A story broke Sept. 20 about a British couple kicked out of a hotel because of an allegedly negative anonymous review on the popular site TripAdvisor.
Two days into their three-day stay at Golden Beach Hotel in Blackpool, England, a manager apparently told the couple to leave…without even giving them a refund, according to this story in USA Today. The manager was so barmy (couldn’t resist) over their review that he supposedly called the cops to escort them out!
Undoubtedly, the PR and social media world will tar and feather the hotel, and rightly so. Clearly, the better solution would have been to respond to the review online in a constructive way and try to fix the problem the couple was disappointed in. Even more clear, kicking the couple out was a bad business decision, an even worse PR move, and gives the impression the hotel isn’t too interested in changing its ways.
The hotel’s reward for the bad decision–going from a harsh review that might be read by a few hundred users to harsh headlines in major publications worldwide that will be read by hundreds of thousands.
By the way: The guy who was kicked out is recovering from cancer.
With that out of the way, does the hotel have any valid point worth mentioning? I think so: Anonymous posts.
BBC is reporting that other hoteliers in the area are now joining in a fight against TripAdvisor and anonymous reviews. Their argument–that harsh negative attacks accompanied with no identity is cowardice. I agree completely, but would venture a guess that many don’t want any negative comments. I would also say that for every person who was turned away by an anonymous posting, there are 10 others who became customers. So, by potentially suing TripAdvisor, they are biting the hand that feeds them.
Several months ago, I wrote a post, An Injured Duck, a Tragic Death and Anonymous Posters, about the absurdity of allowing nameless readers to post trashy comments on news stories. The post mentions the elaborate process of getting a letter to the editor published in contrast to the ridiculously easy process of getting an online comment published. Online, all it takes is a few seconds, and your anonymous comments–smart, silly or hateful–are published…sometimes in the biggest publications in the world!
If interactive media really is all it’s cracked up to be–I believe it is–then why don’t we give it equal treatment with print media?
With all the good that social media has brought us, it has also brought us a flood of thoughtlessness and hate in the guise of anonymity. Do you ever read the comments in news stories or YouTube? I often wish I could watch YouTube videos without any comments. One anonymous zombie comment always seems to beget other anonymous zombie comments.
This practice does nothing for brand engagement, or freedom of speech for that matter. Instead, it sullies the reputation of websites that pride themselves on quality content. It also makes it difficult for businesses to effectively defend themselves.
Why not require users to set up accounts with full names and put in some system to help ensure they’re legit? Yes, fewer users would do it. But as a user of these sites myself, I would be far more interested in reading 20 thoughtful, by-lined reviews–positive and negative–than 200 mindless ones. In addition, if a business were serious about customer service, it could offer incentives to negative reviewers to try to win them over.
This is not possible on the nameless Web.
Requiring posters to use their real names would enhance brand engagement. As a fully identified member of an online community, I take pride in my posts. I bet most others do too. Conversely, if I’m using the handle zombie112, I’m not going to feel like I’m a real member. And I’m not going to take the extra time to ensure my thoughts are as fair or as logical as they should be. Others, frankly, will be far more hateful. In addition, enacting identification measures would substantially lessen the highly unethical, and somewhat common, practice of competitors illegitimately trashing your company on review sites.
However…the part about anonymous posts is where I draw my line for support of this hotel. In the picture, you can clearly see management’s alleged responses to users as aggressive, unapologetic and downright combative.
Sites such as TripAdvisor are a boon to businesses and consumers. They convert cold leads, deliver unfiltered feedback so businesses can better serve customers, and offer the collective power of past customers’ experiences so new ones can make better decisions.
These sites, however, require that businesses engage posters in a positive way. Be genuine. Be humble. Often, that is all it takes to win an angry poster over. Certainly, not being apologetic and calling posters names isn’t going to win you any points with anyone reading the reviews.
I hope interactive media sites are seriously exploring having some ID systems in place down the line.
Until we apply the same discipline to the social Web as we do traditional media, I fail to see how they ever could be on the same level.