At its soul the internet is a network of connections and this network is incredibly powerful. The speed and scope of the distribution of information in the dot-com world ensures that news spreads far and wide as quickly as it can be typed. Though this ability to distribute information can open the world’s eyes to oppressive regimes and influence change for the good of humankind, it can sometimes be problematic for the hospitality operator. On the other hand, it can also be tremendously helpful and beneficial if harnessed in the right way.
First the downside. A bad customer experience is no longer limited to the few people who that customer can talk with, it is now swiftly posted up on the internet, often from within the restaurant itself, where hundreds and thousands of people can see it immediately. If negativity becomes the trend for your establishment it can have a permanent and deadly impact. Bad online reviews must be handled as swiftly as they appear on sites such as Tripadvisor. The ‘Manager’s Response’ is an essential tool to manage negativity and can even turn a bad situation around. Though even if you respond quickly Tripadvisor can take several days to post your response so there will always be some time when a negative review is displayed unchecked.
This user review system does of course lead to it’s own problems. Unscrupulous operators have been known to post negative reviews to provide their own business with a competitive boost. It is also well known that people post their own positive reviews to improve their average ratings. Both these practices go against everything user generated content stands for and review sites do everything they can to combat this dishonourable behaviour.
Other than the obvious benefits of good user-generated online reviews, the internet network can be exceptionally helpful. Through the online marketing tools that I’ve discussed in previous editions of Eat Out such as Twitter, Facebook, Email and Blogging, we all have direct access to The Crowd. Your Crowd are the people that you can communicate directly with through the internet such as your Followers on Twitter and your Friends on Facebook. This communication can work both ways, so your Crowd can tell you what it thinks, vote on favourable options and influence what you do.
Masterchef winner Mat Follas cleverly used his high public profile to use the Crowd to influence the development of his restaurant ‘Wild Garlic’ on The Guardian’s blog. Options for menu items and other aspects of the restaurant were proposed and readers responded with their thoughts and opinions. This allowed Mat to conduct live market research during the restaurant development process which no doubt ensured he was able to better satisfy market demand.
This idea can be taken a step further. Crowd-Sourcing is the concept of using the Crowd to completely contribute to the development of a product. For example, artwork for the interiors, recipes, menu ideas and so on could be proposed by people and then selected by those very same people using a voting system. This would mean that a restaurant could essentially be created by its market. As a marketing person I find this a very exciting notion and only possible thanks to the internet.
Crowd-Finance is also an exciting new idea that utilises the Crowd to help develop a business. I read recently about an urban campsite in Holland that used an online network to sell micro-shares of a campsite idea. Small share units were purchased that provided the shareholders with a number of free days use per year and a vote in decisions such as sustainability issues. It will be interesting to see if this works but I certainly hope it does. Communities could then in theory finance and influence their own restaurants. In these times of limited finance opportunities provided by the banking system what could be better than Crowd-Financed neighbourhood restaurants that provide exactly what the neighbourhood wants? If you’ve contributed to the development and finance of a restaurant you would certainly visit it on a regular basis and encourage all your friends to so too. Suppose 1000 people did the same! A revolutionary recipe for success perhaps? I hope somebody attempts this soon the in UK.