Online Reputation Management Companies’ Business Practices: Scam… or… well, scam?

A wise man once said: “Don’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years“.

Second post in less than a month here… feels like some kind of Guinness record or something for me. But, I digress.

Back to what we’re here for;¬†Online Reputation Management (ORM) companies, specifically, those companies that target hotels. I’ll preface all of this with the following; monitoring and management are two different animals. Monitoring companies that will compile reviews and mentions of the hotel from around the internet definitely provide a legitimate service. I wholeheartedly believe that hotels should monitor online reviews and then manage that to the best of their abilities (ie. respond to poor ones, actually work to correct the underlying complaints in the “real world”, etc). What I have a problem with is companies that offer to manage the hotel’s reputation for them.

In a lot of industries, there are random complaint and “rip-off” websites that exist for people to vent. In those cases, an extremely negative review can have significant repercussions on a small business – given that larger outlets don’t exist in which lots of positive reviews can balance out the poor ones (whether valid or not). I suppose having someone ensure that a positive post about your business is propagated to every possible corner of the internet could help and in theory isn’t really “cheating”.

In the world of hospitality, however, there really are just a couple of players (that all happen to see significant volume when compared to similar sites in other industries): TripAdvisor, Online Travel Agencies (Expedia, booking.com, etc) and Google Local. And unlike a random “I got ripped off” site, the hotel has a decent amount of control for each of these.

So how exactly does one “manage” a reputation that’s essentially built through these review sites? Since the hotel can respond to the reviews, the only way to improve the overall rating is to add more positive ones. Since this 3rd party doesn’t actually work at the hotel, they can’t very well solicit reviews from the guests on the way out the door.

So how do they improve your ranking?

Could it be by posting a bunch of fake positive reviews?

Could it be by removing the falsified 1-star reviews they posted right before calling you?

There have been numerous stories of companies engaging in these very practices (including the company that called me today – thus the reason for the venting).

I don’t want any of my hotels to have bad reviews online. But the reality is that sometimes we do miss the mark on-property and don’t provide the service that our guests expect, so complaints can occur. The way to manage your reputation is to fix the issues that occur at the hotel and ensure that guests feel like they made the right choice by staying with us in the first place. We are in the hospitality industry after all. Crafting the perfect stay should be what we do – not pretending that every bad comment is from a pathological liar or ex-employee with a vendetta.

So while it would be nice to have someone rid the interwebs of every negative comment ever made about the hotel, I don’t see a legitimate way to do this. Posting a falsified positive review may not be easily detected; that certainly doesn’t make it right. Maybe everyone should spend a bit more time just fixing what’s really wrong, instead of trying to cover it up later.

Any you know, for an industry focused on managing reputations, I find it rather ironic that when researching any ORM company, the first page of search results includes numerous “Rip-off report”-type site results for that company’s name.

You know, maybe if they spent a bit more time managing their own reputation I wouldn’t be so quick to tell them I’ll never be interested in their BS business practices and hang up before they can complete the sales pitch when they call me.

But, then again, why should I bother being nice? If my reputation in the industry is that I call a scam artist a scam artist, so be it.

And after all, Mama did say to knock em out.

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