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Online Review Sites: Handle With Care

September 4th, 2013

In a recent post, I pointed out that it was necessary to take a proactive stance with regard to your business’ ranking on various consumer review sites. If you are lacking reviews on any particular online resource – or, worse yet, you have one or more unfounded negative reviews that are skewing readers’ opinions – you should make an effort to encourage positive input. The question is how to handle this task both properly and effectively.

Once again, a successful campground will be operated in a customer-friendly manner, and reviews of that campground are likely to be overwhelmingly positive. My advice is to proactively promote those reviews and the sites that contain the reviews, rather than simply reacting in a state of panic when a negative review appears, typically written by someone with an axe to grind.

Rather than hiding from reviews, campground owners should provide links to the major review sites – and to individual reviews – on their own websites and within the social media. Encourage your happy campers to post their own reviews, particularly if a review site has a less than stellar recent review of your park. The most recent reviews and the most intelligently written reviews (and responses) carry the greatest credibility. Older reviews or those written by somebody who is obviously on a rant are generally dismissed by readers.

What Is Different?

When taking this proactive stance at encouraging positive reviews, be careful not to cross any lines that might violate the policies of the review sites.

I recently made what I thought was a reasonable attempt at promoting one of our non-campground clients on Yelp. The client’s business was listed on Yelp, but had no reviews and, subsequently, no ranking. I added missing information to the client’s listing and uploaded photos. I then posted the following on their Facebook page:

“If you love our (products) and have visited our retail store, please take a moment to share your thoughts by writing a review on Yelp. It will only take a minute or two. When we have 5 reviews, we will choose one at random and that person will receive a $25.00 gift certificate. Thanks!” I then included a direct link to the listings page on Yelp.

One customer immediately posted a very flattering and positive review, with a 5-star rating. On the basis of this first review, our client then showed an overall 5-star rating … very briefly. Later that day, Yelp “filtered” the review, suggesting that it was of questionable origin. Apparently, our offer of the gift certificate – or possibly simply including a link to the listing page – crossed an imaginary line with Yelp, giving them the impression that we were bribing customers for their comments … which, of course, was far from the truth. A day or two later, the review was reinstated, with another review submitted soon afterward, and our client once again has a 5-star rating with two reviews, both highly positive.

To avoid this problem yourself, refer to Yelp’s review policy:

“The best word of mouth is organic and unsolicited. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, Yelp discourages business owners from asking people to write reviews about their businesses. It’s tough for an algorithm to tell the difference between a business owner aggressively putting a laptop in front of a client and saying, “Give me 5 stars!” and that same business owner flipping the laptop around and manufacturing a fake 5-star review about themselves.”

They continue, “As a general rule, Yelp has advised business owners not to offer incentives for reviews. It’s a slippery slope between the customer who is so delighted by her experience that she takes it upon herself to write a glowing review and the customer who is “encouraged” to write a favorable review in exchange for a special discount. In an effort to minimize spam and maximize trustworthiness of the site’s content, Yelp actively weeds out suspicious reviews through a combination of community self-policing and automated filtering; aggressively solicited reviews can ring hollow at times and end up flagged by users or the website for removal. The system is designed to ensure the reviews consumers rely on are as authentic and useful as possible.”

In other words, Yelp uses analytics to flag online review solicitations, and the worst case scenario could be the removal of your listing, not simply the filtering of the resulting review(s). Learn more about Yelp’s policy by following this link:
https://biz.yelp.com/support/common_questions.

How Do You Handle This?

Yelp encourages businesses to link to both their listing page and to individual reviews. When you have one or more positive reviews, provide links to them on your website and on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Let the power of subtle persuasion influence new reviewers. You may also hand out printed cards with the URL to guests as they check out and rave about their stay, but avoid directly asking for reviews in your online newsletter, on your website, or on your social media pages.

There is a similar policy in place at TripAdvisor, outlined in an extensive network of forum posts. One somewhat extreme example outlines a hotel in England that offered guests 10% discounts and free room upgrades in exchange for positive reviews on TripAdvisor, the Good Food Guide, or the Michelin Guide. Read more, following this link, shortened using Google URL Shortener:
http://goo.gl/cPmHxW

This scheme backfired and the property was red flagged, meaning that TripAdvisor posted that “individuals associated with this property may have interfered with traveler reviews” and showing users a record of the property’s alleged wrong-doing. How do you think that makes your listing look?

There are also companies that specialize in online reputation management, offering to repair damaged reputations for a fee, usually quite ineffectively. If you are considering a reputation management service, the damage has already been done, and you are no doubt at least indirectly responsible for the creation of that damage. There are even companies that will generate fake reviews for a fee, even though this practice is illegal in the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy. Quite naturally, those so-called “services” should never be considered. The best way to get positive reviews is to provide exemplary service that, in and of itself, will encourage people to share their enthusiasm!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Make the Most of Online Review Sites

July 28th, 2013

Years ago, as a business owner you were pretty much in control of how people perceived your business. You advertised to influence opinions, you went out of your way to please your customers, and you provided a quality product or service. Everybody was happy. In the rare instances where a customer was displeased, he told his friends and never returned. Things could have been worse.

Today, things are worse. Conventional advertising has lost much of its credibility and clout, and most people turn to their network of friends (including virtual friends online) for trusted opinions and recommendations. That dissatisfied customer from years past now has the means to amplify his displeasure before an audience of thousands. On the other hand, the same tools are available for your happiest of customers to share their experience and influence equally vast numbers of potential guests.

Most campground owners seem to fear review sites more than an attack of locusts. Those fears are unfounded. P.T. Barnum is often credited with coining the statement, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” and that concept is truer today, in the age of the Internet, than ever before in history.

First of all, a successful campground will be operated in a customer-friendly manner, and reviews of that campground are likely to be overwhelmingly positive. My advice is to proactively promote those reviews and the sites that contain the reviews, rather than simply reacting in a state of panic when a negative review appears, typically written by someone with an axe to grind.

Rather than hiding from reviews, I encourage campground owners to provide links to the major review sites – and to individual reviews – on their own websites and within the social media. Quote great reviews on your Facebook page and in Tweets, and encourage your guests to post their own reviews, particularly if a review site has a less than stellar recent review of your park. Some review sites allow you to respond to reviews, while others do not. Either way, the most recent reviews and the most intelligently written reviews (and responses) carry the greatest credibility. Older reviews or those written by somebody who is obviously on a rant are generally dismissed by readers.

If you are going to encourage your happy campers to submit reviews, you need to know the review sites that count. You also need to know whenever a review of your park appears online. Use Google Alerts to stay on top of what is being posted about your business online. When guests are checking out, commenting how much they enjoyed their stays, ask them if they would like to submit a review that puts that satisfaction into words. If they agree, send them a follow-up e-mail with a direct link to the review page for your park on the review site of your choice. (Don’t ask them to submit a review on more than one site, since that would be a bit of an imposition.) The following is a list of some of the review sites that need to be on your radar.

RV Park Reviews – This site has been online since 2000 and includes nearly 200,000 reviews of every campground in North America, including yours. If you are not aware of this site and have not read its reviews of your park, you have only yourself to blame. Use this site to your advantage. If you have the highest rated park in your city or town (based upon the average of your 10 most recent reviews, rated on a 1-10 scale), promote that fact by providing a link to the reviews for your park and its competitors. Use transparency to your advantage!

Yelp – This site was started in 2004, gets over 100 million unique visitors per month, and hosts over 39 million reviews. Originally designed to rate local business service providers (like mechanics, electricians, and plumbers), it now includes reviews to lodging services, including campgrounds. As a business, you can setup a free business account that allows you to post photos and additional information that will enhance your listing on the site, as well as generating free widgets that you can use to promote your Yelp reviews on your website. Follow this link to get started: https://biz.yelp.com

TripAdvisor – This is the world’s largest travel-related website. It gets more than 200 million unique visitors per month and contains over 100 million trusted reviews covering more than 2.5 million businesses around the world. Although the site originally concentrated on hotels and similar lodging, it now includes campgrounds under the Specialty Lodging category. If your campground is not yet listed on TripAdvisor, you can submit a listing by following this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/GetListedNew

Because of the volume of traffic, reviews on TripAdvisor carry plenty of clout. As a business owner, you can (and should!) create a free business account, allowing you to update your business details, add photos, receive e-mail notifications of new reviews, and – most importantly – respond to reviews. You can also generate free widgets that can link your website to your reviews. Follow this link to get started: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Owners

GuestRated – Campground owners are probably also familiar with the GuestRated program that was founded by industry consultant Bob MacKinnon in 2008 as the first ongoing guest satisfaction rating program relating to the private campground industry in the United States. Run in conjunction with National ARVC, this online survey program provides very useful consumer information and statistical analytics to campground owners, as well as providing an opportunity to respond to guest reviews. There are also widgets that allow campgrounds to feature reviews and ratings on their websites and that encourage visitors to initiate their own review process. Learn more about the program at: http://www.guestreviews.com

This is far from a conclusive list of review sites. There are many other campground review sites that generate less traffic and less impact upon public opinion. I would recommend not fretting over any of the more obscure review sites, particularly if any investment of your time would come at the expense of the attention that you should be devoting to these review sites that count.

This post was written by Peter Pelland