By Scott Thomas
Why you need to monitor your online reputation
You love your guests, and by all appearances they love you (or at least your property). Perhaps most of your guests are repeat guests, you don’t have a large website, and you don’t use social media. Why should you worry about your online reputation? Besides, you quietly do a great job running your inn, and all (well, nearly all) your guests are in the “older” age group, and tell you what a great time they had and that they will be back.
Let me ask you this: are any of your guests younger folks? Better yet, do you think any of the people who are young now will ever stay with you?
If you have ever had a guest at your property with a mobile device (laptop, phone, or other device with internet access), or if you ever will, in the time it took you to read this far, they could have posted comments about you and your property (whether as a review, blog entry, a post on Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere), along with photos and even video of your property.
In today’s connected world, it really doesn’t make any difference if you aren’t involved in social media or other online activities. Your guests are (the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is women over 35), so things are being said about you or your property, whether you know it or not.
Another thing that will impact your online reputation is your employees. If they blog, tweet or post, the things they do can have an impact on you. Many are familiar with the unauthorized YouTube video posted by (former) Dominos Pizza employees, showing lots of unsanitary (and fictional) practices in the making of pizza at their Dominos store.
Finding out about what is being said is the only way you can react to it.
How to evaluate your online reputation
Perform the searches that someone else would perform to find these things. With the personalized search offerings from the search engines, you need to be a bit creative. If you have a Google account, be sure you are logged out, or search with personalized search disabled (there is a Firefox plugin for that). Search your business name, and the names of the primary owners and employees. If the business, its owners, and any employees use social media, search their usernames or “handles”. Keep track of the results, and renew the search periodically to make sure you are up-to-date on the latest postings.
Tools to monitor your online reputation
As you can see from the previous section, search is your friend. Search with Google, search with Bing, search with Yahoo. Search with others, if you like, but don’t omit the majors.
There are also several alert tools, which automate searches and send you the results by email or in other forms. Google Alerts, Yahoo Alerts, TweetBeep, SocialMention, are all services that allow you to put in your own search terms, and return results to you. Most will email or provide other forms of notifying you of scheduled results. It is also possible to combine several of these into your own custom page, so all the monitoring sources are in one place, making a convenient site to keep up with mentions.
How to deal with feedback (positive or negative)
Always listen. Always. Listen. Really.
Even when the comment seem entirely incredible, there may be that kernel of truth that causes prospective guests to shy away from booking at your property. Pay close attention, and set your emotions on the shelf to see if that could possibly be the case. You may even learn something about your property or your service that guests would like to see changed.
Listen especially well when there is any possibility that you made a mistake. Right. But it could theoretically happen. Be sure you understand exactly what the criticism is about.
If you have made a mistake, admit it! Do it quickly! With the transparency and immediacy of the online world, delaying a response smacks of a cover-up almost as much as giving an evasive response. Immediate response (as in minutes) is not necessary, but if days go by, you have missed the opportunity to appear transparent and forthright. Use the same platform as the criticism. If the comments are posted on Facebook, reply on Facebook. If the guests are reading about a complaint on Facebook, they probably don’t care about a reply on your website.
Take a couple of deep breaths before responding to criticism, whether it is valid or not. In. Out. Repeat. Despite the need for avoiding delay (mentioned above), do not rush into a reply to a critical post, responding emotionally in the heat of anger.
Some authors have stated that you should never leave a negative post unanswered. As a general principle, I agree with that statement. However, I do think there can be some rare cases where an innkeeper may feel it is best to leave well enough alone. For example, a generally positive comment, with one minor negative. An actual review said the guest loved everything about the place, the food, the hosts, etc., but hated the wallpaper. Oddly, this B&B has no wallpaper, so the guest was clearly confused. A response, no matter how pleasantly stated, that questions the guest’s memory of the wallpaper, would also risk raising the question of whether or not the guest accurately recalled the food, the hosts, etc. That makes it a judgment call whether to leave the minor negative statement without a reply, or to risk calling the guests memory of their stay into question.
Some negative posts may be angry, or otherwise serious, and a light-hearted reply may be inappropriate. At the very least, a response should be made
(1) when you genuinely need to apologize for something which did not go well (regardless of who is at fault)
(2) when the facts have been stated incorrectly in the comment
(3) when the comment is being passed around by retweets (on Twitter), sharing on Facebook, or other means, so the topic just won’t go away
(4) the commenter is angry with you (or your property)
(5) when someone acts to defend you (or your property)
When you respond, be calm and professional. If you provide a light-hearted or humorous response, be sure the reply doesn’t mock or belittle the commenter. Your reply is not so much for the original commenter as for the next potential guest to come along and read it. Be cautious not to use industry jargon – remember, you want everyone who reads the reply to identify with you. Promise to do better. If the criticism is legitimate, it is vital to promise to make changes, and do so. If it is questionable, find a way to promise improvement.
Show you care and that you care to take action to solve the problem.
Scott Thomas and his wife Ruth own Brewster House Bed & Breakfast in Freeport, Maine. Scott has been working with web sites and search optimization for over 15 years. He was a technical consultant and training manager with Oracle Corporation for its customer management and billing software. He now speaks frequently on technology issues for innkeepers including property management software, social media, reputation management and related issues, and blogs about these topics at AboutTheInn.com.