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The rise of blogging spells bad news for hard-won reputations in the hospitality trade, writes Sarah Lelic, Editor, mad.co.uk.
One of the biggest developments of 2005 was the emergence of blogging as a force to be reckoned with in the online space. From the iPod Nano to Big Brother to senior politicians and public figures few areas of modern life have escaped the attention of the bloggers. What's more, it is widely expected that this growth will continue in 2006 with blogging evolving from a niche online activity into one which is embraced by mainstream consumers around the globe.
Of course the rise of blogging has implications for brands across the board, but none more so than the hospitality industry. In recent years a wealth of consumer review websites dedicated to the restaurant trade have grown up and as consumers become increasingly blog-aware these will grow in influence, both as a source of recommendation and as a vehicle for dissatisfied customers to vent their spleen.
So much so, that gone are the days when a happy punter would tell one person of their experience and an unhappy one would perhaps tell 25 people. These days it is far more likely a dissatisfied customer will tell 25,000 people, all of whom also have the skills and often the inclination to tell another 25,000. All of this, of course, makes controlling one's brand and reputation extremely difficult.
But like it or not, blogging and online discussion forums are now a feature of modern day life, so what can restaurants do to ensure they don't fall foul of the bloggers? Unfortunately not that much. The obvious solution is, of course, to ensure that you never send a customer away having had a bad experience but, as well as being a virtually impossible task this still doesn't entirely solve the problem.
In a bid to counteract this, some larger restaurant chains do employ PRs, or even well-placed friends, to post positive comments on leading blogsites. But this is a dangerous strategy. As bloggers become increasingly sophisticated "placed" reviews will become more and more obvious and thus, ultimately, self-defeating. Better to let the genuinely satisfied customers sing your establishment's praises online.
There is no doubt that blogs have the power to become the scourge of brands everywhere. Nevertheless, there is one small crumb of comfort to be had. The web, if nothing else, is an egalitarian medium and you can rest assured that if you are falling foul of the bloggers, chances are your rivals are as well.