August 8, 2014 Kevin Erb

Don’t like this post? That’ll be $500.

Don't be meanThis week, a hotel in Hudson, NY, found itself in the center of an Internet sensation it did not want – but one it had no one else to blame but itself.

This hotel, it seems, really took its online reputation seriously, and really wanted its guests to give it good reviews to strengthen its ranking on a variety of online sites, including Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare and others. All well and good, of course, that a hotel would want good reviews online to help build its very important and very valuable online reputation. It’s the means the hotel chose in pursuing these ends where it ran into some serious trouble.

Instead of focusing on the aspects it can most directly control pertaining to its guests’ experience that would bring about a positive review – clean rooms, friendly service, quality food and drink, etc. – this hotel took the road less traveled. It threatened its guests with a $500 fine if they said mean things about it online. Specifically, in language inexplicably laid out right on its website, the hotel warned prospective guests that “there will be a $500 fine deducted from your deposit for every negative review…placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and / or attending your wedding or event.”

Well, after this audacious little policy was pointed out by a few high-profile “internet sites,” you can probably guess what happened next. Previous guests came out of the woodwork – and went out of their way – to absolutely destroy the hotel on Yelp and several other internet sites.

The hotel’s response was almost as ill-advised as the policy that caused it – quickly pulling the language from its website and then claiming the whole thing was a big, inside, misunderstood joke. The damage, unfortunately, had already been done – the hotel’s maniacal obsession with driving up its social rankings and reputation had the absolute opposite effect. It’s a humorous but telling reminder that, yes strategy (in this case, to drive up social ranking and reputation) is important, but so too are the tactics you use in service of that strategy.