A couple weeks ago, Union Street Guest House (USGH), a hotel in Hudson, New York, went viral for claims that it was fining guests who leave bad reviews. The situation quickly spread among various business publications as well as social media.
“Union Street Guest House went viral for all the wrong reasons,” Chris Wagoner, USGH owner, said. Wagoner alleged the policy was intended as a joke, even though the following did appear on their website:
If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event.
In addition to social media fueling the spread of the story, it was also the place Wagoner took to respond, adding a post that said, “the policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and was certainly never enforced.”
Their Facebook page has since been deleted. Furthermore, a Yelp review from November 2013 also noted that the hotel contacted the Yelp user directly requesting they remove their negative review or else face a fine, thereby negating the hotel’s current stance that the policy was never enforced.
Virality Through Social Networks
Before social media and similar social review sites, a situation such as this may not have otherwise had the opportunity to gain as much traction. Dealing with a crisis online can be daunting, especially if you’re not prepared. And with social media’s immediacy and consumer feedback, retaliation can happen quickly.
Negative sentiments can easily be shared, searched, and escalated before the truth or clarifying explanations have the chance to be organized. Having a plan in place to respond in certain situations can help prevent a potential reputation mishap from escalating farther than necessary.
Trying to dodge responsibility if/when you’re clearly at fault will only do more harm than good. You can’t backtrack on something that has already entered the public arena, so rather than trying to act as though the issue hasn’t happened, own up to it.
It seems, in this instance, rather than own up to their flawed policy, the hotel tried to pass it off as a joke, even though there was evidence to the contrary.
Respond and Clarify in a Timely Manner
Clarifying intent is a timely manner can be crucial to how to remainder of the news spreads online. USGH didn’t act quickly enough, allowing multiple, legitimate sites to get wind of the situation, and similarly pursue their own additional information, allowing extras like the Yelp review to surface.
Use Social Media Responsibly
USGH took to Facebook to address the matter, and then deleted their Facebook. Clearly, they were receiving more backlash than anticipated, and rather than manage and continue to “battle” it, they essentially ran and hid. This conveys more guilt and inability to manage online reputation.
If there’s anything we can learn from this, it’s that online reputation management is something that should be anticipated for, not reacted to. It will certainly be interesting to see how business continues for USGH!
What other takeaways can we gather from this hotel and others’ online crisis and mishaps?