Social media, like it or not, now plays an integral part in the marketing plans for the majority of restaurants, hotels and pubs , so we’ll presume, if you’re reading this, that you have at least set up a Twitter account and/or a Facebook page to promote your company.
But while you’re Tweeting out details of your daily specials or posting pictures of events on your Facebook page (on top of the day job, of course), are you aware of how your business is being perceived on these mediums and do you know what to do if a customer decides to complain via social networks rather than direct to you?
As marketing experts David Miles and David Taylor, co-authors of the book Fusion , write: “It is now commonplace for disgruntled customers to post something onto Twitter or Facebook, whether they are complaining about their hotel room, flight or evening meal. And, with mobile internet platforms, people are complaining real time so it is vital that you are closely monitoring the internet at all times – especially if you know there is a problem."
So, in the third part of our feature to help you keep a hold of your hospitality business’s reputation online, we look at how you can maintain the right image for your business on social networks and suggest the best way of handling negative comments posted on Twitter or Facebook.
Manage and monitor
How you manage your social media accounts will play a part in how you are able to handle comments about your business, believes Petra Clayton, managing director of hospitality-focused PR and marketing firm Custard Communications.
“If you want to maintain and manage your reputation, you have to be clear about who is representing your brand in the first place. Identify what your personality and brand is about so that when you are responding to anyone you are doing so using the right tone,” she says.
Clayton recommends that one person, or a small team from a company, is put in charge of managing its social media and being ‘the voice’ for the company.
She says: “You have to decide who is going to champion your social media and then it will be their voice, so if it’s the chef from your restaurant leading your Twitter account, they need to be the one responding if something’s wrong.“
Once you have your brand identity sorted out, you then need to be able to monitor what is being said, so sign up to monitoring tools such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite for Twitter which enable you to see anything mentioning your account or name and set up Google Alerts for any other sites so you’ll receive an email every time you’re mentioned.
“Everything about managing reputation is responding quickly and having the right tools in the first place,” adds Clayton.
Right to reply
So, someone’s decided to tell their followers on Twitter that the dish your restaurant served them was cold, the service was dire and they should be compensated for the bad experience, or they’ve picked holes in the décor of your hotel room without mentioning that you’ve given them a discount because you’re in the process of renovating the whole property - what do you do?
Both Fusion’s authors and Clayton agree, you need to reply or deal with threats rather than hope they go away, but although speed is of the essence, it is also a good idea to take a step back and ensure you respond in the right way.
“Don’t be sensitive,” says Clayton. “It’s so easy to react and take things personally. We’ve all done it with an email that perhaps hasn’t been worded well and the first thing we do is fire something equally scathing back. With Twitter, as soon as you press the send button, that response is going to be viewed by all your customers.”
Clayton recommends you separate out the serious complaints from comments made by wannabe restaurant critics and then deal with them individually, taking into account the impact a reply may have.
For example, if the complainant has lots of followers who are relevant to your business it may be best to reply publicly, but if they have a handful of followers who seemingly have no interest in food or travel, it may be best to send that person a direct message to avoid highlighting an issue among people who may have never heard of you.
In all cases, it is best to follow up complaints, offline if possible. “If they are serious and genuine complaints,” she says, “try and contact them directly and ask for their details so you can let them know you are taking them seriously.
"By dealing with it this way you know if they are serious or not, or just trying it on. The worst thing you can do is RT their message with a response that says, 'come back and have a free lunch', because everyone will start complaining."
The above suggestions should help maintain your reputation because it will be evident that you care about your business and your customers, but if you have a serial complainer or comments get particularly nasty and frequent, there are other steps to take.
Taylor and Miles write: “With both Twitter and Facebook, if you believe that someone is conducting a campaign of harassment or defamation, you can report this to the administrators who have the authority to remove the perpetrator’s account.”
While it is good to be armed with the right tools to deal with negative comments made via social networks, many companies are opting to use online feedback systems to give their customers the chance to vent any feelings they have about their company directly to them, lessening the need for disgruntled customers to publish comments in the public domain.
Chris Larsen, managing director of BluSky Marketing , has worked with a number of hotels, including Bovey Castle and The Cadogan by running hotel guest experience surveys. Surveys are sent out via email after a guest's stay and they are asked to give feedback.
"It means a hotelier becomes proactive rather than reactive and you’re able to stop people writing about a negative experience online," says Larsen. "We had 25 negative responses come back with one hotel, but only four of those negative experiences went online. By sending this you stop people looking for an outlet outside your company to complain."
Larsen also recommends that restaurants, hotels and pubs print a QR code on a bill or receipt which links directly to a feedback area online for that business. "It not only enables you to capture the guest experience, but it's great for data capture too," he says.
Restaurant chain Giraffe, which has 16,000 plus followers on Twitter and 13,000 'likes' on its Facebook page, has even taken things a step further and implemented a system called GoRecommend from Empathica.
The system is a social media advocacy engine that empowers Giraffe’s customers to share their positive brand experience virally with their social networks on Facebook, Twitter and via email. As a result, the restaurant chain has been able to take in and deal with feedback from 11,000 customers in a year and build up its following via social media. It still receives negative comments, but has more control over what is said and can respond accordingly.
"As with any brand utilising social media, the risk of negative feedback adversely impacting your reputation remains but the opportunity to respond and mitigate this is actually welcomed by Giraffe, happy that it can now communicate in this way with its customers, who previously had not had such a prominent voice," says Empathica managing director Gary Topiol.
And this stance has even enabled customers to effectively deal with the brand's reputation themselves: "In certain instances, fans of the restaurant chain have responded to those leaving negative reviews in support of Giraffe – effectively acting as brand ambassadors," added Topiol.
To view all our articles in the 'How to manage your hospitality business's online reputation' click here .