TripAdvisor is plagued with fake reviews. Why?
As I wrote about yesterday, the problem of review fraud is two-fold:
- Intense competition in the travel industry, greatly exacerbated by the state of our economy, has caused hotels and other travel providers to artificially manipulate review rankings in order to achieve increased bookings and revenue.
- Inherent conflict of interest exists between travel marketing (via advertising) and a user review site like TripAdvisor. Reducing the number of reviews and site visitors in order to curtail fake reviews will negatively impact marketing revenue.
Reviews absolutely influence where people stay.
The notion of writing good reviews about your business and bad reviews about your competitor is not the least bit far-fetched. The reason is simply that the difference in bookings (revenue) between a property highly rated on TripAdvisor and one poorly rated is huge. I cannot stress this enough.
PR firms and fake reviews. I’ve long suspected that public relations companies have been involved in writing fraudulent reviews on behalf of their clients’ properties.
A comment to an article on the website PR Squared confirmed my suspicion. Written by the VP of a major PR firm, it stated: “Posting on TripAdvisor, for example, is the most basic of tactics in the PR 2.0 world.”
Hotels and restaurants incenting their employees to write reviews.
The positive review you’re reading may have been written by a paid employee. How objective is that?
TripAdvisor’s point of view.
TripAdvisor reports becoming more vigilant and hi-tech in detecting fake reviews, and that their readers are savvy enough to ignore those that are bogus. On the other hand, if TripAdvisor really did something to control fake reviews, why would users need to be savvy about them?
Furthermore, the issues are adequately complex that it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect most site visitors to understand them.
Perhaps TripAdvisor’s motto, “get the truth, then go,” needs to be changed to, “try to find the truth, and go.”
The company claims to do the following in order to protect the integrity of reviews:
- Employs sophisticated algorithms for fraud detection including language and usage pattern analysis
- Carries out spot checks
- Investigates reports of abuse
- Moderates all reviews
What should/could TripAdvisor do?
I suggest that in addition to taking the issue of fraudulent reviews far more seriously than they appear to do, Expedia should be more transparent and forthcoming with its readers regarding this all-important issue. When your stock in trade is reviews, it’s essential that consumers of the reviews have confidence in them. Otherwise, isn’t this like going to the ATM and being unsure whether the cash you receive is counterfeit?
My three suggestions for consumers using TripAdvisor.
- Check each reviewer’s profile you’re basing a travel decision on, in order to see how many he/she has written. When I see a profile with only one or two reviews, I normally look the other way. If the reviewer writes often on multiple properties in various locations, and I see objectivity, I’m more likely to believe what is written.
- Disregard the very worst and very best reviews (unless you trust the writer) and go with what’s in the middle. It’s most likely accurate and least likely fraudulent (in either a positive or negative direction).
- Do your own research. Find things by professional reviewers (Frommers, Fodors, or Lonely Planet, for example) that corroborate TripAdvisor reviews on which you are basing your travel decisions.