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beyond tripadvisor – seed the online conversations and monitor how the conversation grows

Although the social media phenomenon has added yet a new layer to the increasingly complicated online marketing world, the need to monitor the discussions online is nothing new.  Hoteliers have been trying to get their heads around how to “control” the message since the Tripadvisor online customer testimonials started taking over the search engine real-estate over 7 years ago.  but to engage in the online testimonial as social media has changed the way that consumers are researching their travel decisions.

We have addressed the “what do I do about poor review on Tripadvisor” question for years.  Elizabeth Osmeloski offers a great basic approach to managing this process in a recent ClickZ article , “Crafting a Social Media Strategy Around Travel“, in which she says be aware of the travel sites that post your information, keep your information up to date (as like it or not, your customers are reading these reviews!) and don’t be afraid of the bad review – as it does lend some credibility to the comments as a whole, especially if you are taking steps to resolve the issues and are joining in the conversation by responding to poor reviews.
Our recommendation has always been to embrace it and engage in the dialogue with your consumers, and now the playing field has once again shifted to include millions of threads of conversations that are occurring online through community forums and blogs, social media sites like Facebook and twitter, WIKI’s, RSS feeds and the list goes on.  Now there is really no choice but to engage in the online testimonial as social media has changed the way that consumers are researching their travel decisions.

The evolution of “word of mouse

The social media phenomenon has lead to the next generation of the Web – where communities drive the conversation.  Yet another reason why marketers need to pay attention and engage in the dialogue.  The typical consumer now will travel through conversation threads, search engines, review websites like tripadvisor, travel intermediary sites such as Expedia (for rate comparison), local destination websites for area information, and then possibly a brand website to book.  That is one LONG buying process – but the good news is that the conversion often still brings traffic back to the brand website – it just takes longer to get there!

This extended buying process complicates things as it not just about rate as it was when the travel intermediaries started to dominate.  Now that there are sites like Facebook and Myspace that online consumers are turning to for the “real” story about the products they are buying.  Web communities are being built around brands (I just joined the “I love LuluLemon” Group on Facebook – and now I am blogging about it!), and the marketing mix needs to shift accordingly.
Start to read your online reviews, or have the online conversations monitored – there are tools now that do this.  (www.attentio.com ).  Is there one solution?  I would say no, but the added communications channels can also extend your brand reach – so seed the conversation and start to watch your web presence grow!

[tags]tripadvisor, travel, social media marketing, sem, tourism marketing, hotel marketing, website marketing, facebook, attention.com, online reviews, blogs [/tags]

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