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.