Reputation managementSurvey - Research

How to reply (and not to reply) to reviews? Part 1: a formal or informal tone?

How to reply (and not to reply) to reviews? Part 1: a formal or informal tone?

We all know it: online feedback has become very important to companies, and this is especially true for hotels. When you book a hotel, it’s often for the first time, and spending the night there can be expensive. That’s why, before we book, we often read online reviews to check if a certain hotel will satisfy our needs. Are the rooms clean and quiet? Is the breakfast any good? Is the hotel located near the city center? Research has shown that it’s better for the hotels to publicly reply to guest reviews: not only does this result in a higher rating on TripAdvisor, but it also leads to more (and often positive) reviews. So it’s definitely worth it!

For hotels, it’s not just important what you reply, but also how you reply. Service and PR research has rather vague guidelines on this: make sure you write a personal response which is cordial, friendly, empathetic, … Alright, but how exactly do you do that in terms of language use, and how do you vary your responses based on the situation? Let’s look at an example: a colleague at work writes you emails that use the courtesy form, while your other colleagues use an informal tone. The first colleague probably wants to come across as polite and professional, but to you, this excessive display of courtesy might feel too distant, or it might make you feel older than you actually are. Without context, one person might consider this to be polite or normal, while another might experience the same situation in a completely way. Conclusion: finding the right tone and style of communication when you’re trying to impress your customers is easier said than done.

This is why HotelSpeaker uses two main criteria for responding to reviews: emotional intelligence (sensing which style of communication is adequate in a certain situation) and evidence-based knowledge. In cooperation with Ghent University, HotelSpeaker collects knowledge by closely monitoring research on communication styles in web care. While this type of research is relatively new, it is definitely booming.

A few recent studies on formality already teach us a couple of things. Is a hotel better off responding using an informal or a formal tone? There’s informal vocabulary (e.g. “super”), informal punctuation (e.g. “!”), constricted structures (e.g. “you’re”), emoticons, and flooding (e.g. “veeeeery”).

Results indicate that if Facebook interactions between the hotel and the guests are casual, it’s better to respond informally, provided that these guests are already familiar with the hotel’s brand. If they’re not, then it’s best to respond in a formal fashion. If the hotel wants to respond to negative feedback, obviously formal communication is the safest option. If a guest has genuine complaints, then a strongly informal writing style using emoticons and exclamation marks will come across as unprofessional, potentially damaging the hotel’s credibility.


Gretry, A., Horváth, C., Belei, N., & van Riel, A.C.R. (2017). “Don’t pretend to be my friend!” When an informal brand communication style backfires on social media. Journal of Business Research, 74, 77-89.

VandenBremt, Farah. De impact van (in)formaliteit, hotelrating en gender op de percepties en houdingen van klanten in een online klachtencontext. Een experimentele studie. Universiteit Gent, 2017.


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