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by Leora Lanz and Juan Lesmes

Digital word of mouth is the new marketing powerhouse. With the explosion of news and content through media over-sharing in the digital world, it can be hard to keep track of what people are saying about your business. Some hospitality executives tend to underplay how positively or how negatively, their company is trending on the web. This can be a dangerous inaccuracy, as there is a significant correlation between online reputation and bookings: 78% of travelers say reviews help them feel more confident in their booking decisions, while 53% of them will simply ignore a hotel that has no reviews.(i)

Travelers will initially peruse through the reviews of a hotel before proceeding to actually book it. Indeed, consumers are relying more heavily on user-generated content than on self-promotional advertisements themselves. Studies confirm that 95% of travelers say online reviews are completely trustworthy.(ii) Consequently, in an era where digital footprints matter more than physical footprints, it is important, if not vital, to properly and persistently manage your company´s online reputation.

Social Hygiene 

Any information about a brand can become viral extremely quickly. In an ideal scenario, a company´s positive content becomes "viral," neutral content becomes "popular" and negative content becomes "stunted." However, in an industry where online reviews happen every minute, it is very hard to influence how and which content flows in the World Wide Web. This is where social hygiene comes into play; You need to ensure that your company is not only maintaining a clean reputation on the appropriate digital channels, but you also need to know how to actively engage in the variety of media platforms. 

Sachin Suri, Managing Partner, Prognosis Digital understands the importance of a hospitality brand´s social hygiene. As principle of the hospitality-focused digital marketing agency, Suri states, "A guest leaves an online review about great service experience, yet his watch is missing. As his review goes viral, the attention will always, and perhaps exclusively, be on the missing watch. Adequately monitoring and reacting to this review on the proper channels is the art and science of social hygiene." 

Social hygiene contributes to your online status, but how can you manage your online reputation? Here is a simple strategy you can follow:  

1. Assess 

In order to assess your online reputation, there has to be a combination of manual efforts and digital tools. Before this, however, it is necessary to identify which platforms are generating the most reviews and ratings of your property. It is rather impossible to assess every single site on the Internet, so focusing your attention on the most dynamic and respected ones will guarantee effective monitoring and efficient social hygiene. 

When these platforms are identified, you can proceed to manually inspect them and track what they say about your company. In addition to the manual effort, there are tools that can help track digital conversations from both private and public channels. For example, Explic8 and Germin8's Social Metrix are platform services that can help collect large volumes of data about any online conversations involving your company. They can provide discussion histories and customized contact records that can be distributed to the sales team.

Once you track and collect the who, what, where, when, why and how of all that is being said about your brand, you can then proactively monitor your reputation and participate in the conversations. 

2. Monitor 

This is perhaps one of the most underestimated stages in an online reputation management program. It is not enough to just track negative reviews and apologize for any inconvenience. By thoroughly and holistically monitoring the conversations about your company, you can gather more information about the needs of your target guest while also identifying the impact of your unique selling proposition on the customer experience. 

The first step is to categorize your reviews based on different levels of urgency: from minor, to average, to critical. You can automate this process up to a point, but there still needs to be a human touch in order to identify the reason behind the online posts. What does the user want to get from the review? Motives can range from an apology or a possible compensation, to a sense of appreciation or a plan of action. 

Once classified and analyzed, the reviews need to be carefully addressed. The way you tackle guests' comments directly showcase how much you value their opinion. It is at the very least a simple gesture of respect and at the most an example of exceptional communication and hospitality. 

A manager himself may not have time to address all the reviews. This is where companies such as Prognosis Digital and others come into the picture. They are in charge of monitoring and responding to your company´s online conversations. But most of all, the key practice is to always address reviews and never attempt to delete them. Properties that respond to more than 50% of their reviews increase their likelihood of receiving a booking inquiry by 24%, compared to properties that do not respond to reviews. (iii)

3. Enhance

Enhancing your online reputation can transform your company´s digital status to that of quality. The underlying principle is to go from addressing reviews to engaging with the users. Don´t wait until you actually have a negative review to take proper action. Instead, actively participate in the right channels and contribute to the conversation. You can think of this as free customer touch points with a wider customer base. 

In fact, addressing a positive review can even boost your company´s digital charisma. Any positive user-generated content should be manipulated in an attempt to make it viral. This can be done by posting it on different social media platforms and increasing its digital reach. Precisely, blog posts, press releases and forums are channels that can serve as platforms to exhibit what your company is doing right. In fact, it is truly motivating for potential and current employees to see that their work is trending on the web. 

Let´s take for example a scenario where a hotel company has been associated with a controversial or even negative political or social issue. Some insights on how to manage and enhance the company´s reputation in this type of situation:

First, assess and plan how to tackle the situation. Identifying the prominent channels, realizing how deep is the problem and categorizing each content can take up to 6 months. The next step is to clean the channels and address the comments by putting facts as replies. Finally, over a period of time, try to make your company´s actions and efforts "go viral."  Consumers appreciate that you care about your reputation and that you have taken action and are making the effort. 

Overall, managing online reputation goes beyond simply responding to negative reviews. The foundation is to assess, monitor and enhance your company´s digital word of mouth in order to attain successful social hygiene and, therefore, achieve an impeccable online reputation. At the end of the day, it is no different than your own personal reputation. Contribute, participate and engage in the digital market - make it your personal asset. 

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(i) http://www.olery.com/blog/infographic-hotel-reviews-can-we-trust-them/

(ii) http://www.olery.com/blog/infographic-hotel-reviews-can-we-trust-them/

(iii) http://www.tnooz.com/article/reputation-reviews-response-TrustYou/#sthash.KxYkiWye.dpuf

About Leora Lanz

Leora Halpern Lanz is the president of LHL Communications, a hospitality content marketing, branding and media relations advisory firm. LHL clients include hotels, hospitality investment conferences, leisure products, hotel management companies as well as other industry related services.  Prior to founding LHL,  Leora served for 15 years as global director of marketing and head of the marketing practice for hospitality consulting giant HVS. Previously, she also served for 10 years as director of public relations and advertising for Sheraton Hotels of New York and for 5 years as director of public relations for the Greater Boston Convention &Visitors Bureau. She is currently also an adjunct professor at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration.

Contact: Leora Lanz

Leora@LHLcommunications.com / 516-680-8529

About Juan Lesmes

Juan D. Lesmes is a student at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration (SHA). His studies and areas of interest include hospitality media relations, digital marketing and integrated marketing communications. Juan's previous experience includes work public relations firm, DataMedia Communications Group, and is currently working with LHL Communications. Beyond his studies at SHA, he serves as the co-founder and secretary of Boston University's International Society. After graduation, Juan intends to continue his studies in hospitality marketing and communications.

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