Publicity for Roach Motels

I enjoyed reading New York Times travel writer Joe Sharkey’s interview with CEO Stephen Kaufer in which Kaufer defends the integrity of the just-published, crowd-sourced “2010 Dirtiest Hotels” list.

In the piece “A List No Hotel Wants to Be On,” Kaufer states the obvious:

“…if you’re a hotel on that list, it is not a good sign for your business…Please believe me,” he added, “we are careful about the lists, so a hotel isn’t named just because there are four bad reviews. We are dealing with someone’s reputation. It’s the ones that are consistently bad that make it — and I challenge any curious individual to check out one of these places and see whether they deserve to be on the list.”

He then goes on to explain how the sheer number of actual user-reviews pre-empts the potential for fraudulent reviews (by competitors) or “astroturfed” positive reviews by the hotels themselves (and its representatives):

“It’s damned hard to trick our system in a way that would affect the ratings, because we have the sheer volume of reviews to use for comparison,” Mr. Kaufer said. “Suspicious activity is caught in our filters before it makes it live to the site. And then we rely on the millions of people a day who are not shy about clicking on the link to report that they smell a rat.”

So what’s a PR person to do when your hospitality (or any consumer-facing) client asks you to “fix” the overwhelming amount of negativity flowing online from the court of public opinion??? Well, that’s a no-brainer: tell your client to address the deficiencies in his product or service. Wasn’t that what Jeff Jarvis forced Dell to do back in the nascent days of citizen journalism?

In an age when the groundswell can make or break businesses, no amount of whitewashing will fix that which is truly broken. And frankly, to take that route might very well be a breach of WOMMA’s code of ethics. Conversely, if you do have a product or service of which you are especially proud, there are acceptable ways to digitally unleash your customers’ evangelical powers.