So your hotel gets a nasty review. Do you: a) call out the reviewer as a lying, rotten toad; b) sue the reviewer; c) sue TripAdvisor; d) hold a blame-storming meeting and fire a scapegoat; or; e) listen, respond and move on?
As the controversy surrounding fraudulent reviews rages, with a consortium of hotels and travel suppliers represented by KwikChex threatening to sue TripAdvisor and reviewers for defamation, hoteliers are beginning to sound as petty and vindictive as the very reviewers they're protesting.
No question, bad reviews can be damaging to business and harmful to morale, and fake reviews are simply evil. Hoteliers are perfectionists, and our inability to control what is said about us online makes us feel helpless. Yet we still retain full control over how we react. That can mean throwing good energy after bad or using negative feedback to effect positive change.
Traditionally, hoteliers have taken the high road with guest complaints, rising above false claims and unfair criticism to declare with equanimity, "The guest is always right." Even when the guest is wrong. Or certifiably insane. Social media shouldn't change that.
It's ironic that hoteliers are up in arms over a small minority of travelers who stretch the truth in reviews when we've been doing exactly that for years in our glossy brochures and carefully worded websites. It's no wonder travelers have tuned us out, and instead seek the whole story, warts and all, from other travelers and trusted social networks.
And yet out of this "non-troversy" will rise positive change. Travelers are learning that reviews should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. With any luck, travelers and hoteliers will think twice about posting false and fraudulent reviews for fear of reprisal.
Meanwhile, TripAdvisor is making greater efforts to be open and communicative with the hotel community. And hotels are finally waking up to the importance of managing their online reputation. According to TripAdvisor, seven percent of negative reviews now receive a hotel response. It's still a paltry amount, but a promising increase over last year's four percent.
But if you're holding out for travel sites to banish anonymity and require proof of stay, don't hold your breath. Not only would this discourage candor, it would reduce the number of reviews posted. Reviews are powerful search engine juice, and in the battle for visitor traffic no travel site is likely to risk the drop in volume.
So we might as well accept that the playing field has changed. Social media gives a voice to all travelers, from the wise and worldly to the petty and clueless-and yes, to the occasional lying, rotten toad. It's free speech at its best and worst; to filter out what we don't like to hear is a form of censorship.
We can't allow the folly of the few to ruin the benefits of the wisdom of the crowds.
Like high-definition TV, social media shines a bright spotlight on hotels and is callously unforgiving of our flaws. Transparency and authenticity are the order of the day. So we'd best be channeling our energies toward adapting to this new order.
How? In my next article, I'll provide tips for using negative reviews to effect positive change.
And if you're still wrestling with my opening question, the correct answer is e: listen, respond and move on. Or at least in my books it is.
About Daniel Edward Craig
Daniel Edward Craigis a former general manager turned hotel consultant and the author of the hotel-based novel Murder at the Universe and other books and articles. His blog about issues in the hotel industry are considered essential reading for hoteliers, travelers and students alike. Visit www.danieledwardcraig.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: dcraig.