while the method may have changed, the intention hasn’t. People will always want to share their experiences with one another.

Because of the nature of the digital landscape today – open, free, and available to all, a hotel finds its reputation at the mercy of anyone wishing to write an online review or post a picture on social media. However, open online content also presents a golden opportunity to create and curate a positive brand image to thousands of prospective guests.

How Can Hotels Leverage Word Of Mouth 2.0?

To be in full control of your brand, first, you must know what guests are displaying and saying about you on social media sites and in online reviews. To do this most hotel brands opt to employ social listening or online reputation tools which allow them to proactively search, understand and then take action.

Reactive responding

They say “any press is good press”, but this is only true if you are identifying and adequately responding. A negative comment with no response could be damaging, while a negative comment with a clear, professional and helpful management response can actually boost the hotel in the eyes of the thousands of potential guests researching their next holiday. Everybody knows that things go wrong from time to time, it’s the manner in which problems are dealt with that matters. Responses need to show empathy, have a human tone and above all not appear to be ‘canned’. Acknowledge if there has been a problem, offer a solution or show how the problem will be solved, and confirm that it will not happen again.

Proactive social media campaigns

Some hotel brands are not only reacting to existing content from guests but are actively encouraging sharing on social media sites with dedicated marketing campaigns. One example is installing a selfie wall or iconic mural that encourages photos and social sharing when accompanied with brand hashtags and Instagram geotags. Interior design has undoubtedly been influenced by the age of social sharing, and many hotels are choosing to gear at least part of their design towards #instaworthy scenes whether it be a majestic lobby or a well-crafted poke bowl at your hotel bistro. One of the best things you can encourage is the feeling of FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) when people view online pictures of your property or brand.

But Who Do We Really Trust?

How much we trust the material we see on social media really depends on who is doing the sharing – is it a brand, a paid influencer, or user generated content? User generated content includes photos, comments, or reviews from unpaid and unaffiliated contributors – i.e. your satisfied guests, or brand advocates. Since today’s social media consumers are savvy, and increasingly immune to corporate marketing and advertising campaigns, user generated content is king. After all, the NPS (Net Promoter Score) is still the gold standard of guest satisfaction with the question “How likely would you be to recommend us to your friends and family?”, in other words, put your own integrity on the line to advocate for a brand.

Travelers will consult different types of user generated content at different parts of the traveler journey; they may find the inspiration for their next destination when on Instagram, progressing to reading traveler reviews on TripAdvisor or Booking.com during the final planning. The advocates for your brand will have stayed at your hotel and had a positive experience, they will then either be prompted to write a review via a guest survey and review collection program, prompted for feedback by the OTA they booked with, or take it upon themselves to write simply because they want to share their experiences.

These brand advocates should be responded to and appreciated, so while it’s essential that negative reviews are addressed promptly and carefully, your management review strategy should also take into account thanking and showing appreciation for these valuable guests because “our best marketers are our happy guests”.

But what about that slightly faded buzzword the ‘social media influencer’? Some studies suggest that as little as 4% of users now trust online influencers. Wherever that figure stands, it is clear that due to a combination of overuse and bad practices like buying followers or promoting ethically questionable products, some Instagram influencers are now being viewed as smoke and mirrors. Even though influencer marketing strategies still occupy chunks of some hospitality marketing budgets, others are turning towards micro influencers, influencer communities and product development collaborations rather than your typical pay-to-play strategy.

Bringing together a mix of brand messaging, user generated content, and trusted influencers seems to be a solid strategy for hospitality, as signaled well back in 2018 when TripAdvisor recharged its strategy to include all of the above.

The Core of Hospitality Is Great Guest Experience

Regardless of how many selfie walls you install, the array of colorful dishes you offer, or the type of social media influencer you sponsor, true hospitality will always be built on the foundation of great guest experiences. Whether your offering is a low cost, low expectation environment, or a luxury, high-end, high-stakes experience, the image that the guest makes before arrival will need to be in line with what they experience during the stay, or even exceed their expectation. In order to gauge whether they are achieving this, hotels can monitor guest satisfaction via online reputation tools that provide a breakdown and a semantic analysis of the comments made by guests. This information can then be used to drive operational and service improvements, so that future guests do not encounter the same issues.

While feedback data from guest reviews left on social media sites and OTAs can give you great insights into how to improve for future guests, there is another way to exceed expectations that many brands are taking on and that is in-stay service recovery. This strategy means employing either an in-stay survey or guest messaging to check in while guests are still on site and solve any issues they may be having.

The beauty of this technique is that you are still in time to turn around the experience of your guests, truly delight them, and avoid negative online comments. Pair this with automation techniques that ensure no guest request is left unattended to, and you can increase satisfaction by up to 7.75%.

How Can Hotels Position Themselves To Stay Ahead Of The Curve?

Staying ahead of the curve means being switched on to both the current and the up-and-coming technology trends and the effect they have on the way people enjoy and share hospitality experiences. So, how will word of mouth look 10 years from now? In a way, tomorrow’s social media vehicle is irrelevant and largely out of our hands. What we can control is the experience guests have while on site.

That will be influenced by a number of developments from increasingly sophisticated AI and chatbots to help staff to make better decisions, sell rooms, or cut down on response time, to the storage and use of guest data so personalization becomes seamless and magical, to virtual or augmented reality travel where guests might be exploring far off destinations or testing out hotels rooms while still in the shopping phase of their trip. All and any of these technologies offer the possibility to elevate and improve the guest experience.

What Can We Do Today?

More than ever before hotels are in the position to be able to understand their reputation, implement data-driven improvements, and clearly define and control their online brand image. Working mindfully with what you already have at your fingertips will help you to stay competitive and drive results. To close, I offer five best practices any hotelier can put in place today to take advantage of social media trends:

1. Monitor and analyze your online reputation so you know what is being said.

2. Respond well by implementing a clear, achievable management response strategy.

3. Create moments and experiences that guests can’t wait to share, and let your guests do the talking.

4. If you develop an influencer strategy, choose wisely – think influencer community, or product collaboration.

5. Put guest experience first by implementing automatic workflows and solid guest management strategies – great service always gets great results!

6. Lastly, remember that in hospitality it’s often the little things that distinguish good from great. The turn down chocolates, the warm smile, the recognition at the bar. Every hotel or brand has the opportunity to provide great guest experience, and – hopefully – find themselves trending on Twitter.

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