Whether we think of the reviews as gospel, take them with a large grain of salt or somewhere in between, it’s hard to imagine buying a new phone or booking a hotel, without at least a quick peek at what other people thought.
While employer review sites, such as the recently-launched SEEK company reviews, are relatively new, travel review site TripAdvisor was launched in 2000. The travel industry has had some 16 years to grapple with the challenges of UGC, and after some initial scepticism, is now leveraging sites, such as TripAdvisor, to their advantage.
We spoke with three Australian SMEs operating in this sector to discover how they did it.
Word of mouth
“For us, UGC is digital word of mouth,” says Stuart Wesierski, co-owner and director of Zepher Tours. Zepher carries 100–200 clients a week on its one-day tours of the Hunter Valley, and has recently moved into longer tours of the east coast.
“Our search engine optimisation (SEO) ranking is higher because of UGC – the more people write reviews using keywords, the higher we come up in Google searches,” he says.
Zepher pays close attention to Google webmaster tools, and adjusts what they do online to attract more traffic. Wesierski estimates some 70–80% of their business comes to them online. UGC reviews contribute directly to this, but also indirectly via improved SEO. “It’s a double win for us,” he says.
Refining an opinion
“TripAdvisor is an advantage to us, as it at times helps remove the need to talk about the pros and cons of each property with every client,” says Andy Buerckner. Buerckner is the director of Platinum Travel Corporation, a mid-sized privately-owned company focused on the corporate sector. “We rely on UGC as, to some extent, people have already crossed some hotels off their list.”
Rosie Richardson is the director of Mosaic Travel, a boutique tour operator that focuses on authentic travel experiences in the leisure market. A recent example of organising a trip to Russia – not a destination she deals with every day – demonstrates how UGC fits in with her business.
“TripAdvisor would never be my first point of call. I researched the trip by starting with personal contacts, and then tried Russia specialist wholesalers, before a personal recommendation identified two possible hotels.”
Richardson then checked the hotels on a specialist UGC forum, which reviews hotels for other travel agents. This gave her an expert opinion, more authoritative that anything on hotel websites. “At this point, I would always check TripAdvisor – to validate the opinion I’ve already formed.”
Richardson finds that TripAdvisor can help her with very up-to-date information, allowing her to adjust quickly to changing circumstances. “I can react to things like bedbugs in a hotel, eroded beaches, a change of hotel management or a construction site next door.”
Owning the feedback
Buerckner explains how his company is starting to use internal UGC to improve the service it provides to its corporate customers.
“Our corporate online booking tools, equipped with travel policy restrictions, now have the ability for staff to access UGC generated by their own employees for specific hotels.”
“This makes travelling employees more comfortable in their hotel selections, and reduces the risk of unhappiness and negative feedback, which is, of course, good for us.” Buerckner is now introducing the possibility of combining UGC across corporate clients, in order to increase the number of reviews.
The rough with the smooth
Wesierski sends out an automatic survey to all his clients after a trip, increasing the possibility of heading off a negative review before it hits social media.
“If we do get a bad review, though, we cop it on the chin,” he says. “We analyse it – occasionally it’s fake, and TripAdvisor do help to identify these – and then respond directly to individual complaints.”
All SEEK company reviews are manually moderated before they go live, and for an employee to submit a company review they have to have the company listed in their SEEK profile, reducing the risk of fake reviews.
Wesierski says that customers are more trusting if there are a lot of reviews of a business, even if not all of the reviews are glowing. His own company also has a high engagement with Facebook, and encourages customers to write reviews here too.
For companies looking to find their way around UGC, Richardson’s advice is this. “UGC fits in with the sharing economy, and the consumer-to-consumer (C2C) economy,” says Buerckner. “You can’t always rely on what you read in a professionally written review, but with UGC, you very quickly get an idea of whether a company is one you want to be involved with.”
Importantly, UGC can become a tool to promote a company’s employee value proposition (EVP).
SEEK company reviews is also a space for employers to communicate and position their employer brand, helping them to provide candidates with the right information at the right time in their job search. This enables employers to attract more relevant and informed candidates and ultimately, employees who are engaged and a great cultural fit.
Buerckner agrees, “UGC will push the importance of company culture and staff retention.”