Social Media Ambush: When Hotel Guests Go on the Attack

By Daniel Edward Craig, Reknown

It’s an all-too familiar scenario. “A local guest complained about service via Twitter when she hadn’t yet said anything to staff,” says Donna, a senior communications specialist with five-star hotels. “Through monitoring we caught it immediately and [offered to] host a beverage for her and her friend.  She stayed for a complete meal but didn’t think it was enough—she wanted another full meal at a later date. She threatened to slam the restaurant via social media if we didn’t abide.”

Out of the explosive popularity of social networking a challenging new breed of customer has reared its head. Intoxicated by their social media clout, bristling with indignation and entitlement, and all too aware of how far some businesses will go to avoid negative commentary, they hint at, request or outright demand concessions and special treatment. And if they don’t get it, the underlying threat, whether real or imagined, is they’ll lash out via social networks. 

Dealing with difficult guests is nothing new to the hospitality industry, nor is occasionally buying a guest’s silence. But social media has raised the stakes, taking issues previously handled discreetly into the public realm, making word of mouth scalable and pumping it full of grievance-enhancing steroids.

Despite the best efforts of staff, critics can be relentless and unforgiving. And the attacks are taking place on property, from mobile devices in hotel lobbies, at restaurant tables, from rooms and in the business center.

Social media has empowered consumers, forcing companies to be more transparent and responsive. That’s a good thing. But hotels have always been responsive, if not transparent. Lodging a complaint is as simple as marching up to the front desk.

So why is it that some guests, upon encountering an issue, log on to Twitter or Facebook and bring it to the attention of their entire social graph instead of to the one person who can fix it the problem: the manager? Do they find it more satisfying to seek sympathy from friends than to seek a resolution from the hotel? Or do they assume complaining would be futile? Granted, in some hotels it would be.

And then there’s the guests who smile at checkout and say everything was marvelous, and then turn around and post a scathing review. Are they too shy to complain? Sure, it’s their prerogative, but do they realize the damage their words can have on employee morale, on business?

Instances of such behavior abound, and clearly the stress is getting to some. Last month the manager of a restaurant in Houston, Texas threw a patron out in mid-meal after she tweeted that the bartender was a “twerp” and a “jackoff”. ( Even spiritual guru Deepak Chopra cracked recently, responding to a critic by tweeting back “Shut up”. He then gushed in another tweet, “felt soooo good : )” (

In Blackpool, England last year a hotel manager, suspicious that a couple had posted a negative review on TripAdvisor, allegedly stormed into their room and demanded they leave (The Gazette).

These are actions hoteliers may fantasize about and quietly applaud, but not only do they violate the spirit of hospitality, the consequences can be far graver than a bad review. In the case of the Blackpool hotel, one of the ousted guests turned out to be recovering from chemotherapy, which sent the media into a frenzy of outrage and indignation.

Here are a few suggestions for handling social media ambush with the grace and aplomb of a consummate hotelier.

·        Monitor review sites and social networks closely. Even if you aren’t active on them many of your guests likely are.

·        Respond quickly to all feedback, positive or negative.

·        If comments are negative, attempt to take it offline.

·        When responding to negative reviews and commentary, always thank, apologize, explain, invite back and follow-up. No excuses, and no bribes.

·        If guests are still on property, don’t let them leave until you’ve won them over. Convert twerrorists into twadvocates, so to speak.

·        If comments are offensive, abusive or repetitive, you have the option of ignoring them. Tweets have the shelf life of tuna sushi in the desert sun; Facebook wall posts can be deleted. Sanitize, but don’t censor.

·        A social media policy and guidelines will help minimize risks and prepare you to act swiftly to minimize fallout.

·        The more helpful and engaged employees are with guests the more likely guests will be to bring issues to their attention before logging on to Facebook.

·        Fight negative with positive by rallying advocates and focusing on generating favorable feedback. 

Fortunately, social media subversion is rare; most travelers are constructive with criticism and generous with praise.

In any case, in this troubled economy hotels can’t afford to treat guests as anything but highly valued. Feedback and suggestions of any kind should be welcome—if not always heeded.

I asked Donna what happened with the tweet-happy guest gunning for another free meal. “We did not provide any future complimentary service,” she said. “And she never did post any social media follow-up, bad or good.”

Small mercies. In my next post, Social Media Coercion, I’ll discuss how to deal with everything from requests for special treatment to threats to write a bad review.


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21 Responses to “Social Media Ambush: When Hotel Guests Go on the Attack”

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  1. Mark Calpin says:

    A good article Daniel, and good advice. Often the issue for hotels is timing – getting the time to monitor their presence and what is being said about them.
    I also think that the use of brand advocates is an area that can be utilised more, but only if true advocates and not ghosts created by the hotel, that is down to moral fibre of people I suppose.
    During Social Media Week Glasgow, #SMWGLA, we have also been discussing such situations and general opinion is in line with your summary.

    • Good to know, Mark – thank you. And I agree, timing is everything. But it’s tough for hotels without a dedicated person monitoring. And even then that person can’t be “on” 24-hours. Yet many travelers expect an instantaneous response. Perhaps they should try the front desk instead of social media … Coming to Glasgow in mid-November! Or at least to Perth. Can’t wait.

  2. Corey Parkinson says:

    Great article!  I work with managing online reputations for a major hotel franchise and this information is spot on.  The one thing I would add is for hotels to keep their responses to negative feedback simple.  Don't get into too much detail about what occurred as that can actually make the situation seem worse.  A simple "we're sorry that happened, come back and see us and we'll make it right" is usually is the best way to go. 

    • Agreed, Corey – thanks for sharing. When it comes to online reviews I do recommend giving a brief explanation, since the audience is not so much the complainant as other travelers trying to make a decision where to book – and wanting assurance that it won’t happen to them, or if so why. But no excuses!

  3. Hi, Thanks for that. We recently were subject to such an attack on our jet boat trip, it was a first for us (17 years opperating) It took us back a bit and we tried hard to sort it out. The guy was awkward to deal with but we thought he was happy with his trip. But a few day later he e-mailed demanding a full refund or he would bad blog us on Trip Advisor, which he did.  His comments were unfounded and we were not able to defend ourselves. So we simply gave it up as a bad job and carried on making the other 99.9% happy.
    Cheers, Johan 

    • Yikes, sorry to hear this, Johan, but it sounds like you did your best. I’ll be posting about this type of scenario in the next day or two – stay tuned.

    • Gilly says:

      Johan, What he did was coercion/extortion both of which are illegal. Join Kwikchex and next time that happens they will write the guest a stinkeroonie pointing out that you will take legal action. It's £195pa. I wish I had been a member when I was threatened.

  4. Janice Alvarez says:

    Nice article, Daniel.  I wish more hotels follow your suggestions, especially those that represent the same brand.  I am a Director of Sales for a Hampton property and a fraction of what I do is monitor tweets, posts on FB, as well as our competition on TweetDeck.  More often than not, guests are surprised that someone responds right away when they write about us – good or bad.  Their reaction though leads me to believe that there are many more hotels that should be doing the same, but are not.
    Take care, Janice

    • Me too, Janice. All the power to you! But of course one of the challenges with brands is consistency: some properties are doing social media well, others not so much. A social media policy and guidelines across the brand will help, but they can’t always be enforced. In the meantime, you can only do your best, right? Keep it up!

  5. Being a Social Media Manager for a large hotel, I've experienced this a few times myself.
    I find the majority of people turn to social media because it's a public forum and a guest is almost guaranteed that their complaint will atleast be seriously adressed, if not fully rectified. I can certainly empathize with a bad experience and the desire to be heard. 
    However, unfortunately there are a small handful of people who simply want to cause a stir and want the attention of an organization and the rest of the world.  These are the people who have unrealistic demands from a property and generally are looking for freebies and comps.  
    I think if your property provides a good experience with great customer service, then the vast most of your public comments will be positive 🙂 

  6. Jami says:

    I read Andrew's article on another site that didn't allow for comments, so I sent him an e-mail telling him two stories from my own personal experiences with hotels to give him an idea why someone might choose to use social media rather than complain. I'm sure 80% of the people who use Twitter and what not to whine are just out for freebies, but there are those of us who've had experiences where complaining got us no where.
    I'm 35 years old. (In fact, I just turned 35 on the 8th.) This first story takes place when I was 16. When cellphones weren't in high use and still rather on the large side. We were in Boston in a very large hotel. I talked to mom about it this morning and she remembers it too. We were on the 34th floor near the elevators. One night during our stay they decided to clean the brass on the elevators and the fumes from the cleaner started wafting into our room. Mom and I both developed massive headaches. I had a more severe allergic reaction. It became difficult to breath and my lips began to turn blue.
    The hotel had a set up with the phones where you could not even call 911 without going through the front desk. No outside calls without the operator's help. Dad called. Instead of connecting us to 911 they said they'd send the hotel doctor. They did not. I was getting worse. Dad called again – and again – and again. Despite promises to send the hotel doctor and change our room, they did nothing. Finally he sceamed at them to let him call 911. They did not but they finally changed our room.
    While being farther away from the fumes did help me recover, they never did send the hotel doctor. Despite multiple promises too.
    Now I go to Vegas quite a bit. Not to gamble or party, that bores me. I go because I am a Barry Manilow fan. I used to go to the Hilton, obviously – because it had both Barry Manilow and Star Trek: The Experience. I always said "The only thing better would be Barry Manilow in a Star Trek uniform." Now, of course, I stay in the Paris.
    While Paris is wonderful for the most part, they really need to change the design of the bathrooms in their rooms. Many of the shower heads are so covered in corosion and/or broken so they leak a lot and have little to no pressure. The floors are extremely slippery even when dry. Even the handicapped rooms are not really safe. My mom is handicapped from a major back surgery. The tubs are too deep for her to get out of without help and the floors are as slippery as ice when wet. Same, truthfully, with the tub. Even I had trouble getting out without falling down and hurting myself.
    Despite me writing them about this a couple years ago yet, they still have not done anything about this. I don't understand how hard it could be to put some non-slip pads in the tubs and on the floor and replace at least the worse of the showerheads.
    I love the Paris otherwise. Though I do wish there was more for those of us who are not into gambling and drinking to do. But it would be nice if they fixed the bathrooms in the rooms.
    Of course, if they don't keep Barry Manilow there's really no reason for me to go back. Unless, of course, they sign another singer I like such as Michael Crawford. Or perhaps Tom Jones.
    Now those are just two of my experiences where going to managers and the other heads did not help. If there had been a Twitter or a Yelp back when I was 16 and denied medical treatment due to the hotel fearing for their reputation if paramedics came through their lobby, you can be darn tootin' I'd be complaining on there. I recently did it, in fact, for a motel I stayed at where the room was so dirty there was actually a blood stain in the shower from the previous person who stayed there. Even took pictures to prove how bad it was.
    I'm not the only person, of course. There's a site called Not Always Right which is really for those of us who've encountered some really dumb customers to vent and the link to the original article was posted on the NAR Facebook page. One lady there told how at a resteraunt she went to they got extremely poor service and bad food and she was loathe to complain because the manager had already yelled at her son for asking for another fork. So she complained via social media instead and got an apology and a $30 gift card.
    Seriously, with experiences like this, is it any wonder we complain via social media instead of to the managers? Especially with situations where they won't even allow a call to 911 when a teenage girl's lips are turning blue?
    I'm sure that hotel has changed a lot since we now live in a world where even the homeless can get a cellphone. Still, they should have sent the doctor like they promised.

  7. tacogirl says:

    Caught this article on explore social media for tourism group [linked in] Great read an very useful information. Thanks.

  8. Conny Nordin says:

    Hello, Daniel. Great article, thank you. For a boutique property such as ours, the Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa, it is indeed difficult to monitor the social media sites constantly: it is I, as owner, that does it. Tripadvisor is a significant one and we have had wonderful reviews and the infrequent less than happy one, to which I always try to respond (perhaps in more detail than the norm). One guest told me he reads all the reviews when choosing a property, but focuses on the less than perfect ones. He chose our resort, because of the way the owner answered the feedback. I could not have received better reinforcement than we much engage our customers.

    • Good to hear, Conny – keep it up! I’ve heard from many travelers who tell me they’re surprised and impressed when they see sincere, thoughtful responses from management to traveler reviews.

  9. Chios says:

    If comments are negative, attempt to take it offline. – You really think this is the best approach? Event if it was a valid comment? 🙂

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