Restaurateurs and hoteliers should take a "kill with kindness" approach to negative reviews on TripAdvisor, according to social media experts. Meanwhile, they should exercise extreme caution in handing over responsibility for social media to staff.
James Lewis (pictured above
"TripAdvisor is the greatest place to find data about your business that you can imagine," he told The Caterer's Digital Summit.
James Lewis, Vikki O'Neill, Harry Holgate and Amanda Afiya at The Caterer Digital Summit
"People want to tell you what is wrong with your operation]. We should not want to bury this. It is incredible data. I believe it is human nature to want to help people."
He said that while the vast majority of reviews on TripAdvisor were positive, the negative ones "must be dealt with carefullyâ¦ But we should relish it. Not hide from them."
Harry Holgate, content director at restaurant PR agency Me:Mo Interactive, agreed, and warned against taking issue with negative comments.
"Even if it is the most horrible post, there is no point going down the road of the angry man. There is no margin there." Operators, he said, should instead "kill it with kindness".
Lewis also pointed out that TripAdvisor's ranking algorithm factors frequency of reviews into its calculations, so that even negative reviews could deliver a positive outcome.
While some restaurateurs, such as Sticky Walnut proprietor Gary Usher have developed a cult following by telling disgruntled customers where to go, Lewis pointed out that with so much visibility and social interaction, to try and fight negative comments with negativity was a route to losing business.
"We have never had so much competition in our lives," he said. "If you come across as a bit spikey, people will just go somewhere else."
In terms of social media rules of engagement, the expert panel said operators must carefully choose which staff members operate social channels.
Citing the recent Twitter contretemps between Hotel du Vin Bristol and chef-restaurateur Mitch Tonks - after the outlet refused to serve late night drinks to his guests Angela Hartnett, Ken Hom and Yotam Ottolenghi - Lewis said such PR disasters would never fully wash out due to the internet's all-seeing eye.
"Once you've said it, it will never go away - and no matter what else you have done well, you are remembered for that," he added.
Holgate said the incident showed operators were "giving the keys not just to their car, but their car with their house on the back of it, to people they don't know very well. You are handing control of your brand to someone who might not be suitable."
The panel also advised that while social media by its nature is always on, those replying to comments should switch off when the restaurant is closed for the night.
That view was largely confirmed by conference delegates. Polled on social media management, 63% said they did not take phones to bed with them.
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