Profaizer: Managing Your 'Online Reputation'
Linda Profaizer, a Colorado resident and immediate past-president of ARVC, writes this column for Woodall's Campground Management. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Having stepped away from her association duties at the end of 2010, she welcomes input on topics of importance to campground owners for upcoming columns.
The July issue of Campground Management includes information on the latest in reservation systems available. But before a camper gets to that point of making a reservation, they may have checked out the online reviews a park received prior to making a reservation. That review will have an influence on whether or not that camper decides to stay at any particular park.
Unfortunately, every park likely receives at least one negative online review annually – whether warranted or not. There are so many websites out there providing some sort of “review” of your park. Among the sites are www.rvparkreviews.com, www.rvonline.com, www.rv-dreams.com, www.camping.about.com, www.tripadvisor.com, www.guestrated.com, www.rvbuddy.com and the list goes on.
It’s great to know how your guests viewed their experience at your park and the Internet provides that opportunity, but it does require more work on your part to keep track of what RVers and campers are saying about your park. Somehow, it was easier when the only way a park could express their either positive or negative experience was via a letter!
RVers and campers are checking review sites and social media prior to making the decision to come to your park. It is vital that you monitor what is being said about your park and also respond to those reviews when possible. Particularly when the review is negative, it is most important to respond. Some review sites alert you when you have new reviews and others send you negative reviews right away so that you can respond.
When you do receive a negative review, first thank the reviewer for bringing up the issue. Indicate that their comments are helpful in improving your guest experience. Then, assure the reviewer that the issue has been resolved, or is in the process of being resolved. Express your desire for them to stay with you again. You could go even further by offering a special deal on their next stay. And, if a review is upsetting to you, wait until you’ve had some time to think about the review before responding. Often, negative reviews are less about the problem than about how your staff (or you) handled the problem. Guests have left comments such as “We brought it to their attention, but they did nothing” or “They don’t care.” The way you and your staff handle customer issues and your attitude in doing so is extremely important.
By the way, if you want to respond to a positive review, just say “thank you” – that’s it. No requests for them to tell more friends about your business. While a coupon for “x” off their next visit sounds like a nice idea it can also be misinterpreted as a bribe or payment for the review. Remember, this customer already likes your park so just take this opportunity to thank them.
Realistically, online reputation management begins at your park. The best way to generate positive reviews is to focus on good service. Offer good products, good service, have integrity and be diligent. A great question to ask your guest is “How is everything going with your stay?” If you or someone on your staff asks this question, if there is a problem, you can try to fix it before the guest departs. If everything is fine, you now have an opportunity to engage the guest or even find a way to enhance their stay. By listening, empathizing, apologizing, offering solutions and following up, you and your staff can prevent on-site issues from escalating to online complaints.
As more and more RVers/campers seek opinions on review sites and social networks, your reputation (what people say about you after or even now during their stay), takes on even more importance. According to a survey by the Opinion Research Corp., 84 percent of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. While you can try to manage your reputation online, if your park is not consistently meeting guest expectations, if won’t matter how well you handle your online reputation; you will have a difficult time attracting new and repeat guests.
Online reputation management (ORM) is now a term for something that you have always done to some extent just normally. You have always been concerned about maintaining your park and the service that you provide and handling guest issues. Now, changes in the ways travelers research trips, make decisions and share experiences are making “reputation management” essential.
Social media is a game-changer because it takes what was private feedback into the public realm. Online reviews enable travelers to compare the opinions of other travelers and they allow other parks to compare their performance against competitors.
Online reputation management is a big task and you might consider using some companies that provide this service such as www.trackur.com, www.reputation.com, www.reputationranger.com or www.chatmeter.com among many others. These companies monitor social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, blogs, and online rating sites for you, search for keywords, provide reports, etc. Of course there is usually a charge for their service, but it can take that additional responsibility away from your ever-growing list of “to-dos.”
There are several key performance indicators that you can monitor yourself that will get you off to a good start.
• Total reviews of your park from all sources. Several search engines such as Google and Bing have started to use reviews as part of their search engine placement criteria. That makes it important to get more reviews online and encourage your guests to leave reviews of their experience at your park. Request reviews during check-out or through signs posted in restrooms, your store and other public areas. Make reviews easy to give/find. If you don’t offer the functionality to leave reviews on your website directly, it might be beneficial to have a section highlighting GuestRated, TripAdvisor or another source’s reviews. One of the simplest and easiest ways to track your reputation is to use Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) With this free service, you can search either all of Google’s properties or you can specify that only News, Blogs, Web, Video or Groups is searched. You can have the Alerts e-mailed to you as it happens, once a day or once a week. There will be several review sites that will be more important than others or have more influence than others, such as Trip Advisor and RV Park Reviews, for example. You can keep track of what is being said about your park on Twitter with tools like www.search.twitter.com, www.TweetDeck.com or www.Twendz.com.
• Positive reviews vs. negative reviews. Most people know it is impossible to please all your guests all the time. A rule of thumb in the hospitality industry is if 70 percent to 80 percent of the reviews are positive, that is looked on favorably by consumers.
• Keywords used when discussing your park. You can use the positive keywords in your marketing messages and negative key words can help you focus on those issues in your park that need some attention. Look for patterns. Are people consistently complaining about poor service? Are they consistently praising something that you can emphasize in your marketing message to differentiate your business?
Online reviews will continue to increase in importance and will have a direct impact on your revenue and profitability. With the proliferation of channels where consumers are leaving reviews, the complexity of monitoring and managing such reviews increases significantly. This is a trend that is not going away, so figure out how you are going to handle “online reputation management” at your park.