It is no surprise that automated monitoring of traveller reviews is in its infancy while the phenomenon of consumer reliance on user generated content is well established. This perceived reality exists in tandem with another reality: the credibility of reviews among consumers is highest in the tourism and hospitality sectors, a truth that indicates reviews directly impact revenue.
Certainly, failure to monitor traveller reviews is a disadvantage that loses hotels business daily.
Likewise, failing to compare against the competitors, is burying one’s head in the sand. Closed loop comment systems may measure guest satisfaction in one sense, may even provide departmental diagnostics, but ignoring the public measure of such satisfaction represented by online reviews (or expecting your advertising or brand to overcome it) is like the old laughable question: who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?
With the rise of self publishing on the internet, the monologue that has become more of a multilogue: a many to many conversation. Your customers, supporters and detractors talk amongst themselves and declare their views on you to anyone interested. The question is: are you listening to the right opinions? Are you responding?
There is a plethora of free software available on the internet that can be utilised to track what is being said about you, your company, its products and services, your competitors, hype and buzz areas in the marketplace and valuable metrics which provide valuable information to track ROI and evaluative measures of current and future marketing and PR campaigns. The following are well worth more investigation and I implore you to do so:
• Google Alerts and Blog Alerts
• Tweet deck
• Yahoo Pipes
• Social Mention
• Blog pulse
• Signing up to the various OTA’s
If your organisation wants to track what’s being said by consumers about your company or brands on the internet, its best to monitor all forms of mouth media including but not limited to blogs, compliant sites, message boards, forums, news groups, and video sharing sites such as YouTube. Since it’s impossible to predict where or when important market intelligence will pop up on the web – or where it will be repeated, its best to do comprehensive monitoring of all possible sites. You should also monitor the myriad of existing and future social network sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn….the list goes on.
For those starting to dabble with these social mediums, the manual and freely available search software is probably more than sufficient to get an idea of what is being is being virally spread throughout the web 2.0 world.
However, free search services can be costly in terms of time required to do daily searches. Since the free services do not store your clips as do most subscription media monitoring services, there is also the cost of printing out clips. Searching and managing these paper based clips is also much more difficult and time consuming than the digital clips subscription services store an online database.
Freely available tools provide no analysis, such as sentiment, geographic and demographic data, hype formulas, key sites and users, which means that the raw data may seem overwhelming with no apparent direction in how to use this data. With no strategy to utilise this new information stream, this data may ‘sit on the shelf’ rather than being utilised to develop and evaluate marketing plans and directions, as well as product and service development, social media strategies and developing new revenue streams.
The Automatic Solution
Constraints within the tourism and hospitality sectors do not always allow for leadership in tech tools. Limited margins of profit often prevent management from pursuing trends that are not perceived as proven paths to revenue.
Most businesses are familiar with the conveniences of technology in business analytics and show the willingness to invest in automated monitoring of important data when the return is proven. It seems illogical, then, to bypass investment in automated analytics for something influencing up to 66% of the travelling public, something that is seen by those readers to be more important than brand, website or advertising.
Mere counting without an analysis of context does not give an accurate or comprehensive sense of opinion. At worst, the insight can be outright wrong. With social networks changing the refresh rate of the current online corpus to hourly, and individuals publishing whenever they have something new to say, keeping that thermometer in the water is more important than ever.
There are various solutions for automated media monitoring that vary in price, reporting time and features. After many webinars, demos and trials, there are a few of the better ones listed below:
Automated Solutions Must Pass a Few Tests
- Is it timely? Solutions that deliver results every 30 days do not recognise the urgency of the web. Receiving a report weekly or monthly, or checking each site monthly via manual audit, means reviews may quietly do damage for weeks without response or internal action.
- Is the solution affordable? Paying a disproportionate amount of revenue for an automated tool is not wise, especially in this economy. A formula would be to calculate hours used to monitor manually and the opportunity costs of what could be accomplished with the efficiency of technology, particularly where revenue generating team members are involved in the process.
- Are the most essential point of sale sites delivered? The key to any monitoring system is drilling down where the buying decisions are made. If your system does not monitor the critical sites for web revenue, namely Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Hotels.com and Orbitz, it may not be as helpful as one might needs. Monitoring other key commentary sites like Tripadvisor or Travelpost is important because of their penetration into the sales cycle.
- Is your performance measured against your competitors? This is critical because it’s how consumers view reviews. No one scans down a list of hotels on Expedia without noticing the traveller opinion score or the star ratings. Knowing how your market share of satisfaction compares to your competitors is as critical for operations as market share of revenue is to sales and revenue management. Armed with this information, capital dollars, training dollars and staff focus may be more easily brought to bear on quality results.
- Does the system provide enabling and supportive tools? An automated tool should make it easier to analyse data, make it easier to discuss in meetings with intuitive graphics, make responding reviews more streamlined, and should offer excellent support for users. Ultimately, an automated monitoring tool should assist in focusing the service culture of the property.
You may feel that this idle chatter originates from squeaky wheels with too much time on their hands. But whether the opinions are expressed by perpetual malcontents or considered influencers does not change the fact that your public is reading these views written by the people who experience your brand. A full 41 percent of bloggers frequently post about brands they love or hate. Their views are sharing the views of their readers.
Opinion monitoring with effective filtering gives you more precise readings. Only then can you see whether a negative opinion on your topics of interest is widespread, an anomaly, or a canary in a coalmine.
The era when business could shape what gets written about them seems to be over at least in the online domain due to the voice available to a common person at a very nominal cost. Social software is changing the way information gets reported online. Social media continues to grow in importance. Hotels and tourist operations that take advantage of these trends will see significant benefits in terms of online placement and revenue.
To develop an effective social marketing strategy and to inform and evaluate existing traditional mediums for marketing efforts, it is essential that business have the finger on the pulse when it comes down to ownership of the brand and feedback/reviews in relation to its offerings and competitors. Would you agree a deal without having the necessary information in any other business task?
For many organisations, the free software is a good start. However, the data can become overwhelming with no apparent direction in how to utilise the information. Additionally, with budgets under pressure, the temptation may to be to seek out the service that appears to be the least expensive. As with many products, however, what appears inexpensive on the surface may have hidden costs
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