What Are They Saying About You?

Casino Reviews and Casino Reputation:  

It’s A Whole New World Thanks to Social Media

By Martin R. Baird

It’s time gaming properties face the hard truth that casino reviews at social media sites are having a significant impact on their reputation and their marketing efforts.  In fact, I would classify this as a sea change.  And the damage is already being done.

In an era in which sites such as Facebook, Yelp and TripAdvisor are taking the place of traditional marketing tools, casino reviews and casino reputation play an increasingly important role.  The idea that reputation spreads slowly through word of mouth is old news.  Casino review sites and social networking channels can spread a negative opinion about a casino around the Internet instantly.

In the old days, a customer might tell seven to nine people about a negative experience, but the advent of social media has raised that number to as many as 53, American Express research has revealed.  Today, the average Facebook user has 245 friends, according to Pew Research.  By their own reckoning, more than 42 million reviews have been posted at Yelp and more than 100 million have been posted at TripAdvisor.  Casino reviews are even showing up on YouTube.  Research shows that 70 percent of consumers trust what they read on social media sites.  Yes, 70 percent!

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are guests posting comments right now while they are still on a casino floor.  They can and do rant about a poor experience before they even walk out the door.  This on-the-fly posting is rampant.  According to Mashable, 17.4 percent of global Internet traffic came through mobile devices this year as of late August.  That’s a 6 percent increase over 2012, Mashable says.

The end result is that patrons pay much less attention to casino marketing, particularly advertising because it is written for the casino and the property pays to have it appear.  Basically, Internet users are rather dismissive of casino advertising campaigns.  Reviews, on the other hand, are left by actual patrons of casinos who feel compelled by the service or product to post their thoughts. Casinos must take account of this new situation and adjust their customer service and marketing accordingly.

Google search rankings, the levels of trust consumers have in casino reviews, the nature of these reviews and the sites that maintain them – all of these are serious game changers for the casino industry.

Google (and other search engines) lowers casinos’ search rankings when negative customer comments appear on review sites.  With Google, those unpleasant reviews appear next to the casino’s position on the search results page.  That’s right, the reviews are there for anyone to read and they’re immediately to the right of the link to the casino’s website.  That causes the casino’s reputation to suffer – whether or not the reviews are accurate.  A rankled patron, even an adversary, can write a review and greatly influence a casino’s reputation and subsequent Google ranking.

Another problem with the relationship between negative reviews and Google rankings is that the lower a casino is ranked, the more difficult it is to find.  We all know Google is the default tool that people use when it comes to locating things.  That means when guests look for information about gaming, casinos, entertainment, restaurants or weekend getaways, gaming companies want to be found as high up as possible and as often as possible in Google searches.

Unfortunately, negative feedback is difficult to overcome.  Negative reviews drive patrons away from a casino.  If casinos think they can sidestep this problem by paying for positive reviews, they should think again.  Purchasing of several positive reviews is detected by Google’s search bots and disregarded.  Google discounts reviews when they arrive in unusually high numbers.  For example, if a casino usually gets 1.7 reviews per month and it tries adding three, Google could reject all of them because there were too many reviews.

There are some bright spots, though.

Honest assessments by customers are an opportunity that casinos can leverage.  Many online comments are honest evaluations of the casino and they can point to steps casinos can take to improve.  The failings a reviewer complains about may actually measure a casino’s success, providing it with a marker from which to continue to improve.  If there’s a pattern to the comments, the casino has an opportunity to address real guest issues and concerns.

The other good news is that casinos can polish their reputation and improve their search engine rankings by doing two simple things.  First, at a minimum they need to monitor what’s being said about them online and respond or make changes accordingly.  They should also monitor their competitors’ online chatter.  A better approach would be to have a third party do this for them and provide them with analysis and recommendations.  Second, improve customer service to the point that guests don’t even have a reason to complain at review sites.  Don’t want people griping about lousy beverage service?  Then make sure it’s done to customers’ satisfaction.  What could be simpler than that?  And the payoff could be wonderful!

All of the above issues are important news because much of what casino management believed to be true of their marketing efforts has turned out to be wrong.  Even if they sensed the truth before, they have no idea how pervasive a review’s influence can be.  As famed investment guru Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

Martin R. Baird is chief executive officer of Robinson & Associates, Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based consulting firm to the global gaming industry that is dedicated to helping casinos improve their guest service so they can compete and generate future growth and profitability.  Robinson & Associates is the world leader in casino guest experience measurement, management and improvement.  For more information, visit the company’s Web sites at http://casinocustomerservice.com  and www.advocatedevelopmentsystem.com or contact the company at 208-991-2037.  Robinson & Associates is a member of the Casino Management Association and an associate member of the National Indian Gaming Association.