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Managing Real-time Reviews

This is the year of mobile domination. Smartphones now have the numbers and the ‘smarts’ to swing this from rebellion to full-on revolution. Rethink your website, rethink your social media and rethink your external sales channels. There have been utterances about this for months now, which in internet time is decades. As always, with new technologies come new dilemmas, and the topic for today is real-time guest reviews.

Rather explicit by its namesake, real-time reviews are those live tweets, Facebook status updates and foursquare comments, or the ten-minutes-after-the-fact TripAdvisor reviews. They could be posted via laptop, but given their immediacy, the delivery vessel is most likely mobile – smartphones and, increasingly, tablets.
To address why real-time reviews matter is to address why immediacy matters. What’s the rush? Why does it matter that I expedite my online follow-up to remarks about my hotel which run the gamut from the good and the bad to the tragically ugly? Damage control for one. But, more importantly, one that’s less obvious is heightened loyalty – a pillar for any successful business.
Let me explain through an ‘old-fashioned’ example – email. An acquaintance messages you with a matter requiring some semblance of urgency on your part. So, you rebound within a few minutes (not that you wouldn’t otherwise) asking for more details. Henceforth, a tacit precedent has been set in terms of the appropriate breadth of time between correspondences. How then would you feel towards this acquaintance if your initial, hastened reply was left unanswered for two whole weeks? Barring extenuating circumstances, it doesn’t appear as though you’re very high on his or her priority list and, frankly, it’s quite rude.
Apply this communications scenario to real-time reviews. A conciliatory reply to a scathing Twitter comment two days after the fact is like throwing a bucket of water into a forest fire; too little, too late. The world is moving fast and you have to keep pace. Survival of the fastest.
This alacrity can impede your marketing and loyalty-building efforts, but lo and behold, the opposite is exceedingly true. Suppose a recently departed guest rejoices at length about your F&B service on your hotel’s Facebook fan page. Then, your team sends a personalized and sincere ‘Thank You’ note within 10 minutes. “Wow, that was fast! They must really care what I think and value my patronage,” thinks the surprised and enthused user.
If the hotel’s praise came an hour later, you probably wouldn’t evoke this same level of amazement. It’s a sliding scale, like ripe fruit on the countertop that spoils slowly but surely. In short, timeliness is everything. (Nota bene: the ‘Thank You’ note can be expounded into something far more impactful than a mere show of gratitude; consider calls to action like targeted recommendations and upcoming promotions.)
Additionally, it’s important to consider that because this subcategory of reviews occurs in real-time, there’s a distinct probability that the person in question is still onsite. Your response can steer the remainder of a guest’s trip, for better or for worse. A patron raves about a lunchtime entrée? Thank them and suggest a dessert. Someone complains about certain aspects of the guestroom? Have a staff member give them a call, post haste.
The Latest Tidbits in Social Media Trending
One other nugget of tangential information worth mentioning at this point is the visual media revolution. With faster internet connections, 3G/4G networks and smartphones, pictures and videos are as easy to share as text-based data. Yes, I’m talking Instagram and Pinterest, which, according to Business Insider, now command a combined 60 million avid users. I say ‘avid’ as habitués of these two picture-sharing channels do a lot of sharing. As a picture is really worth a thousand words, third-party visual media contributors will play a hefty role in propagating hotel reviews come 2013 and beyond.
But that’s neither here nor there. These are two more contributors to the real-time development and networks to supervise. Commend users for their candid photography of your property and reach out to those who gripe, same as you would with any other channel.
Also quite astounding and reaffirming are some of the latest statistics on the matter. Reports indicate that total US mobile social media usage grew by nearly 40% in 2011 with Twitter and LinkedIn mobile usage nearly doubling. All together, the top social media carriers account for 2.3 billion users and they’re doing their darndest to insert themselves into nearly every aspect of our lives (almost certainly for the noble pursuit of increased revenues, much like every other private corporate entity in existence). For instance, expect Facebook to expand its entry barrier below the established age 13 cutoff, albeit with strict parental controls.
For us, these sorts of measures can only mean one thing: more points for brand exposure. As well, more opportunities for real-time reviews. With that in mind, I’ve outlined four general steps that you should take to address this growing concern.
Step One: Monitoring
By now, you know that real-time reviews are important; what’s the first step? Easy: monitoring. With hundreds of millions of tweets a day, a dozen global-reaching social media outlets and still countless other online travel review sites, the concept of watching each one separately 24 hours a day is apoplectic. The understated beauty of social media monitoring platforms (like ReviewPro, Revinate and Brand Karma off the top of my head) is in their capability to aggregate what’s relevant to your property onto a single screen. This function alone merits investigation and possibly money down.
A further benefit is how these types of software can streamline your respective personnel. With all your networks drawn through one portal, task assignment is far less confusing and shared responsibilities can be actualized with full accountability. Plus, if a senior manager needs to take the reins, they need only remember one password and not a couple dozen. Efficiency gains you time, and in a time-sensitive era like this, saving those seconds really adds up.
Regardless of whether you heed my endorsement of these aggregating systems, constant monitoring in any way, shape or form is paramount. How else will you be able to promptly reply to your critics?
Step Two: Planning
Apply social media monitoring to real-time reviews and you’ll swiftly ascertain that monitoring is but one element necessary for effective management. The key ingredient – the meat to all other potatoes and sides – will be the responses and actions you execute. And in order to perform with perfection, you must plan as best you can.
Do you have a structure in place so that designated staff members are empowered to answer and act without needing approval on every piece of minutia? Have you trained and retrained your team on the appropriate lexicon to use for each outlet? Do you have a series of standard responses outlined for common situations such as displays of gratitude, basic information queries or managers’ contacts? Have you amended your crisis communication protocol to include best practices for online complaints and derisions? Do you have to judge every instance on a case-by-case basis, or is it possible to define several concrete criteria for automation? Are you putting your best online foot forward? Just a few questions to get the ball rolling.
While you shuffle your resources, my recommendation is to keep the lines of communication at a minimum. Social media managers – the day-to-day administrators – should report straight to a director, be it PR, HR, S&M or any other acronymic department where you slot this tech specialty. You don’t want time to slow you down, so ensure that your organizational hierarchy favors empowerment and flexibility.
Step Three: Interact
You will be evaluated by your online presence. Just as real-time reviews are out in the open, so too are your responses. Leisure shoppers scrutinize how managers react to negative appraisals on TripAdvisor. Savvy Facebook users inspect hotel pages to browse recent happenings and hotelier receptiveness; aside from a soapbox for promotions, this site is actually a rather handy resource for travel information. Even Google plays a part in all this. The corporation’s SEO algorithms increasingly rely on social mentions and activity, especially those hailing from their own backyard (read: Google Plus).
As we’re dealing with real-time sensitivity, a cardinal tenet to follow is to be proactive with your interactions. This starts with your response rapidity. Under every Facebook comment or TripAdvisor business reply is a date or timestamp, so managers’ accountability is thoroughly public information. Moreover, quick replies intuit greater compassion on the part of the hotel; like a bizarre Dutch auction, the longer you wait, the less impact your follow-up will inter.
The word ‘proactive’ connotes much more than sitting vigilantly by a social media monitoring platform, mouse-trigger finger itching. Take the initiative and query guests via email survey or even a Twitter message. By being the first party to extend the olive branch, it will, again, demonstrate that you value consumer patronage, which in turn builds long-term loyalty. Maybe you get an answer, maybe you don’t, but at least you tried. And if past decades working with direct mail firms and email newsletters are any indication, this number is always above zero, so your efforts won’t go unnoticed.
Facilitate Interactions Through a Flawless Mobile Interface
Peripheral to real-time interactions, but nevertheless prodigiously significant, is the fluidity of your mobile site – composed of a series of trending issues all under the catchy monikers of ‘Internet 3.0’ or the mobile revolution. Alas, I’m likely already preaching to the choir on this one. You know that mobile applicability is the future, and yet it’s still not mission critical to deliver absolute perfection.
As a proponent tour de force for mobile-friendly websites, Google, through its Mobile Ads Blog, has delivered some very grave statistics. It’s a clear win-win for mobile: two-thirds (67%) of consumers say they are more likely to purchase if a site is mobile-friendly while another two-thirds (61%) say they’re more likely to leave a site in favor of a competitor’s if it’s not mobile-friendly. Additionally, Google, in collaboration with Ipsos Research, reports that four out of five US smartphone users recruited their mobile devices to aid in shopping research where another 35% of this camp also completed the translation through the phone.
Going mobile implies mobilization – the ability for you to motivate consumers towards a purchase. With an impending increase of mobile-only internet users over the next decade, the only evident way to heighten revenue from these channels is to be scrupulously mobile-friendly. So, enough with the implicating metrics, let’s get down to methodology.
The foundation for all this hubbub is an HTML 5, mobile-ready website – flawless, fast-loading and fulfilling. It’s this third one that’s the real sticking point. Consumers are on the prowl for a more customized experience and mobile is no different in this regard than web browser cookies on your laptop. Think of your mobile site as an interactive travel guide for curious guests, all personalized for their goals and tastes, and complete with amusing ancillaries like QR Code widgets. That’s the penultimate vision. Add to that straightforward connections to your social media networks, favored online review pages and your own internal feedback channels, and you have a recipe for real-time success.
Step Four: Measure
It’s a no-brainer that you’ll need accountability, both to manage your social media champions on the vanguard and to ensure that your efforts are having a positive impression. First off, it’s a given that your online reputation management team must hold the belief that they can make a difference for your organization; this passion alone will undoubtedly maximize success. Of particular importance for real-time monitoring is the ability for your frontline staff to properly divide individual tasks and write coherent replies both swiftly and with an actionable corollary for other managers to improve at least one aspect of hotel operations.
Working wonders in this regard is to formally integrate social media with every department. Make it a company-wide effort by introducing your social media managers to your chefs, your engineers and your housekeepers so that they are comfortable parlaying directly with one another to speed along guest requests. Ensure that all managers across all departments comprehend the value of an earnest and endearing online presence and what it can mean for long-term sales forecasts. Do this and triaging online criticism will automatically become a consummate priority.
Which brings us back to the aggregate software – the same instruments you employ to accelerate daily communications are tantamount for accruing quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year data. When investigating your software purchasing options, it is crucial that your choice include these respective analytical features. Astutely managed online reputations will pay dividends in full, but implicating metrics of any significance will only reveal themselves with the passage of time. Be patient, then reward your social media managers will factual affirmations of their progress.
A Pertinent Caveat
I feel it worth mentioning that although most critics have the best intentions when they make their opinions known to the world – both for you, the hotelier, to improve as well as the future customer at large – there are a scant few who have more diabolical agendas. People will ‘phish’ by posting bad reviews and objections due to personal grudges or to procure free compensation. These should be fairly easy to spot as their content will likely be ridiculously warped or outright slanderous will little supporting evidence.
Don’t worry. The average consumer is well aware of these tactics and can often sense internet trolling just as well as you can. My advice: stand behind your product and don’t succumb to their games. Keep an optimistic tone and be forever accommodating in your responses. Others will see this and respect you for it.
As well, just because a comment is outrageous in narrative does not exclude the fact that it was posted in the first place. Something somewhere and somehow had to motivate this person to spend his or her fleeting minutes to rail against your hotel in particular. Behind this flaming curtain are one or two morsels for you to learn more; the rub is in the transliteration.
The Bottom Line
Managing real-time reviews abides by the same ebb and flow as any other online foray, only quicker. The speed of a response is respected almost as much as the content of a response.
To judge the sweeping importance of this issue, put on your future-vision goggles and imagine where the proliferation of mobile technologies will take us in 10 or 15 years. Will people use their phones to buy their weekly allotment of groceries? How about as a TV controller? Will phones ever bridge the 3D domain? The sky’s the limit, and given real-time reviews’ correlation with mobile utility, you best act now and become accustomed to acting very, very fast.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky on HOTEL Executive on January 30, 2013)

Larry MogelonskyManaging Real-time Reviews