Power to the people
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Power to the people

The Internet and the new interpretation of freedom of speech it offers has long been causing headaches to many different members of global society: governments, businesses and individuals. However, many are now learning to manage it rather than fight it. With some surprising results.   Two years ago, TripAdvisor was

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Thu 11 Oct 2012 12:00 AM

The Internet and the new
interpretation of freedom of speech it offers has long been causing headaches
to many different members of global society: governments, businesses and
individuals. However, many are now learning to manage it rather than fight it.
With some surprising results.

 

Two years ago, TripAdvisor was virtually unused and
little understood both by Italian businesses and consumers. Since then, its popularity
has exploded, and it has quickly overtaken what was probably its closest rival,
the Italian portal called 2spaghi.it.

 

Initially, user comments tended to be almost
exclusively negative: people were motivated to write when they were unhappy.
But that, too, has changed, and the concept of giving and taking from the Web
has grown. The idea that it is very useful to read other people’s detailed
reviews in a variety of languages, including English, quickly became popular
among consumers, and today top restaurants and hotels in Florence have
seemingly enjoyed the flow of feedback about their services and efforts.

 

However, most hotels and restaurants really don’t
enjoy it. Some even detest it. And a few are even banding together to form
?it’s not fair’ pressure groups.

 

The most obvious problem is that of fake reviews:
businesses solicit multiple glowing write-ups while others are left only with
the damning reports written by the few customers who were peeved enough to
write. And these have consequences on business, especially in such a
tourism-driven economy such as Florence’s, where a hotel or restaurant’s
TripAdvisor ranking will have a direct effect.

But a much deeper problem is that of handling negative
reviews. It’s hard. Very hard. Where there are words (written and spoken),
there will always be spin, inaccuracy, lies, errors and foul play. It is to be
expected and those in the tourism industry must learn to manage it. To ensure
their survival, TripAdvisor (as well as Google Places, Zagat, Yelp and others)
all depend on the perceived reliability and accuracy of most of the information
supplied. Fake reviews are their problem in the long term.

 

However, conversely, if a negative fake review is on a
business’s page, it is the business’s problem in the short term. And the very
best reaction is to learn to address and manage these reviews, always
remembering that a business should not be as concerned with speaking directly
to the person who wrote the review as with communicating effectively with the
thousands (or millions) of people who might read it. It’s a tough call, and one
with which many Florentine businesses are struggling. It’s even a tough call
when the reviews are genuinely bad! And that’s the other mental obstacle to
overcome: a negative review may not necessarily be fake, planted by competitors
or others.

 

These are hard, hard economic times in Tuscany, and in
order to survive, businesses need to ensure not only that their core business
is up to scratch, but that they are able to handle their Web relations in a way
that is informed, objective and effective. And of course, that they do so in
real time. A comment that is burning a hole in your reputation cannot be left
unattended until the weekend. Dealing with reviews involves an entirely new
skill set, but one that all businesses need in using the World Wide Web. It is
also much more effective to competently address a negative review than to
invest time and energy in calling ?foul play.’

 

User-generated content is not going to go away and
Florentine businesses must learn to manage it. Some do and they do it well.
Some try but don’t succeed. Too many pretend it doesn’t exist. And a few fight
it. Who would you place your bets on?

 

Managing the good and the bad

Sponsored by Italian trade union
Confesercenti, training agency Cescot and In Your Tuscany, an association for
accommodation businesses in Tuscany, a meeting was held in Florence on September
24, 2012 with Vittorio Deotto, territory manager for Business Development at
TripAdvisor. Contrary to expectations, the meeting went outstandingly well. It
was magnificently productive, possibly motivating, and certainly useful. One
comment at the meeting stood out: ‘We have the eyes of the world on our
culture, heritage, art and cuisine. And the world is talking about us. We don’t
even have to stimulate the conversation-it’s already happening. Are you really
going to sit back and ignore it? Or are you going to listen, acknowledge and
maybe even take part?’ Oh, we know the answer!

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