The travelling consumer voice

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The Italian competition watchdog has fined TripAdvisor €500,000 for not doing enough to prevent fake reviews following a seven month investigation.

TripAdvisor are planning to appeal against the decision stating “We firmly believe that TripAdvisor is a force for good, both for consumers and the hospitality industry”

As technology becomes ever more personal and available to us we’ve all become authors and journalists, able to post our views and opinions with immediate public effect. Of course, this has dramatically impacted on many individual’s and organisations as spurious gossip and rumour jettisons around the virtual globe in a flash but also truthful experiences and news.

But what about the brands, what impact does it continue to have on them?

As the hefty fine handed out to TripAdvisor demonstrates, the freedom of the press is also a branding danger zone, in particular from individuals and organisations with axes to grind or when ‘lost in translation’ adds a dimension to a comment that may not have been the original intention.

A brief conversation on a recent trip to Istanbul really brought this home. In the land of gorgeous architecture, bitter tea shared in friendship and honey laden baklava there’s hospitality at every turn. Of course, as a tourist destination Istanbul works hard to ensure that the side it presents to the world sustains the essence of this cross -continent city. Virtually every authentic coffee house, heritage site and museum has free wifi and you dodge people clasping their phones and devices continually as you navigate across the cobbles whilst they update their status; yes we’ve just had some more tea/ been offered more baklava/ decided against a kilim.

Returning to my hotel one afternoon I was approached by one of the receptionists who we’d exchanged pleasantries with previously- really nothing more than her showing us how the complex lift operated. She checked my name, asked if everything was ok and were there any problems that she could sort out for me? I was perplexed and this would definitely have shown on my face. She mentioned that her central office had alerted her to a comment that they had seen, posted on a social networking site that morning (simply about the mix of personalities at breakfast and how well the staff had handled it) and they were alarmed that I was not happy with the hotel. In fact nothing could be further from the truth, but that misinterpretation was clearly enough to switch that team into overdrive to root out any unhappy residents and transform them into happy ones. Such is the power of the send key.

The ability for one comment or suggestion to go viral through a trending hashtag such as the recent #iwillridewithyou truly puts the consumer or individual commentator in the driving seat. Clever brands know this and allocate resources accordingly.

For the record, this encounter did nothing to dent my impression of the hotel, quite the reverse, partially because of the exchange of words regarding it which were polite and positive, but also the inference that what I said, felt or reported was being acknowledged at least in some form. Yes of course it’s marketing in disguise but everyone has a voice- even the brands and they are entitled to theirs too. However, as with most communication, it’s not always what you say but how you say it that counts.

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