USING REVIEWS TO BOOST DIRECT BOOKINGS

Most businesses accept that online reputation management is – or should be – an important part of their business strategy, but why exactly, and how does it apply to the hotel and hostel industry?

To celebrate their attendance at the HostelSkills #2 Conference in sunny Barcelona, our friends from Customer Alliance have taken a deeper look into how online reputation affects hostel providers and how providers can go about improving theirs.

Online reputation management involves monitoring and influencing how current and potential guests perceive your business.

For positive reviews, it means engaging with the reviewer and amplifying the review to ensure you maximise its exposure and to make it ‘work for you’.

In terms of negative reviews, it means reacting to the review in a positive and constructive way, ensuring that you are given the opportunity to address, and hopefully resolve, your guest’s grievance; it also allows you an insight into possible areas where you could improve your service.

So, how can hostels manage their online reputation through acquiring and amplifying reviews, use social media effectively and benefits through more website visits and potential direct bookings.

Why are reviews so important?

Think of your own purchasing behaviour. How often do you land on a product page and scroll straight to the bottom to read customer reviews?  Well you’re not alone:

  • a whopping 93% of customers consider reviews important when deciding whether or not to book a room in a particular hostel
  • over 50% will choose not to book a hostel that doesn’t have online reviews.

These figures speak for themselves. The old days of top-down sales and marketing are over. Simply projecting your message onto the consumer is no longer effective; instead, the consumer now actively searches out and compares, often with the aid of technology, the best services, products and prices.

Acquiring and amplying your online reviews

With reviews playing such an important role in the purchasing decision of your potential guests, what can you do to acquire more and, importantly, how can you use reviews to improve your online reputation and increase bookings?

  • Prompt your guests to review their stay by sending them a customizable email after they’ve checked out. Customer Alliance’s Review Analytic solution allows you to send bespoke emails in multiple languages, with an 25% average return rate. Sending an email to your guests (and only your guests) helps protect against fake reviews
  • Having your reviews on OTAs is important, but just as important is integrating them effectively into your business website. Integrated reviews builds brand trust, increases direct bookings and reduces your reliance on commission based OTAs
Word of mouth in the age of millennials

According to an Ipsos study:

  • 74% of those surveyed trust the product or service recommendations of immediate family and friends
  • Comparing user-generated content (UGC) and traditional media, 68% of respondents trusted peer reviews (i.e. opinion, online reviews) 53% said that UGC influences their purchase decisions, compared to 23% for banner ads

It’s no surprise then that millennials suffer from advertising-fatigue and are much more likely to trust and act upon the reviews of their peers rather than promotions or sales pitches.

Word of mouth still has a huge impact on business reputation and is even more important in our social media-saturated world. Word of mouth has metamorphosised into the Facebook status, the Tweet, the Instagram post and the online review. How can we use this to our advantage? First of all, we need to disregard the feeling that social media is a necessary evil; instead, use it to our advantage: it’s free, user-generated advertising.

Hostels can take particular advantage of social media because their demographic is often younger and more tech savvy. Millennials won’t think twice about posting about their experiences, both positive and negative, on social media. Used correctly, social media can be a free and fast way to manage and amplify your online reputation.

Social media hacks for online reputation management
  • The number one rule, and the one many businesses forget to follow, is interacting with users. You must reply every time a guest (or potential guest) posts on your Facebook wall or Tweets you, without exception. Replying to comments or Tweets not only shows that you value your guests’ input, but it also stimulates further interaction (shares, likes etc), and gives your brand a human touch, or as we say in marketing, a ‘brand voice’
  • Always try to stimulate a conversation. If a guest puts something like ‘we loved your hostel!’, reply with a question, for example, ‘Great that you enjoyed your stay, we enjoyed having you! Can you let us know what we did right?’. People will often share a post if a brand or business replies to them
  • Video content is king. If you have the resources (i.e. a smartphone) film your guest’s reviews and post them on your website and social media. Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm prioritises video content and it’s much more likely to be shared than a text, link or photo post
Nobody’s perfect: negative reviews and what to do about them

It’s inevitable that you’re going to get negative reviews (in case you were wondering, 22% of guests complain about their rooms!). However, it’s negative reviews, rather than positive ones, that present a real opportunity to manage your online reputation.

If you do receive negative feedback, try to find out exactly what went wrong and then reply accordingly. A bad review without any response or qualification looks suspect and encourages people to speculate. Reply honestly to the user and attempt to fix the problem or offer them something as compensation.

According to Hospitality Marketing, 87% of those surveyed agreed that management’s response to a negative review improved their perception of the hotel. In terms of making a booking, 62% said that a hostel’s response to a negative review influenced their decision to make a booking. Remember, people are often forgiving if their grievances are addressed and they might be willing to complete a new review if they have received a positive and sincere reaction from a business.

The payoff from negative reviews is that they can highlight areas of your business in need of improvement but which you might have overlooked.

You’ve got reviews, now what?

The hard work, providing an excellent service which is reflected in your guest reviews, is done. Now you need to ensure that you manage your online reputation and get the most out of your reviews. Here we’ll talk about distributing your reviews to as wide an audience as possible both through review sites and social media. You can choose to focus more on direct bookings to your site, by integrating reviews into your website, or drive bookings through widespread exposure on OTAs; of course, you can also do both!

Multiple platforms, multiple customers

Distributing your reviews on various platforms expands your online reputation and makes it visible to a larger customer base. This is why Review Analytics, for example, gives you the option to direct guests with a Gmail account directly to Google Reviews. This is important because Google not only rewards reviews left on its own estate, but it will also feature them on Google Maps.

Example Google Reviews

1

Example of integrated Google Review in Google Maps

2

However, Google also rewards reviews featured on third-party sites, especially those that are reputable and popular. Review Analytics has the option of directing certain percentages of guests towards a range of review platforms, not only amplifying your online reputation, but also pleasing Google’s ranking algorithm.

In terms of languages, you should encourage your guests to leave reviews in their own language on the corresponding language domain – Trivago for example, currently has domains in 54 languages. Remember, sites such as Trivago link out to external booking sites, including your own direct booking engine, with the potential to secure commission-free bookings. Giving the option of leaving reviews on the relevant language domain improves user experience and showcases your business to a wider demographic.

3

Online reputation management is now central in maintaining a positive web presence and can mean the difference between success and failure. With the vast majority of consumers now searching out and being influenced by online reviews, it’s vitally important that hostels proactively acquire reviews, analyse the valuable data they offer, and then amplify them through their own website, social media, OTAs, and review portals. Making the process as simple and efficient as possible, through investing in online reputation management software, will ensure that you capture as much guest feedback as possible and push it to portals that work best for you.

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