My wife and I took a trip to the Riviera Maya last week, and before we left we did what we always do and consulted the reviews at Tripadvisor.com - a social network focused on traveller reviews.
This action, increasingly repeated by travellers worldwide every day currently has the hospitality industry up in arms. Why? Because after decades of travelling to places with only sunny advertisements to guide us, we can now seek real-time information on exactly how much construction is going on at our hotel of choice, whether the staff give a hoot, and whether we should eat in or go out - and if so, where.
Naturally, the hospitality industry is up in arms about this. Travel to the major hospitality industry sites and you'll discover much commentary on the effect of "overly negative reviews" and the problem of competitors slipping fake reviews in beside the good ones. What these sites rarely mention is that the fake reviews issue is more than balanced out by the number of fake reviews that are planted by the hoteliers and restauranters themselves - often obviously so.
In the midst of such confusion, it was nice to come across a sane white paper on the subject, courtesy of author Michael Kasavana, Ph.D., NCE, CHTP, a NAMA Professor in Hospitality Business for the School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University. This 2008 paper, which can be found here, contains a number of solid observations about branding and the importance of using social networks for their strengths - because as we all know, they aren't going away anytime soon.
Among a raft of other good advice, Kasavana provides a list of what hospitality industry brand managers should be doing with social networks, in order to achieve the maximum positive outcomes for their brands (the list is actually a pretty useful checklist for brand managers in any industry.) Instead of bemoaning their existence, here's what you should be using social networks to do:
1. Stimulate Customer Engagement
2. Create Brand Awareness
3. Enhance Brand Equity
4. New Product/Service Introduction
5. Existing Product/Service Development
6. Identify and Monitor Opinion Influencers
7. Develop/Refine Marketing Plans
8. Leverage Digital Inputs to Improve
Also listed in the paper are a number of dedicated hospitality social networks, and their user pops as of fall, 2008 - along with a number of sites dedicated to the rants of current and former hospitality employees. I have to admit I coudln't resist taking a peek - here's the pick of the bunch in my book - BitterWaitress.com - perfect for a Saturday afternoon smile or two (or a look of abject horror if you happen to find yourself a target).