Inside Yelp – how should hoteliers manage their online reputation? [interview]

Yelp LogoA few weeks ago I learnt that someone I’ve had the pleasure of knowing over the last few years through EyeForTravel, has moved roles and joined a company that’s always intrigued me – Yelp.  Rosie Akenhead had a key role in organising many of the EyeForTravel events, including the fantastic Travel Distribution Summit, from which so many stories have been derived for my blog.  I was keen to talk to Rosie about her new role and get an insiders view of Yelp to see what I could learn from the experts about how hoteliers should be working with Yelp and managing their online reputation.

I’m sure you have already heard of, or even use, Yelp.  But by way of background, Yelp is one of the biggest consumer review and recommendation sites on the internet, with an average of 108 Million unique monthly visitors and a total of 42 million local reviews contributed as of the end of Q2 2013.  Founded in 2004 in San Francisco to help people find great local businesses, Yelp provides a platform on which to share what’s, good, great and not-so great about local businesses – from hotels, restaurants, shops and local services to spas, mechanics, pet groomers and health professionals. The following transcript is an interview with Rosie Akenhead, Manager of Local Business Outreach, UK,  who shares with us some key tips for hoteliers looking to navigate the online world of reviews

Q: Tell us more about Yelp

A: Yelp, in a nutshell, is a site and mobile application that connects people with great local businesses – anything from hotels, restaurants, bars and spas to dog groomers, mechanics, even dentists!

The Yelp community is made up of engaged locals who connect online and off, to share their opinions about local businesses, and have written more than 42 million rich, local reviews to date. With an average of 108 million monthly unique visitors in Q2 2013, Yelp is the leading local guide for word-of-mouth recommendations.

This video from the owners of Avo Hotel in Dalston, London, helps explain how businesses fit into the mix at Yelp:

Q: Tell us about your new role, and what your objectives are as you begin working for the company.

A: I’m the Manager of Local Business Outreach for Yelp here in the UK and Ireland.  In plain English, that means I help educate local businesses, including hotels, about how to use the free suite of tools Yelp provides business owners, and how to manage their reputation online.

Yelp ImageQ:Did you use Yelp before you started your role, if so, what were your primary uses?

A: I did indeed.  Before Yelp, I was working for a travel trade publication, so I was always using it as a resource for good local businesses to test out when I was in a place I didn’t know so well. What’s different now? I use it all the time to wow friends and family with my great choice of cool hangouts and suggestions of places to check out right in my backyard!  It hasn’t let me down yet.

Even before I took the job at Yelp, I mainly posted reviews where I had an ‘average’ to ‘great’ experience and wanted to share it with others. I think that feeling must resonate with other reviewers, since nearly 80% of our reviews are three stars or above on a five star scale (a fact which certainly surprises most hoteliers).

Q: How strong and how widely used is Yelp in the UK?  Strongest markets?

A: Yelp was born and bred in San Francisco, USA.  We now have people working for Yelp in over 100 cities in 22 countries across the world.  We have Community Managers in 7 cities in the UK and Ireland (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin) whose role it is to interact with Yelp users and business owners in that city, and provide opportunities to connect them to each other.

With the acquisition of our European competitor, Qype, last year, Yelp’s presence on this side of the pond is going from strength to strength as we move forward with integrating the two companies to create a single platform under the Yelp brand. We’re seeing consistent growth in all our European communities.

Q: Hotels are forever being told they have to manage online reputation – how does this fit with Yelp?

A: Having worked in travel and hospitality for four years prior to my time at Yelp, I know for certain that hoteliers already know that that they need to manage their online reputation. That’s obvious. Most have made efforts to better monitor their presence online in one way or another. Yelp is a key place for hoteliers to have a presence, and this can be done relatively quickly and free of charge.

The guidelines that we set out for businesses are to a) make sure you claim your listing, b) fill out your profile and c) make sure you take the time to respond to reviews either privately or publicly.

Managing your reputation online starts with ensuring consumers can find the right information about you, wherever they look. The conversations you then have with those consumers helps build their trust and awareness of your hotel. Consumers are already looking for local businesses on Yelp, and research has shown that the information they find drives them to a purchase decision, so hoteliers need to make sure they are a viable option when they are searching in their hotel’s area by claiming their page and making sure the information is up to date, correct and complete.

I’d say one of the best steps for hoteliers to make is to respond to reviews (which you can do privately or publicly on Yelp) and start conversations with customers past, present and future.

Q: What steps should a hotelier take to have visibility of their content on Yelp, and how should they go about managing their reputation?  Are there costs?

A: As mentioned previously, the first step really should be claiming their business page on Yelp. It only takes a few minutes to claim the page and set up an account and is completely free (honestly, it is, no catches).

I always say to people, you need to claim your Yelp listing! All it means is you are optimising a channel whereby a different set of educated, affluent customers can find you and do business with you directly. Having a listing with photos, full contact information including your website and telephone number, is an easy way to improve the number of people doing business with you.

Yelp Image 2Q: Is a hotel automatically included in search results of Yelp, or does the hotel need to add themselves to your service?

A: Most hotels are already listed on Yelp, and if a hotel is not listed, it is a very simple and quick process to add the business from the Yelp mobile app or the website. To check, simply type in your business name and location at www.yelp.co.uk. Once created, the place to claim and set-up your business account is here: www.biz.yelp.co.uk

Most people are quite surprised to find that their business is already listed, has reviews and that people are viewing that page every day.

Q: Can you give us some stats please?

A: On top of the 108 Million unique visitors to Yelp every month and the 42 Million reviews submitted to date, it is also worth noting that our mobile app is used on 10.4 million unique mobile devices every month, and every second a consumer generates directions to or calls a local business from the Yelp app.

Also, 59% of all searches on Yelp came from mobile web or our mobile app combined, highlighting further just how many people are searching for information whilst on the move. What does this mean for hoteliers? People are looking for instant information, instant resources and a place to stay and spend money.  if they can’t find it, they’ll turn somewhere else.

Q: Will Yelp look at becoming a hotel booking application in the future?

A: I think it’s important to initially state that Yelp is, first and foremost, always about the customer’’s experience.  We seek to show them authentic, honestly reviewed local businesses which they can trust, and that remains core to Yelp’s DNA.

We do have an API facility available for hoteliers.  This can be implemented in a number of ways from within your own website or mobile app to help highlight the great local businesses in the vicinity of your hotel, whether that be restaurants, shopping districts, services or the nearest theatre box office.

We’re always looking to improve the consumer experience and make Yelp as helpful as possible, so keep an eye out for future updates!

Many thanks to Rosie for sharing with us just how hoteliers can manage their online reputation with Yelp and some great stats.

If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them at the end of this post.

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The Socialnomics Social Media Video 2013

For regular readers of my blog, you will know that each year I tend to post the latest Social Media Video produced by Socialnomics.  In my opinion, this annually produced video is one of the most powerful ways to explain the influence, reach and usage of social channels with some incredible and hard-hitting facts.  Socialnomics was founded by Erik Qualman with the intent of providing short social stories, statistics, studies and surprises.  I refer to these videos regularly and often share them with people asking me questions about why their hotel should be taking social media seriously.

So, with my thanks as always to Socialnomics, here’s the 2013 video. Enjoy.

Introducing the Kred Story – my favourite social influence tool

During this evenings Twitter question and answer session, I was asked about ways to measure social influence.  My answer was to use Kred.com which in my opinion, is the best and most accurate tool out there.

Kred Story is a visual history of your Social Media Influence. Explore the posts, pictures and links that make you influential. See your full influence story and zoom in on meaningful moments.  I will write a full post on Kred and on social influence tools in general at a later date, but for the time being have a look at this video and give the tool a try.

Holiday Inn gives away free nights on Twitter

I always like to highlight how hotel chains are using social media to drive business, and today I found that Holiday Inn are promoting a new giveaway though Twitter, so I wanted to share what they are doing with you.  Of course, with over 1,200 hotels worldwide, Holiday Inn is the most widely recognised lodging brands in the world so any promotion they run socially will instantly grab the attention of thousands of followers, but the guiding principle of interaction is an interesting one to follow and can be re-applied in different levels.

Holiday Inn Resort Kicks Off Back to School Season with “Extra Credit” and Resort Stay Giveaway”

InterContinental Hotels Group today announced the Holiday Inn Resort “Extra Credit” offer which rewards guests with a $50 Resort Credit to use on property when they stay at least two nights Sept. 4 through Nov. 30, 2012, booked through their brand website.  The “extra credit” can be used toward breakfast, lunch, water ski rentals, bike rentals and more.  For each additional night stayed, guests will receive another $25.

Del Ross, Vice President Americas Sales & Marketing, IGG commented “Summer may be winding down but there are still great vacation travel deals.  Whether it’s a family of five or a couple of friends who want to visit Holiday Inn Resort beach locations or action-packed attraction areas, we’re making it possible to create memorable experiences affordably.”

Holiday Inn are using Twitter to provide more interactive value to their brand followers by launching their  “Resort Stay Giveaway”. Prizes range from a one night stay up to an eight night stay at any Holiday Inn Resort location in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean. Quite simply, Holiday Inn are encouraging interaction – the more tweets, the bigger the prizes get.

Here’s how the “Resort Stay Giveaway” works:

• Follow @HolidayInn on Twitter
• Tell us why you would love to stay at a resort for your next vacation with the #ResortLove hashtag
• Tweet daily for more chances to win

This is a very clever way to get your followers tweeting about your brand.  Of course, IHG are the largest hotel group around so this is an inexpensive promotion for them, however the ideal is the same even if you are a small independent hotel.  Encourage interaction through your social sites with different offers (these don;t even need to be giveaways, they can be simple communication). Everyone likes an offer and it motivates people to get involved and talk about your brand.

‘The Content Omniverse’ – check out this great Infographic

I found this great infographic this evening, recently published by CopyPress.  Take a look, it really does represent social content online very well.

Infographic courtesy of CopyPress.

ReviewPro Releases Global Review Index™ Top Hotel Rankings for UK Cities

A company that I admire a great deal, ReviewPro, have this week released their Global Review Index Top Hotel Rankings some of Britain’s busiest hotel cities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle and Oxford.  ReviewPro are a leading provider of online reputation and social media management solutions to the hotel industry who aggregate hundreds of millions of social media mentions from hundreds of the most relevant Online Travel Agencies, review websites and social media platforms.  If you’ve not taken a look at the service ReviewPro can provide your hotel, then you really should.  In my opinion, they are by far the market leader in this field and are truly experts in reputation management.  ReviewPro provides the analysis, customer intelligence, competitive benchmarking and automated reporting needed to help hoteliers more effectively manage their online reputation.

The Top Hotel Rankings are based on the Global Review Index, a benchmark for guest satisfaction in the hotel industry that is calculated with guest review scores from hundreds of the most relevant Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and review sites worldwide.

In London, The Halkin took the #1 spot in the ranking, followed by Hotel 41 and The Milestone Hotel. The Chester Residence (Edinburgh), Hotel Indigo (Glasgow), Posh Pads at The Casartelli (Liverpool), Velvet Hotel (Manchester), Staybrigde Suites Newcastle (Newcastle upon Tyne) and The Old Bank Hotel (Oxford) took the number one spots in the other UK cities in this ranking.

ReviewPro CEO RJ Friedlander says: “We have released similar rankings in several European and North American cities over the last year, and feedback from individual hotels, chains and industry experts has been amazing.  We are excited to expand these powerful rankings at this key time for the UK hotel sector, when all eyes are on London in the run up to the Olympics.”

Originally piloted in 2011, these B2B rankings are calculated based on guest reviews from more than one hundred of the most relevant review sites and online travel agencies (OTA) and evaluate reviews for 3, 4 and 5 star hotels over the course of a 12-month period. The ranking are based on the Global Review Index, a proprietary algorithm developed by ReviewPro in conjunction with leading hotel industry experts.  It enables hotels to know their current quality score, track their performance over time and compare their online reputation to their competitors or to other hotels within their chain with a single index.

Thousands of hotels in more than 70 countries, including some of the most recognized hotel brands in the world, rely on ReviewPro to better understand and improve guest satisfaction and to profit from the social web. Clients include Alila Hotels & Resorts, the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Cavendish London, Citizen M Hotels, Concorde Hotels & Resorts, Corinthia Hotels, Epoque Hotels, Hotel Bel-Air, 1895 Historic Hotels, Hotusa Hotels, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, Louvre Hotels Group, Melià Hotels International, Millennium Hotels & Resorts, Occidental Hotels & Resorts, the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the Roger Smith Hotel and Swiss-Belhotel International.

I joined about.me – take a look and claim your name before it goes!

I discovered about.me a few weeks ago and have been meaning to reserve my page.  Tonight, I was lucky enough to find it was still available.  So you can do the same, take a look at the video below which explains the idea behind the site.  This is not just another social network, about.me is a free service that lets you create a one-page website that’s all about you and your interests. Upload a photo, write a short bio, and add your favorite social networks to show the world the big picture of you.

This is a great way to put all your social networks together in one place so people can get to know you on your own personal page. Take a look!