Empower your best contributors

30 10 2009

medalIn an online  community, your top contributors are your site’s godsend. Roll out the red carpet for them, recognise and reward them, make them feel as valuable as they are to your community and brand.

Especially in the early stages of your community, your top  contributors are loyal visitors who continue to comment and post ideas – even if your numbers are small. They talk to the community manager by name, and set the high standards that should be part of any online community – listening and responding.

Once you have an established and working community, these people become your star pupils. But keep in mind – if you make a mistake, or become slack – they will certainly pick you up on it!

Your top contributors answer members questions before you have a chance, and will defend your brand when need be. A response to a customer’s negative comment always looks much better coming from a loyal customer than a company representative with obvious bias!

You can empower your best contributors by:

  • Personally thanking them for the contributions and help.
  • Launching a ‘Top Contributors’ blog post – where you recognise their efforts. Woolworths Everyday Matters community has recently launched their second Hall of Fame (disclaimer: I currently help Woolworths with their community).
  • Assign badges which assigns a special status to your best contributors. This has been effectively done in sites like Tripadvisor, which assigns a number next to their screen name to indicate how many times they have left reviews on the site, or Hostel World which classifies their customers on how well-travelled they are – Novice Nomad, Avid Traveller and Globetrotter.
  • In larger communities or communities where comments aren’t pre-moderated, you can assign these members moderating privileges which allows them to flag inappropriate comments, or allow new comments through. Communities like Game Spot, and Small Business Online Community. Communities like Slashdot use a ‘karma’ system, which depends on how good/bad/neutral your contributions have been so far.
  • Ask them to guest blog for the site.

Remember to regularly research who your best contributors are, as there may be new members rising up the ranks – especially once they see how good it is to be a top contributor on your site!

5 guilty pleasures online

16 10 2009

embarrassedWhile I like to believe that the majority of my time spent online is both educational and worthwhile, I have to admit that a few guilty pleasures have  entered my favourites list overtime. Enjoy (and don’t judge)!

  1. Lamebook – Similar to watching a car crash, the content is extremely inappropriate, shocking and mostly hilarious – it’s simply amazing what some people deem suitable to post on their Facebook!
  2. Perez Hilton – You’ll either love his infamous blog or hate it, but I have to admit that I can’t seem to get enough of reading about the lives of the rich and famous. Highly addictive and very voyeuristic.
  3. Tripadvisor’s Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels (2009) – While I also love reading (and dreaming of the never likely to happen!) Conde Nast’s Golden List, I also enjoy reading the reviews of some of the worst hotels in the world. Mostly because I’m relieved that I’ve never had the pleasure of being their guest, but I also can’t believe how bad some of these places sound!
  4. People of Walmart – Simply described as “what were they thinking?!?” – take a look for yourself.
  5. Pick the Perp – WARNING: An addictive time waster – who knew I was so terrible at spotting a criminal?

The truth of customer reviews

4 09 2009

up down thumbAfter organising an epic two month journey for 15 people, visiting over 16 destinations in Europe – it’s fair to say I had done my fair share of research before I left.

Hours were spent on sites like Tripadvisor and Hostelworld, and most of my free time was spent trawling through the customer reviews and ratings, before making decisions on accommodation and modes of travel. While the excitement of the upcoming journey kept me going – if I never organise another trip, it’ll be too soon!

I have become a consumer that (especially in terms of hospitality) will only make a decision after I have read several customer reviews persuading me that my time and money is worthwhile. And this has been a growing consumer trend for awhile, as trendwatching.com reports.

Now when you want to book a hotel over the other side of the world, in an unfamiliar destination, it’s no longer a luck of the draw situation, or a case of you having to trust the (often deceiving) photos on their website. Nowadays you can read through hundreds of customer reviews from people who have actually stayed there, and even look at the more truthful photos that have been uploaded. Booking the perfect holiday has never been more easy.

But do all consumers tell the truth in their reviews? How can you be sure that they haven’t over exaggerated their positive/negative comments?

How can the owners/brands/companies control what is being said in these reviews?

I have noticed that on Tripadvisor, when a customer leaves a complaint about the establishment warning others to not stay there, the owner will sometimes rebut their comments, often blaming the complainant for their unpleasant stay and for any grievances they experienced, because of course they had done everything in their power to rectify the situation with a very difficult customer. Interesting PR method??

But other places do choose to respond to complaints by offering their apologies and thanks for their feedback. This is perhaps a more recommended way to handle the situation, as owners need to remember that this is a public forum, and by addressing the situation and accepting responsibility, rather than attacking the customer, future customers may still consider staying there.

All of the research for my trip did pay off, with 15 out of 16 accommodation decisions working out perfectly. My choice in Prague was an interesting one, which included a room in the roof, in which we couldn’t stand up properly, a very eccentric owner, and a location in the middle of nowhere. But surprisingly the reviews mentioned none of this?

While the humourous experience can now be put down to the joys of travelling, I finally figured out why I had been misguided on our departure day. The little old Czech lady sprung open me as we were attempting to get out the door with all of our luggage, and said in her broken English “make sure you leave good reviews!”, and then becoming serious as she grabbed onto my arm “at least 97%!”. Ahhh mystery solved!

You can run but you can’t hide…

23 03 2009

3273631811_c485174b94_mAs I mentioned earlier, before I book accommodation for any location – I always, always, always trawl through the hundreds of reviews on sites like tripadvisor.com first.

When I travelled through Europe last year – the one hotel that I ended up leaving before the end of my stay – was the one that had some very mixed reviews, and as I checked out the pieces all fell into place with what I had read from customer’s previous experiences… and it was a lesson learned!

Last week Andy Sernovitz brought to my attention on his blog, Tripadvisor’s latest addition to their site – “2009 Dirtiest Hotels”.

The New York hotel that had secured itself the coveted top position of ‘Dirtiest Hotel’ in New York had a multitude of scathing reviews, one customer warning “Dirty AND VERY UNSAFE FOR WOMAN!!!! THE NYPD call it THE HOTEL SHINNING -after stephen kings book”, while another reminisced –  “Body found, stoned doorman…YAY welcome to NYC”

Although amusing for me, and unfortunate for the people who had to endure any time at these “hotels” – it is through their experiences  – that future travellers can be prevented from suffering the same fate.

No longer do travellers have to rely on hotels websites, that seem to look nothing like the real thing when you finally arrive, and no longer do you have to rely on brochure recommendations, where the hotel has paid for the inclusion.

No accommodation – from the most ritzy to even the most budget and obscure – can hide from being reviewed somewhere on-line. While one can hope that this will hopefully ensure that most hotels lift their game, you can be guaranteed if they choose to ignore what’s being said – will end up on  a list similar to Tripadvisor’s.

But this is a warning to all brands, not just those in the hospitality industry – you can run but you can’t hide…