Lessons for B2B: Can you trust reviews on TripAdvisor?

August 7th, 2013

The UK newspaper the Daily Mail ran a story on August 4, “It’s the hotel review website that millions use to help choose their holiday. But… Can you trust a single word on Trip Advisor?”

The essence of the story was that while TripAdvisor has developed enormous scale with more than 100 million reviews, “the trouble is that there is no way of proving how many of its reviews are genuine and how many are the work of fraudsters with axes to grind or hoteliers blowing their own trumpets.” The article shared a story of a hoax restaurant review which fooled foodies into trying to find a UK restaurant that didn’t exist. Another anecdote related the story of a hotelier exposed for writing 106 reviews praising hotels within his group and disparaging competitors.

TripAdvisor’s rules make clear that reviews “written by ownership or management, including past employees or anyone associated with/related to employees” of the hotel are not permitted. They also state that “individuals affiliated with a property may not review other properties of the same type within the same city or town, or within ten miles of that property.” The article also shared that “TripAdvisor insists that all reviews pass through its ‘fraud filters’ and that IP addresses and email addresses are all checked via algorithm, and that any suspicious reviews are investigated by a team of 100 ‘customer care’ employees.”

However, despite these measures the site is not fool-proof. Moreover, TripAdvisor is not the only consumer review site that has been susceptible to fake reviews.

The key question the article did not ask is, whether we as consumers are better or worse off as a result of review sites like TripAdvisor. The answer is clearly that we are much better off. Before TripAdvisor, it was nigh on impossible to get authentic information about a hotel. Your primary source of information was the hotel’s marketing site, as few were covered by independent travel guides like Fodor’s. Moreover, the use of social proof constructs like “this is a review from your friend Joe” or “this is a review from a friend of your friend Joe” have reduced the potential impact of fraudulent reviews.

As we seek to utilize the concept of peer reviews in business, assuring trust and avoiding fraudulent reviews is even more critical. The stakes are often much higher for business purchases and the expected review count lower. At TrustRadius we have instituted the following protocols to assure review integrity:

  1. All reviewers and commenters must authenticate themselves using their LinkedIn credentials. We also verify that the LinkedIn credentials are real.
  2. Reviewers are asked to respond to a series of questions about their use of the product. This prevents ranting and also is a deterrent for someone looking to just post a high or low score without providing the substance to back up their ratings.
  3. We stage every review for audit by a TrustRadius analyst before publishing. This ensures that reviews are well-written and as balanced as possible.
  4. Our members can vote-up reviews by Liking them. Only registered members are allowed to vote.
  5. Our members score reputation points as they contribute and as their reviews are liked. Their reputation score along with their profile which articulates the other systems they know and their role and company demographics provide a measure of trustworthiness, much like a rating for a seller on eBay.

To conclude, peer reviews have brought great transparency and value to consumers making purchasing decisions large and small, despite the challenges of fraudulent reviews. The stakes are, however, much higher for business and a more rigorous approach is required to ensure success in a B2B context.