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Does Impartiality Make TripAdvisor's Reviews Less Honest?

My heart sank.

Clicking through to the whole post, though, the picture became clearer. A couple that had no complaints about the actual service had lost a pair of sunglasses. They thought that they left them in the car, but the car company couldn’t locate them. So they went on to TripAdvisor and wrote a bitchy review.

Really? You lose one of the two uninsurable travel items somewhere and assume it’s the car hire company’s fault and slag them off on the Internet?

Stay classy.

Accountability in advertising

It is no wonder that TripAdvisor has recently been pulled up for claiming that you can trust their reviews. Which is a pretty damning indictment of a company whose value is in providing … trustworthy reviews.

The Advertising Standards Authority looked into complaints about TripAdvisor’s use of phrases that included, ‘real reviews’ and ‘trusted advice’ from ‘real travellers’, as well as ‘honest travel reviews’ and ‘reviews you can trust’.

The review-monger responded that the ASA’s view was ‘highly technical’, which it doesn’t seem to be at all. If the reviews aren’t trustworthy, then you can’t claim that they are. I wish more companies would be technically honest about what their products and services actually do.

I imagine most of the reviews on TripAdvisor are real and honest. But the problem is that whatever they claim about their monitoring of suspicious activity, it seems reviews are still unverified. I could go on the website right now and write a cruel story about a hotel I have never even heard of, never mind stayed at. And it would be published. This gaping hole allows disgruntled, blackmailing customers, malicious competitors and any number of the Internet’s trolls to have a pop at anyone they choose.

Reviews count. They are important social proof. So is there a way to make them fairer than an open, lightly moderated forum, and yet still scalable?

A convenient partnership

Checkatrade are one of our clients (they don’t know that I’m writing this). They host a directory of tradespeople, about whom they publish customer feedback, or reviews. But their model is different.

When it comes to the reviewers and the reviewed, TripAdvisor are impartial. They make their money from third parties: advertisers and affiliates. As long as the traffic keeps coming to the website – and a negative headline on the first page of Google is going to help – then there is fuel for advertising dollars.

Checkatrade, on the other hand, make their money from the reviewed party. Tradespeople pay to be first vetted by the company (and not every business makes the grade), and then monitored by customer feedback. So the reviewed party are the paying members.

One thing that the members certainly cannot buy is good feedback. Their customers go onto the Checkatrade website and submit reviews of their work, good or bad. Each review is linked to a job that the member has completed – submitted (though not published) with real names – to rule out fictional reviews.

Still, what happens if a customer is in a vindictive mood? Because Checkatrade want happy members, they do everything that they can to ensure that the feedback is fair. This involves many measures, including moderation, speaking to the customer, opportunity for negotiation between the parties over issues raised, and a right to reply from the tradesperson.

Does this stack the odds against the consumer, the reviewer? Actually, no. Members are valuable to Checkatrade but what is valuable to the members is consumers trusting and using the directory. If the review system is not kept fair, then people will stop using the service. The three parties need each other – and that keeps the system in balance.

TripAdvisor, on the other hand, needs traffic. It is not in bed with either the reviewer or the reviewed. If hotel owners feel that TripAdvisor doesn’t care about them, it’s because it doesn’t.

There are other differences, but this seems to be the obvious point of departure. If the review site, the reviewer and the reviewed all depend on each other more closely, then I suspect that a natural balance is achieved more easily.

As for those critical reviews on TripAdvisor, I do think that genuine bad service should be exposed. But I’m more in favour of rewarding the good stuff. The next time you are delighted by a service or enjoy reading an article, make sure you shout about it one way or another, even if you’re an introvert.

Originally published on SmyWord.com

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