Lessons from a hotel’s ill-advised attempt to discourage bad reviews

The Union Street Guest House in New York threatened to charge couples $500 for bad reviews pertaining to their wedding. Now it’s blowing up in the owners’ faces.

You cannot control the Internet. You can’t even hope to contain it. You can only hope that its collective ire never trains its attention on you. The New York Post recently ran a short piece about the Union Street Guest House in upscale Hudson, New York. It detailed the hotel’s policy of fining wedding parties $500 for every negative review posted by their guests. Its policy reads:

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. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review.

Had there been someone on the hotel staff with any social media savvy, they probably would have known right away that such a policy would have a much farther reaching, deleterious effect than any negative Yelp review. Take a quick look at the current state of the hotel’s Yelp page. It’s been attacked by Internet masses, and now potential guests will have to sift through reams of one-star reviews to find out that it actually looks pretty gosh darn quaint. After the bad reviews began piling up, the hotel management posted on Facebook that the policy was a “tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago” that was never enforced. Commenters said otherwise. That Facebook post appears to have been deleted now. Here are a few lessons we can all take from this debacle:

– The first and most obvious lesson you can take from this is that the only way you can avoid people saying negative things about your brand on the web is to not give them anything negative to say in the first place. Provide a high-quality product or service and the internet will reward you handsomely. – Any attempt to squelch negative opinions about your brand on the internet will only draw more negative attention to yourself. – “We were just kidding,” which was essentially the hotel’s response in a Facebook post that was taken down, is never the right response to a PR crisis. Their exact words were, “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 certainly was never enforced.” Customers took to the post to point out reviews that showed that the policy was, in fact, previously enforced. This leads to our next point: – Don’t lie to the public. Seems pretty basic, but it’s always worth a reminder. It’s especially important when proof that you’re lying exists on the Internet. – And finally, admit that the Internet is smarter than you. The wisdom of the crowd is awe inspiring. And although it’s not always right (after all, I’d be up for a stay at USGH) trying to circumvent the wisdom of the crowd is never recommended.


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