Tue 30 Oct 2012
To the savviest of hotel marketers, this will sound outdated, because these savvy people (who likely aren’t even aware of their own savviness) have simply been using Tripadvisor forums for years as a way to celebrate surrounding community, and bolster business and brand name. These are owners of small inns in remote areas that would always act like the local concierge – whether it’s a guest of your hotel or not. The old world of hospitality was that a concierge or desk agent was a respite in a foreign place, and hospitality was imbued into staff so they will help anyone, and treat people the same, across the board. It’s in our nature to help people with directions, information, or answer questions. If a stranger needed help, we wouldn’t turn them away. We would help them as if they were a guest, hoping they might return to us someday, simply because of how we do business.
The *ENTIRE* hotel industry needs to start on Tripadvisor forums, and own the fact that *we* are *truly* the destination experts, and it’s our job to celebrate our communities and neighborhoods.
I am sure this is boring to some people. It’s ridiculous to others. To me it’s both, and vital. I find it really bizarre that, as a operator and hotel guy, that something like a virtual community can have such an impact on my real world. I guess it follows along with the changes and innovation that social communication tools have brought around, but when you aren’t looking at life changing impacts from these new technologies, you are dealing with a very confusing micro-level Wild West where there are few rules, and absolutely no law. Well…. that’s constantly changing. Things are getting better, slowly. But from Google, to Yelp, Tripadvisor or more… business owners have been under the dark veil of confusing website policies, being affected by something they could not effect.
It first started with Google Maps having no back end support around 2008. Spammers co-opted business listings – locksmith, taxis, moving companies, mechanics – would steal competitor listings and drive traffic to their location. Originally, there was nothing but empty member forums with zero access to Google’s back end; despondent, lonely complaining, echoing off other confused members who could only empathize. Slowly, the din reached Google, and they realized they would have to start staffing for customer service issues, misplaced markers, bad directions, etc. As social sites have scaled, they have all had to enact ways to interact with and listen to the community that they created for listening and sharing, including policing & monitoring. It took the companies off guard, and it really destroyed people’s livelihoods for some time – honest owners had a very new type of problem that twisted stomachs and created feelings of helplessness. I am sure many of you have dealt with this in some form.
Tripadvisor has had the same scaling problems, especially in regards to keeping the TOS sensical, approachable, and understandable. The upshot of the lesson that I just learned is this: I used to be able to put my email into management responses, and forums. I had never even thought of TOS, because it wasn’t advertising so much as part of my sig line, or just being helpful. Apparently TOS changed, and they didn’t inform me in a clear way (IE I missed the pop up box of fine print TOS changes at some point), and then I got into trouble in forums, posting on behalf of a hotel. I don’t know if that *always* violated TOS, but I had never been told about it until my account was banned last week. So now I have had an education. The short of it was that I was expecting the problems of a few years ago, but Tripadvisor’s twitter account, as well as Tripadvisor4Biz, are exceptional at what they do, and available to people in almost any circumstance…. they are a rare social company that actually listens, and responds. What’s more, the back end automated “issue” system isn’t nearly as robotic and bureacratic. They were patient with my kindly rants, kindly explained where I was wrong, and what I was doing wrong, and the whole painful event (for me) resulted in a clear road map on how to be successful in forums. ÂIf all this ruckus results in our industry utilizing Tripadvisor for greater purposes, then it is worth it.
Let me make this clear: Nothing is perfect. Hoteliers that “get” it, love TA, because we know we *NEED* TA. It’s a behemoth in the industry that cannot be ignored. Something like 70% of travelers start their travel planning on Tripadvisor. They don’t do that on Facebook. So where are you spending your time? If I hear of another internet marketing company suggesting twitter or Facebook over responding to reviews, I will lose my mind. It is a nice red flag, though. On to the news……
As I write this, I see Tnooz has a story up, and I haven’t even read it, yet. But, as you will see from the copy at the end of this, a forum member has no moderation abilities, unlike my initial assumption. It was simply that the emails I had posted over years built up into an automated “slush-account” (or something) that then went in and pulled posts, autobanned me with no warning (Tripadvisor… come on… there can be a better system there), and then remained silent as I struggled against my own conspiracy theory nonsense and confusion. However, the space between the incident and them interacting with me was not weeks, like it used to be (if anything at all). There was communication over the weekend, and it was resolved today… but there has been constant communication over 5 days. I feel very compelled to pat Tripadvisor on the back on this one, because social is so complex, and scaled so quickly, that usually these companies only have a chance to be retroactively defensive, listening to loons go on and on with specious legal claims of gaming or unethical conduct..
They deserve to be commended – they have worked hard to make this process better, and it is. It’s not perfect, but people have to be more understanding of complex new technologies that are changing the world. I just get tired of all the accounts spewing misinformation about how Yelp filters, or how Tripadvisor has fake reviews, etc. This stuff is all complex, and Tripadvisor has done incredibly well, today. If anything, I am at fault for causing a stir while the process was still being resolved.
On to the upshot of all that:
I have dabbled in forums, and been really excited at figuring out how to ethically use them to help guests and bolster confidence in the surrounding community. I was always wary, knowing there was some confusion about how to do it right. Well…Â after 4 years of trying to figure out the precisely how to appropriately interact in forums, this flap has cleared it up, and now our industry needs to move, together, in one direction.
Long Story Short (too late): You can be in forums, but don’t just copy and paste a sig line with an email… because no emails or no URLs are allowed as that isn’t “being hospitable” but overt solicitation or “advertising”. However, any hotel or owner can go into forums and act as destination experts. I know many of you knew this, but for many more of us this simply was *NOT* clear, and we haven’t been able to successfully leverage the forums to enhance traveler’s experience with *REAL* expert destination advice. The existing destination experts are absolutely fantastic, but the internet is a big place, so there’s rooms for more. The below response from Tripadvisor is stellar, because it’s clear, and without TOS verbiage, which seems to be for lawyers and not humans. Pardon that lawyer. You can be a human too. =)
NO! In the end there is actually a point to all this! Â Here’s my recommendation:
Every single hotel’s line staff at the desk, or concierge, or executive assistant, or whomever you can spare…. needs to have an account, and start acting like a destination expert. Go into the travel forums for your area, and establish yourselves as the hospitality and travel experts that you literally are. Simply offer advice, and sign your name and the name of the hotel. Don’t talk about your hotel, don’t link anything – just help answer questions.
We are so rooted in our communities, and our hotel’s sole purpose is to celebrate and bolster community to enhance the overall guest experience and strength of our placement within a city or town. Celebrate others businesses, even competitors if the recommendation fits (though even recommending a competitor might be in violation of TOS, so read up, and it will create an interconnected web of partners that rely on one another. This sort of action will build community, a stronger economy, a better bottom line, and enhance the guest experience overall. Travel can be transformative, and life changing. They don’t have to be your guests for you to change their lives.
There are wasted minutes at the desks, we all know this… whether agents are on Facebook, or playing Minesweeper, you can mentor and excite your desk agents by connecting them with what it means to be a hotelier, and to change people’s lives in small ways, for the better. I know it might sound needlessly hopeful, but Tripadvisor forums can transform your brand, and help you become more successful in the long term. Having hotels move away from ineffective social campaigns on Facebook, to ROI producing ones that root you as experts in travel and hospitality, is something we have needed to do for years. The internet doesn’t happen on Facebook, Facebook users aren’t consumers. The internet happens on forums, and those forums are populated with potential guests that are ready to spend money. Help out that person asking questions with an interest in having hospitality change lives, and that virtual stranger might just end up as a physical guest. Even if we are exhausted by the end of a work day, it’s still our job to mentor up and coming hospitality professionals, and to help connect them with the spark that you once felt about hospitality. These forums might be a simple, easy first step to making that hourly desk agent who thinks of hotels as a “job”, into understanding that hospitality is a noble profession. When you start helping people, and you feel that positive reaction for having done so, it gives life a sense of purpose and hope…. so let’s get excited about hospitality, let’s realize we can make the world a better place with all that we do…. and helping a stranger in a Tripadvisor forum can be one small part of that.
So remember. It’s not just about hotels, it’s not just about ROI, and i
Never forget it.
The below is the final resolution *** from Tripadvisor ***, as to what is, and is not, okay in forums:
Thanks for following up again. Yes, in a nutshell, we prefer that you simply identify your status in the travel industry, and your affiliation with any businesses if it’s relevant to the discussion, without including any contact information such as email address, website URLs or telephone numbers. That is the system we have in place to balance our interests in having travel representatives disclose their affiliations while not permitting them to use our forums to drive traffic to their sites. Many owners who participate in our forums have simply adopted a convention of signing each of their posts with their name and the name of their business, so that they do not have to explicitly disclose their affiliation in the main body of their forum posts. This is perfectly acceptable and you are welcome to do this, but again, the signature should not include any other contact information.
All TripAdvisor members, including Owners such as yourself, are welcome and encouraged to share any travel advice they wish to offer, provided that they do not promote any business they are affiliated with, nor make negative remarks about competing businesses. Â We’re glad to have travel concierges participate and share their wealth of knowledge, provided they do so in accordance with our guidelines.
If you ever find that your posts have been removed, please feel free to contact me directly at this email address. I will be glad to explain the reason for their removal, and if they have been removed in error which occasionally does happen, I will be glad to reinstate them.
Thanks again for your understanding, and please let me know if you need any further assistance.
TripAdvisor Support Team