Once again, I got carried away with a response to a blog post, and decided to expound on it.  I am sure this counts as real business right?

Newsweek’s Budget Travel has a great article about TripAdvisor trying to deal with the long coming revelation that many of their users and reviews are not legitimate.  This is, frankly, a huge blow to the site, and should pose a happy problem in it’s early adolescence as they deal with all the changes that come along with growing into adulthood.  Frankly, I am thrilled that this may provoke User Generated Content sites to seek the same verification model other sites have.

At any rate, this is vital to all of us, and it recalls some of my previous post (which I seem to mention once or twice):

You know I am skeptical of social media, whether speaking of Facebook’s lack of meaningful interaction, or Flickr’s nebulous TOS.  In general, I have had major concerns since my yelp research project, and resulting thoughts on ethics in social media. I had even mentioned in January that Yelp should consider verification processes.

One scotch fueled evening my jocular side protruded a wee bit and I became a prankster. To be honest it wasn’t to learn the lesson I did, rather just good fun.  I speak of the Ryan Air Twitter spoof of mine, which got considerable attention in traditional media (namely because Ryan Air claimed @ryanaironline was their account).  It  helped me realize that there is a grave concern for brands and trademarks, and both the businesses & social media sites should have a vested interest in a verification process of brands.  There is a serious risk of hijacking and damaging people and businesses, with inauthentic people (or dim ones not realizing pranks and social media can go viral) damaging a brands reputation.

Social Media is young. FB beat out myspace because it is better at replicating and verifying the real world (although it can’t actually do anything more meaningful than provide a wonderful marketing data gathering opportunity for FB, coupled with a nice phonebook)… but it was verifying that the person was the *reality* based person, which quickly attracted people to it. If you aren’t relevant to any networks, or aren’t genuine… you quickly become invisible.

As user generated review sites follow a similar path, these things will stabilize. It is very young, and still in the myspace period of fake profiles and people… but as twitter adds verification services & FB starts considering verification due to trademark infringement issues with it’s new URL program: , it will be obvious for User Generated Content Sites to authenticate, across the board. I am not sure if open ID and attaching accounts to mobile phones is the simplest way, but if something doesn’t happen quick the sites will implode through sacrificing the only thing that makes their business model feasible.  I am sure Tripadvisor has seen the start of accounts closing due to the breach in ethics.

We will wait until services like Yelp and TripAdvisor grow into the awareness of what they have created.  People sardonically jest “the internet is serious business” when it comes to this sort of stuff.  But it is.  It isn’t just 2.0.  It’s a massively powerful tool that completely reorients the consumer model, putting control into the hands of the people, and out of marketing and PR companies, possibly for the first time in capitalism’s history. The message can no longer be managed, and PR doesn’t work the same way anymore. You are only as strong as the advocates and endorsers that believe in your brand. Ethics is paramount.

The only way for these sites to continue their validity is by echoing the sentiment of their own taglines: Tripadvisor’s “get the truth… and go”, or Yelp’s “real reviews, real people”.  If they commit to intelligently policing their own site by being completely transparent, authentic, accountable, and earnest, they should be able to emerge better than before.. They might need to take a huge dip in registered users, as well as delete a lot of existing content. This open and honest method of dealing with this situation will undoubtedly sacrifice trust in the short term, but it is the only way for a social media site to maintain the trust that they leverage for business.

It will hurt… but this is an opportunity for them to re-organize into a leaner and more valid site than ever before. Most people saw this coming. Let’s hope it isn’t something they try to spin away or ignore… instead of doing what is right and being honest, while doing everything they can to curb the problem.

I admit concern about the idea of having to hire non-revenue generating staff to handle the massive clean up project, and the fact the money simply might not be there to handle it.  However, it is obvious they are quickly responding, like April Robb from Tripadvisor commenting to Christopher Elliott. I do like the warnings they put on some hotels, but it could be markedly arbitrary?

We’ll have to see.

Not sure what age social media is at right now, but it is certainly hitting a painful growth spurt.

About Michael

2 Responses to “Well done Tripadvisor – the first step is admitting you have a problem.”

  1. Alla Dolce Vita

    Hallo everybody,
    I’am reading this good article from Italy where this scandal it’s growing day by day.
    There are two parties damaged by Tripadvisor, as it’s working:
    1) the travellers who belive that they are reading a trustable information source, and
    2) the touristic accommodations reviewed with fake defamatory reviews.

    Tripadvisor’s slogan “Get the Trhuth. Then go” it’s compleately FAKE.

    Tripadvisor cannot certify and guarantee the content of what it’s published and this because they are keep on letting the writer be anonimous and at the same time they do not certify that the writer it’s a real traveller who have confirmed a paid a real booking and so that he or she has spent a real holiday in the accomodation reviewed: anybody can write a review…even without having seen on a postacard the accomodation reviewed!

    They claimed and keep on claiming to the world, to have a Super Sophisticated Algoritm which it’s capable of detecting fake reviews…but why it’s not working?

    The biggest point of weakness it’s Tripadvisor’policy to keep the writer-traveller anonimous.

    This choice offers a “rules’ land free” where anybody can say everything without being identified, to certify the authenticity and the responsability of what it’s claimed.

    But let’s go to straight to the interpretation’ key of this big “show”.
    Who is going to gain money from this?…the owner of Tripadvisor….who is?…guess…yes! it’s Expedia!

    Tripadvisor, draws milions of travellers promising true and genuine information ( which it’s impossible !) and then, in the same page where you can read the reviews, it “gives as a gift” the chance to know availability of the accomodation reviewed and ALL competitors sorted by distance in meters!
    The availability offered it’s “kindly” shown by Expedia and all the booking engines owned, controlled or partnered with Expedia.

    Obviously, Tripadvisor list ALL accomodations, not only the ones who are bookable through Expedia: this because they are exploiting good names and fame of all accommodations with a good presence on searching engines, with the”excuse” to be the “voice of thruth”, without being, and at the same time sales the accomodations througt Expedia & co’ booking engines.
    This is unfair competition for all accommodations which do not sale their rooms through Expedia & co. ….even because Expedia could claim as a fee on the overall value of confirmed booking more then 30%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    A black dangerous shadow it’s growing from Tripadvisor, because “managing” this public image of the accomodations and tourism related businesses, actually they could boost some of them and penalize some other, always in the view to squize the top possible income from this business.
    We hope that this doubt will be soon erased by Expedia and Tripadvisor so to let the free market keep on being free and fair.

    We have invited hundred times Tripadvisor to reply to those lawful questions, but nobody has never replied:

    1) How can you certify that the review’s writer has stayed in the accommodation reviewed?
    2) How can you guarantee that the writer it’s not a fake one, an unfair competitor, or a joker?
    3) How can you ensure that what it’s written in the review, from the “potential” guest’s accomodation, it’s what really happened?
    4) How can you guarantee the thruth, the genuineness, originality and source of the review?
    5) In what consit the checks and controls you claimd to do on the reviews? How many checks have been made on all the reviews you claimd to have published?
    6) In Italy we have a law which protect privacy of individuals and companies: why you list identifying details ( e.g: names, address, pictures, details od personnels ) of properties whitout asking a permission to the owner/manager/header?
    7) Why on http://www.tripadvisor.it you don’t show your legal address, the addresses of your offices, telephone numbers and responsible manager of the sensitive data?
    8 ) In order to protect our good name from public defamatory fake reviews, we ask to know writer details : why you don’t supply this information ?
    9) How many of the published reviews on Tripadvisor are true and linked to a real booking confirmed and paid by a real identifiable user?
    10) Why you keep on using the slogn “Get the Truth then go” which dresses Tripadvisor’s contents as truthful, when you are NOT able to certify the source and truthfulness of what it’s stated in the reviews?

    We kindly invite who is in charge for Expedia and Tripadvisor, to reply to those questions to clarify this situation as soon as possible.

    Kind regards

    Alla Dolce Vita

  2. mgm

    I have done some investigation here about Tripadvisor. I have worked with hotels for many years and this is what I can say for sure.
    Hotel owners, mostly independent hotels, have lost control of their industry. Third parties have taken over while having little or no investment. These third parties, i.e. Tripadvisor, Hotels.com, Expedia and Hotwire, all of which are owned by Barry Diller have turned the independent owner into a pawn by having the ability to manipulate the reviews in such a way that they can actually redirect customers without them even knowing it.
    How so? O.K. Go to Tripadvisor pick a city and see what you find. A list of hotels in a rating system from one to whatever number. If we believe the reviews some might have 15 reviews and are rated # 1, 2 or 3 (often these hotels have only recently signed up with these third parties). Then one will have 100 reviews and be rated somewhere in the so so area. Yet the 100 reviews have 75 very good ratings. The highest rated one could very well be an old hotel under new management and it might have been a dump in its previous listing life. The new hotel owner swiftly loads his fake reviews by having his family and associates post fake 5 star reviews. Tripadvisor can not stop these fakes if they are loaded in by different computers with different IP addresses. Think Kinko’s, UPS stores, etc. or even office depot while appearing to be looking to purchasing a new laptop.
    This also applies to the other side of the picture. Someone loads bad reviews of their competitor. Or a crazy customer that did not get a discount and just creates new email accounts and looks like 30 different people. This all happens on tripadvisor every day. Because they do not require proof of you even having stayed at the hotel.
    Now lets look at how Tripadvisor makes money. They make a % of every unit booked on Hotels.com, Expedia, Hotwire or an affiliate. No you say tripadvisor does not get a commission. Well kind of? They get a pay per click fee from most of their links. So the more they keep you going in circles the better. More clicks.
    However Expedia, Hotwire and Hotels.com are owned by the same person that owns Tripadvisor. 25-35% of the hotel rate is what they get. Some hotels have contracts that are better for Expedia, etc. so you are now very cleverly directed to these hotels. How? By manipulating the reviews that is how. They remove negative reviews or hold back positive ones. Do they write them? No they just maneuver them. Which is the same thing in my book.
    Also most of the time there is no discount at all. You just think you got one. Just check the room rate or call the hotel before booking and you will see that.
    Now in the beginning these third parties were great for independent hotels because it got them in with the big boys on the web. Where can a small independent advertize. They could not take ads in every city in the world. So that was good in the start. However when Barry Diller saw the manipulation that was possible he began to purchase these companies and here we sit today all arguing with one another while he rakes in the cash.
    The last thing that no one gets is this. Third parties have raised the price of rooms over the years. Hoteliers have adjusted prices to include their third parties commissions. Just a fact of doing business. As usual the angels become the devil and that is what third party bookers have become.
    Always call the hotel before booking. Because third party bookings get the worst rooms in a hotel because your booking is classified as a bargain hunter. If you book direct you get treated better and you have a direct relationship with the hotel not some third party that holds the hotel, less commission, funds for up to 30 days or more. Many times if there is a problem the hotel will tell Expedia to refund a guest payment. In that event what sometimes happens is the guest is told that the hotel would not refund the money. Then the hotel does not get the funds and Expedia keeps it all. No you say! They would not do that! Well let me show you how far they will go. Lets say you book a $100.00 + tax and the Hotel is paid $70.00 + tax. Where do you think the tax on $30.00 goes. Nowhere Expedia keeps it. Now if a company will cheat every city in the world out of sales taxes what do you think they will do to you. “BARRY DILLER” you are a piece of work!

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