The TripAdvisor debate – Would the Real Reviewer Please Stand Up?

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Despite having never posted a review, I love TripAdvisor. Its success has reached such heights that it is now as important as packing your passport to review your holiday accommodation in advance of your trip. But let’s face it, we all know that any social media savvy hotel has probably written the odd positive review in order to boost its ratings. The trick is not to get caught right?

TripAdvisor image

But in the back of my mind I always wonder how much of this self-rating is going on and realistically how can TripAdvisor monitor every single review and mitigate against it. Similarly, the bad reviews – is it the nasty work of a rival hotel, an irate ex-employee or someone who simply exaggerates a bad experience?

The best thing about social media is the freedom it allows you to voice your opinion to a mass audience but with situations like the ‘Tom Daley Twittergate’ or the on-going cyber-bullying issue you have to ask, do we have too much freedom to hurt others, be it a business or another individual? At least with Twitter and Facebook, your opinion is entirely visible as your opinion – no hiding from it.

But TripAdvisor has the beauty of anonymity – a faceless platform in which to be as complimentary or derogatory as you like, without having to take any responsibility for giving your opinion, regardless of what it might mean for the reputation of a business struggling to survive. It seems almost cowardly in a way.

So, my question is, should we break down the wall that hides the reviewers from those they influence? Should we step out from our hiding place and be transparent in our opinions, just as we are on Twitter and Facebook? Or is that simply taking away from the whole ethos of these sites?

I’m pretty sure I know what the hospitality industry would vote for. Personally, I would like to see what review sites are out there offering transparency on reviewers and promote them as an alternative to the TripAdvisor mechanic.  Yes, it might be the biggest, but as with everything, not necessarily the best.

And who knows, maybe I’ll finally write that review!

Gina Kelly is an Account Director at Fuzion

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32 Responses to “The TripAdvisor debate – Would the Real Reviewer Please Stand Up?”

  1. Another Says:

    Tripadvisor should be regulated or banned

  2. audreymcsweeney Says:

    or maybe you should start that site yourself Gina! You could call it Ginaview… you could get reviews on all kinds of things!!! I have just given you a million euro idea – any commission accepted!

  3. ginafuzion Says:

    haha! Great expectations of me there guys, cheers for the vote of confidence!

  4. Barrytg Says:

    I thought it would be ironic if I left a nasty anonymous review of the blog post here!! Seriously though it is a really interesting topic. The only two reviews I have ever left on Tripadvisor were at the extreme ends of the spectrum, really good and horribly bad! Perhaps everything else in between is being left by fake reviewers! I think the important thing is to take the average opinion. If there are more than 20 reviews, its hard to fake it.

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Thanks Barry – the writer has a lot of power now …anonymous or not. The strange thing is that in reality the real “you” has the most power of all!

  5. Ciaran Kelly Says:

    I use Tripadvisor and have posted comments myself but when one receives a malicious comment on their own business and can do very little about it,then it’s frustrating.

  6. ginafuzion Says:

    Would you be advocating for transparency then Ciaran? I just wonder if people would be so malicious if they had to attribute their name to it.

  7. Finula Crowe Says:

    You can now share your TripAdvisor reviews with your friends so, it’s not completely anon anymore. In answer to your question, I would prefer to see who the Reviewer is, it would eliminate some of the issues you raise such as sabotage by another property, etc. As hoteliers, we all have our TA “horror stories” but what baffles me is why a guest does not raise his/her concern during the stay, instead of waiting to “vent” when they leave the property!

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Great point Finula – I often wonder about why people don’t complain at the time.

      My own answer for this is – often when I am out / away for the weekend it’s as much about relaxing and the company I am with as it is about the food/accommodation. The minute you get into “complaining” it can change the dynamic and can offer be stressful and upsetting – when you are on a night/day off you may not want to drag that on yourself. Greg

  8. Fabio Venturini Says:

    Trip Advisor is one of the cases where I can see no reason for anonymity and I think that anonymity is too often used in a malicious and cowardly way. As a service, Trip Advisor can be either incredibly beneficial or incredibly harmful to a business and to give responsible businesses no way to truly defend themselves against or respond in a meaningful way to malicious commenters simply makes no sense and suggests that Trip Advisor have little regard for the industry which is the subject of their service and so the reason that they are in business. Without knowing who a reviewer is it must be very difficult for a good hotel manager to respond to a complaint. I don’t see how removing the anonymity would inconvenience the users in any way. And as for bad managers – well they will quickly show their true colours with discourteous responses anyway.

    I would also strongly feel that news sites (I’m thinking especially of thejournal.ie and sites like YouTube gain in no way from anonymous commenting – though I do see the value of anonymity in certain cases: for example I do not believe the uprisings in North Africa could have been nearly as successful without the ability of activits to spread news online anonymously.

    I’ve been thinking about this type of thing a lot recently having just been asked to develop a communications strategy for a sports association which has a Facebook page littered with poorly thought out (and spelled) negative comments. I am also managing the social media presence for an online company, a magazine and an international organisation at this point so I’m seeing exactly how much of a headache unmoderated user comments can be. While my personal policy would never be to remove comments (unless they are out and out abusive or obscene) it’s incredibly important to be able to address a response to an individual with a real name rather than someone called TwilightManiax453…

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Wow, what a great response Fabio!

      Thanks for adding so much value to the topic – would you agree that posts are more powerful when they are not anonymous?

      I wonder what TwilightManiax453 would think of that!

      • Fabio Venturini Says:

        Absolutely. Sure I can go ahead and say anything when nobody knows who I am. Once I put my name behind it though, I better be ready to stand by what I just said.
        And from the other side of things – when I am reading posts the ones with an actual name mean a whole lot more. The anonymous posts are little more than noise as far as I’m concerned.
        Take a look at user comments on thejournal.ie (I know I keep picking on the users of The Journal but there are some real fruit cakes on there). Pick a few different articles which are roughly on the same topic and you’ll see the same anonymous trolls popping up every time. And quite often their posts will have very little to do with the article – they’ll just be wheeling out the same old hobby horse again and again or leveling abuse at the author of the piece.

      • Greg Canty Says:

        Fabio (TwilightManiax453 !!) … you are on fire!

  9. Fergal Bell Says:

    I think hotels or other businesses hope that they receive enough positive reviews to put the odd negative one in isolation.

    I’m not sure that removing anonymity is the problem, as people can look at the review history of a user and view for themselves whether the person is genuine by looking at the other reviews they have posted. If they have posted only negative reviews then the chances are they are a serial complainer or worse, being paid to post negative reviews.

    Similar to Fabio, I would like businesses to have the right of reply though, so that they can address any criticism raised. It seems hard that they just have to suck up a bad review.

    • Greg Canty Says:

      great point Fergal – do you not think that often, in particular on the web we just take a quick glance, make up our mind quickly and move on? We probably won’t spend the time to check the “posters” other activity ..

      • Fergal Bell Says:

        Yes, I think you’re right – we often do. Perhaps as people become more aware that we can’t always take information at face value that they will see the importance of questioning the source of information. Mind you, having seen the unquestioning acceptance of some news stories on TV and online, I may be living in fantasy land!

        It’s difficult in cases such as review websites because people assume there’s ‘no smoke without fire’, whereas it’s possible that a comment could have a malicious motivation behind it.

      • Greg Canty Says:

        Fergal – what if every industry was open to such detailed scrutiny? I guess with social media it is quite possible to some degree. Have a peep at the article about the taking down of the “Rate Your Solicitor” website, which I always found was quite reckless http://www.indymedia.ie/article/101307

      • Fergal Bell Says:

        The article was an interesting one. I hadn’t heard of the site before, although it sounds similar to one for teachers – http://ie.ratemyteachers.com/

        Personally I think where a professional or industry has a complaints procedure in place then this should be allowed to run its course before people are named and shamed.

        The procedure must be seen to be effective though, in order for people to be happy to use this as their channel of recourse. I get the impression from the article that this isn’t the case where solicitors are concerned (in Ireland anyway).

      • Greg Canty Says:

        Hi Fergal, Judging from what I saw of the solicitor website it seemed to be very unbalanced and cluttered with extreme views. I guess it is a win or lose type profession so you could easily love or hate your solicitor depending on how your case turned out!

      • Fergal Bell Says:

        I think that’s the problem – if a site posts messages that are damaging to a person or an organisation’s reputation without checking the accuracy, it can cause all sorts of problems.

        Where a profession or industry has a complaints procedure in place I guess I think this is the route people should go down. If complaints are upheld I tend to think it’s fair game for comments to be posted. Interesting question!

  10. Z Says:

    What a great response to this blog – clearly a question that people are very interested in.
    I live in Cork and help out a restaurant here with some of their social, including responding to TripAdvisor comments (note Fergal – there is no need to ‘suck up’ bad reviews, you can register as the owner and then respond). I also regularly review the places I eat and stay in as well, so I’m on both sides of the coin.
    Most of the reviews I see for the restaurant are genuine – it’s easy to tell. And yes, most reviews are either really good or really bad – that’s the nature of the beast. A passably good meal doesn’t often inspire someone to log on to a website and write a review.
    There are a few places in Cork that have a suspiciously high number of reviews – just as there are a few people on the social scene with a suspiciously high number of twitter followers, and some quite empty facebook pages with a suspiciously high number of likes 🙂
    Should TripAdvisor only be open to ‘real’ profiles? I doubt it is even possible. Facebook, who try harder than most to eliminate ‘fake’ users, recently said that 87 million of their pages were fake -http://bit.ly/T4Rlrw – and tools to set up fake Facebook profiles abound. How would you police such a thing?
    Even if it were possible though, as a review writer I wouldn’t want it. Most of my reviews are for my home city, and since moving to Cork 8 years ago from London, I’ve realised how small a place this is. You can’t swing a cat here without it hitting the brother-in-law of the best friend of your child-minder! Forget seven degrees of seperation – 1/7th of a degree is more like it. Lose the anonymity and you would lose the sense of freedom, which makes writing the review less pleasurable.

    • Greg Canty Says:

      Mr Z …. great post by the anonymous guy who knows what it is like on both sides of the coin. I do think if you can identify yourself the post has more credibility but I do accept that sometimes this is not always possible. I did a blog post called “Great Products getting in the way of Bad Customer Service”, which did have a pop at Butlers in Cork (who by the way have been superb lately). I was quite disturbed at some of the “hate” comments I received on the post and had to block them from appearing. It was not nice, considering it was quite a balanced post.

      • Z Says:

        Mr Z – hmmm… nice title but does make me sound a little like a talking horse! I don’t mean to be anonymous but my website is being built and my LinkedIn profile badly in need of an update.

        Interesting point you make though about a well-balanced post drawing comments that you had to block. Just imagine if you were a regular punter – rather than a social media professional well-versed in online etiquette – and had a pop at a restaurant that offered lousy service. And then imagine you found out your a friend’s partner was working there … do enough reviews on TripAdvisor and either it would be bound to happen or else everyone would start churning out well-balanced reviews (less interesting to read, less interesting to write).

        Marie, really liked your suggestion. The abuse going on in Amazon reviews is now so well-known they had to do something. However I’ve talked to TripAdvisor before. It seems that as they can make money from Hotels they are interested in developing their offering for that sector – but as they make no direct revenue from restaurants, their interest is less.

      • Greg Canty Says:

        that’s Mr Ed !! Taking this argument, is it any wonder that most people will not complain in person when they are at the restaurant/hotel (as many would prefer) when they submit reviews after they are anonymous?

    • Fergal Bell Says:

      Z – I didn’t realise that owners could respond to reviews. Certainly a good feature to have. Thanks for the info!

  11. marie Says:

    I think TripAdvisor would do well with an Amazon-style ‘confirmed purchase’ tag. In this manner, your review is more dependable as the reader actually knows you definitely were a customer. I know this could be difficult in practice though, how could I prove I was at a particular restaurant on a particular night!

  12. Trish Hyland Says:

    Gina, I am one of those people who have posted reviews on TripAdvisor. I don’t always do it even though I promise myself I will. I love TripAdvisor as I find the reviews very helpful.

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