Thomson Holidays - how a blogger can impact your brand reputation

Lego airport, pink sky
Image by Micah Dowty via Flickr

Thomson is a well-known package tour and holiday brand in the UK and part of the global travel group TUI. They have a good reputation and brand in the UK, supported by a relatively strong High Street presence. But one traveller’s bad experience on a holiday to Tunisia has caused them and their brand problems in social media, and in their search rankings.

Andy Sharman went on holiday to Tunisia with Thompson in June this year and had, by his own account, a fairly disappointing time. After his complaints failed to receive a response that satisfied him, Andy wrote about his experiences on his blog.

Whatever the truth of what Andy was told or what happened to him in Tunisia is not important. For your brand, and your business, satisfaction is a balance of expectations and reality as seen by the customer. Andy was unhappy and he wanted to complain.

Using traditional media, this complaint would have taken a fairly standard path all of which is done in private:

  1. Customer complains to Brand (by telephone or by letter)
  2. Brand responds to Customer (typically by letter)
  3. Customer is either delighted (and may then tell their friends and colleagues in person) or dissatisfied (and will also tell their friends and colleague, but this time a very different story)

With social media, this pattern has been disrupted quite severely. Rather than a private exchange between Customer and Brand, the first few steps are public from the very beginning. From the minute the customer wants to complain their thoughts, experiences and attitudes (whether justified or not) are public knowledge. The brand’s job is no longer to assess and respond to a single complaint, but to manage an attack on their brand reputation. It is now bigger than just customer service.

With social media, complaints have moved from being a customer service issue to being a branding and corporate reputation one.

Andy’s blog shows exactly how serious these complaints can be. Within a couple of months his post had been read by over 10,000 different people and, perhaps more worryingly, was appearing above Thomson’s own sites for searches on Google for terms relating to Thomson and Tunisia.

Blogs, and social media more generally, are a great way for people to distribute their content. They can get it seen by a large number of people who can link to it, comment on it and reproduce it on their own sites.  Very quickly a brand has a story that is no longer private and is also no longer contained. Other people have linked to or reproduced the complaint on their own sites and forums. Some publicly and others in places that even Thompson cannot see.

So, what should brands do in this instance. Earlier this year we wrote about how to react if somebody writes about your brand online and included a great process diagram developed by the US Air Force. The process is simple and clear, showing when you should respond (and when you shouldn’t) and how you should respond if you do.

The most important thing for a brand to do is to engage in the same media that the complaint is made in. Have good buzz tracking and monitoring in place so that you pick up on potential issues early and then respond through the same media - be that by commenting on a blog, joining a forum, responding in Twitter or on Facebook. When you do respond (and if this is appropriate) you should consider  five things:

  1. Be transparent about who you are and your role. Give your name and some means of contacting you
  2. If you want to refute some claims in the post only do so if you can source your side of the story
  3. Be timely, but make sure you give yourself enough time to get a real response together
  4. Respond in a tone and manner that reflects your brand
  5. Focus on those blogs that carry the most influence

Customers are using social media to turn what were once private complaints with the brand into public discussions. Brands can capitalise upon this if they respond in the same manner, in the same public forum. This is the best way to take back some control of the situation and to begin to restore your brand’s reputation online.