How to Choose a Social Media Monitoring and Review Analytics Tool. Make sure the greatest possible range of data is indexed

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1 How to Choose a Social Media Monitoring and Review Analytics Tool by Josiah Mackenzie, ReviewPro Over the past year, a lot has changed in the hotel reputation management industry. And these changes require a new set of buying criteria. We ve seen social media tracking technology move from being simply a way to aggregate guest feedback into a powerful business intelligence tool that can provide deep insights into customers, business performance, and the competitive landscape. Managers throughout the hotel organization from sales and marketing to revenue and distribution to operations and quality all the way up to the executive suite and hotel management groups, are all using specific parts of the tool to improve performance. But to achieve the best results, you need the right technology partner. Simply using the cheapest solution is a waste of time and money if the tool will not give you the insight you need to reach your goals. With this in mind, let s look at some of the criteria I suggest you use when shopping for a social media management tool. Make sure the greatest possible range of data is indexed Since reputation software is ultimately a business intelligence tool, quantity and quality of data is paramount. The best reputation management tools are designed to continually collect and index information from a wide range of sources - which may be a lot more diverse than may appear at first glance. Collecting reviews from just a handful of the top review sites results in missed opportunities. The web is all about the long tail of information and a lot of travel discussion happens on niche sites catering to people in specific regions or with similar interests. These smaller travel review communities may be very influential in someone s buying decision, and cannot be ignored. You must be quickly aware of any mention of your hotels, regardless of where it is posted. Make sure full international coverage is supported Different economies around the world are growing at different rates, and to fully maximize revenue, it s not enough to limit your monitoring and promotional activities to a few countries. What websites, languages, and countries does the software collect data from? Travel is by definition highly international and is only becoming more so. Whether you re managing a single property or a large portfolio of hotels, true international support is crucial. There is a vast number of regional OTAs and niche hotel review sites that are the primary sources of information for millions of travelers. Make sure it provides insight for action

2 Participating on the social web is much more than just a function of the marketing or PR department. Insights you gather from guest feedback online can be used among the management team and can also help front-line staff do their jobs more effectively. But for this to work, you need software that can share insights and reports among team members. Make sure the tool you select provides position and role-specific reporting functionality and the ability to share these insights with colleagues. Many of the strongest brands in social media were created through more than just big-picture brainstorming it is the result of daily, consistent operational improvement. Constantly refining and tweaking the way service is delivered leads to remarkable experiences for guests and stronger reputations. Until recently, hotel managers have relied upon some combination of internal guest satisfaction surveys, mystery shopping and intuition to understand sentiment and improve service. It took a herculean effort to collect these, and since each of these feedback channels is somewhat selfselecting, there are significant structural flaws that can prevent gathering an accurate understanding of satisfaction. The social web changed that. Today, online travel agencies, review sites and social media platforms have provided the potential holy grail of customer insight. Since customers now share unsolicited feedback everywhere and anywhere they are, the challenge is now how to collect all of the relevant conversations, separate the signal from the noise, and create insight for action to improve guest satisfaction levels. Insight for action is key. Your brand is defined with every single interaction each of your employees have. This makes intentional experience design and excellence in service delivery critical parts of this brand building process. Create that set of tools and operational processes so you can continually incorporate customer suggestions into your product improvement process, and along the way, build a brand that sets you apart from the competition. Make sure workflow systems are in place to encourage action Continuing from the point above, creating insight for action is all the more helpful if the tool provides robust workflow functionality. When a hotel director or social media manager receives an online review, she needs to be able to assign it to the appropriate team member for resolution, pass along any additional information, and then track the progress of that issue to completion. Ideally, this will be more than just an review feature. It s easiest if you can work within a dashboard that tracks progress of each item. This provides more accountability for the improvement process, and prevents items from slipping through. Make sure it fully keeps your team engaged Some executives in your organization may not have the time to login to your social media tracking tool on a regular basis, so does the tool you re considering offer the ability to export

3 reports in an attractive fashion? Can you print out data for your weekly meetings that instantly communicates the online status of your hotels? Can you schedule notifications to everyone from general management to quality and operations to sales and marketing to revenue and distribution? Make sure you can share information with staff members that need to be aware of results but are unlikely to enter the application to look for the data themselves. For some of your managers, these reports may be all they need. Maybe they don t need to be checking a dashboard daily to see what online reviews have been received, but they do need to see the overall trends and actions that must be taken in their departments. Ease of accessing the data is important to keep everyone using the tool. If something is too complicated, people will avoid it, and the tool will be useless. The user interface of the tool itself plays a role in keeping everyone engaged, but especially important is the ability to provide reporting for people who don t have the time or desire to login to the program. Make sure it supports true semantic analysis Semantic analysis is becoming increasingly important in the field of online reputation management. You need a tool that can gauge guest sentiment and allow you to act accordingly. Semantic analysis is more than just a tool for reputation it can also be used for marketing and investment decisions. For marketing, you can determine which parts of the guest experience are most attractive to your guests, and highlight those. For investment decisions, you can understand which parts of your hotel experience are most important to guests and make sure that investment goes into enhancing those areas. You can also identify any trouble spots and improve quality in the areas that need it most. The key is to make sure your technology partner Is using their own semantic technology engine to provide the most accurate results for your properties. Using a generic third-party semantic technology engine or supporting mere sentiment analysis is unlikely to provide the most accurate results for executive decisions. Make sure it integrates well with your existing data technology If you re like most hospitality businesses, it s likely that you ve already invested a lot of time and money in building data technology infrastructures. To get the most value out of your past and future investments, make sure the new social media tracking tool will play well with these existing systems. Social media tracking tools that lead innovation in this area offer the ability to import and export data between their tool and your existing software systems. This is important, as it can help you make pricing decisions that affect your profitability. You can cross-compare guest satisfaction scores with your pricing strategies and maximize profitability.

4 It s also important as more and more organizations begin to start collecting their own reviews. This October, Starwood introduced their own rating and reviews program. Members of their Starwood Preferred Guest program can review the hotels they have stayed at over the past 18 months if they provide their loyalty program credentials or the reservation confirmation number for their stay. Unedited reviews will be posted to the hotel s website after at least five reviews have been collected. Starwood executives are doing this to encourage guests to engage with the company more and book more repeat stays. I expect this trend to rise in the year ahead as more hotel companies see the value of online reviews and want to control more of this experience. As mentioned above, there is the opportunity for them to link the reviews to transactions, and then use these reviews on their website to increase direct bookings. Even if your hotel group is planning to collect your own reviews, don t neglect to monitor and manage your presence on other sites. Also, make sure your review tracking tool can provide tight integration of your internal reviews and reviews posted on third-party websites. The holy grail here is building that one dashboard that tracks all activity on the social web, and all customer feedback across every channel you monitor. Make sure comprehensive training and education is offered For many hotel organizations, 2011 was the year executives identified social media monitoring and reputation management as a serious strategic initiative. It was the year that hotel executives realized that they needed to join the gym. Much like the difficult part of getting into shape is not joining the gym, but rather implementing a consistent workout plan, for hotel executives deciding to do respond to the social web is one thing, leveraging the social web to improve guest satisfaction and drive revenue is a completely different challenge. For many, the full promised benefits were not realized because of lack of a clear direction, insufficient support, or organizational complexity. Underestimating the role of support and staff education is a dangerous mistake when implementing new technology. When it comes to selecting a technology partner for collecting and using information from the social web, require the potential partner to demonstrate how they will keep you on the cutting edge of innovation. Best practices are evolving rapidly, making it essential to have a technology partner that can coach you by providing support, education and insight into best practices to help you succeed in the implementation of your social media/online reputation management initiatives. It is absolutely critical to have the support and training needed if you hope to get in shape this year. The best companies will have a strong focus on education. Not only during the customer onboarding process, but consistently as the months go by. They need to teach you how to use new media and the social web to succeed in the market. You need someone to stay on the forefront of innovation and teach you how to profit from changes in travel behavior. Final thought: it s all about value.

5 Use the different criteria above to make a decision on which social media monitoring tool is the best fit for your organization, but at the end of the day, it comes down to value that you want to receive. It s more than just the price. What functionality you need to get the returns you require to make this project a success for you personally and for your company? If you ve never used one of these tools in the past, it can be easy to underestimate all the functionality you need. So be sure to fully explore all areas of your potential partners business to prevent wasting time and money. The right technology has the potential to take your hotel business to the next level, while the wrong technology can put you far behind the competition. --- Josiah Mackenzie is an industry analyst and Director of Business Development at ReviewPro, which provides online reputation analytics to thousands of hotels worldwide, helping them use feedback from the social web to improve guest satisfaction and drive revenue growth. See the tool now:

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