Hotel user generated content has become one of the most important elements in a hotel’s marketing mix and reputation management strategy. Ioannis S. Pantelidis, senior lecturer in Hospitality at University of Brighton and columnist for hotel-industry.co.uk reviews developments on the hotel user generated content landscape.
The consumer has always been the king when it comes to hospitality, but never before has the consumer had such an arsenal at their disposal to express their views (both positive and negative) about a property.
Social media has revolutionised the ways our customers communicate with one another and with us. There are plenty of online articles that discuss the various sites that users use such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and YouTube to name a few, but few articles have tried to understand or analyse the actual content itself and its real impact on hotels (although we have enough academic articles to shed some light).
In this article I shall try to categorise customer generated content and alert hoteliers to some type of content that they may not currently consider important.
The Hotel User Generated Content Landscape
Hoteliers must remember that one thing that has changed the game rules is the speed of development of mobile technology which enables the online creation and uploading of image and video content at amazing speed and ease.
Unless new media capabilities revolutionise the way we communicate yet again, we can safely categorise the type of user generated content in one of four categories – and often it can be a combination of all four.
Lets look at each category in turn:
1. Written content in the form of status updates and reviews
Written reviews by visitors tend to be the most common content generated by guests and the evidence suggest that unlike the common myth that you hear more from a disgruntled guest than a happy one, in cyberspace the largest percentage of comments tend to be positive.
A few months ago we had hoteliers promising to sue Tripadvisor over comments they felt where not sincere about their hotels and recently we have a similar scenario, but this time with restaurants considering similar action.
The fear that hospitality people exhibit when it comes to online reviews is not justified. Customers that use social media are so Internet savvy they are very likely to see through the machinations of one disgruntled customer or even a competitor who attempts to give a property a bad reputation.
For example, take the Cock and Bull scenario where the restaurateur was unhappy about a really negative comment that he felt it could not possibly be true. A closer inspection of the poster reveals that this person has only ever posted ONCE – this single negative comment and never again.
Do not underestimate your customers: they do not easily trust a one-off review from posters that do not show a strong reviewing history, even if they retain their anonymity.
Also take a look at the top five luxury hotels in London and pick out the one hotel that does not have a single bad comment. It is just not possible to satisfy every single customer at every single interaction every single time.
Having a few negative comments is expected as a natural occurrence. How the hotelier reacts to those comments is far more important than their existence.
The same can be said for status updates on sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and soon to come Google+. You cannot control what customers say abut your property, but you can monitor what they say and be prepared to act when need be.
Whilst some keep fighting a system that they feel is working against them, others embrace it and turn it into a PR strategy. Take Premier Inn for example, who have integrated tripadvisor reviews about their properties on their websites. You may think it is risky to add content that is not controlled by you on your own website, but the Paradox of Transparency can work miracles with the right mindset and strategy in place.
2. Photographic Content
If you have a Facebook account you may have realised that face recognition technology is getting so good that Facebook is now using it to automatically tag pictures of you. I have been talking about automatic feature recognition technology that could revolutionise the way we utilise photographic content in the near future.
Consider how distinguishable the Burj Al-Arab hotel is – it would be easy to develop a software that spiders the web searching for all photographs that bare the same characteristics and get reports on your hotel’s brand exposure.
Photos are used by Facebook Places and Google Places and if you have not registered your business in Google Places yet (a free service), you should stop reading now, and act! Come back and read the rest of this article later.
Photographic content is systematically archived by search engines and as search engines become more sophisticated in integrating information from various websites, a photograph of your hotel from one site can find its way onto Google Places and can potentially affect future reservations.
Any photos that can be associated with your property based on tags or other written content in that webpage are likely to show up on a Google image search. Try this for your property and see how many of the resulting photos are photos taken by your guests.
This type of technology has existed for many years. I remember early experimentation by academics at least eight years ago, but the full potential and both positive and negative impacts have yet to be discovered.
3. Video Content
Video is also quite a potent form of user generated content. The new generation of smart phones enables guests to take a short video of your property and quickly upload it to a number of websites similar to YouTube.
Cisco recently reported that by 2013, 90% of all consumer Internet traffic will be video. When you consider that 35 hours of video are uploaded every minute on YouTube alone it is easy to see the future impact of online video generated by customers on hotel reputation.
Entering the keywords “Ritz London” on YouTube brings up 1,240 videos and there is at least one consumer generated video of a room at the Ritz that has almost 28,000 views – the promotional video created by the hotel has about 20,000 views. In the present you do not need an expensive film production company to showcase your hotel; just a keen guest with a smart phone in their possession.
4. Audio Content
Although not as extensive as blogging or micro-blogging, podcasts have been used by travel writers and guests that may have a following online. Such user generated content is the hardest to track unless the audio description clearly states your hotel property name. Podcasting appears to be losing its momentum in favour of video-blogging (or vlogging).
In summary it is important to remember that websites come and go, where Facebook may be the preferred medium today, Google+ may become the preferred medium of tomorrow, so understanding the impact of customer generated content to your property is of paramount importance before you start considering which websites you will concentrate on your strategy
By Ioannis S. Pantelidis