BOSTON, Sept 20 — The question has occurred to anyone who has had a bad meal at a restaurant that received rave reviews on sites like Yelp!: Are user reviews written by actual customers, or do establishments post some of them themselves?
It’s hard to know — many reviewers are anonymous, and it’s not easy to spot fakery just by reading reviews. But, according to a case study conducted, new research can help us understand what kinds of businesses are likely to create fakes.
Take hotels, for example. Two review sites take different approaches: Anyone can post on TripAdvisor, but only people who have booked a room can review on Expedia.
Going by the hypothesis that the net gains from positive reviews are highest for independent hotels with single-property owners and lowest for branded chains with multiproperty owners, the reputational spillover from being caught faking reviews is greater for owners associated with other properties.
The assumption would then be that small, independent hotels would be more apt to manipulate reviews, both by praising their properties and by trashing competitors. (Market research information on 2,931 American hotels distinguish between independent hotels and chains and between single and multi-property owners.)
As it turned out, independent, small-owner and small-management-company hotels did have significantly more five-star reviews on TripAdvisor than on Expedia — and their neighbours had more one-star reviews there.
TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter has said that they take the authenticity of reviews “very seriously” and “have numerous methods to manage their legitimacy” including, among others, automated screening tools and specialists who investigate suspicious reviews. (He also cited a TripAdvisor-commissioned study in which 98 per cent of respondents said the site’s hotel reviews accurately reflected their experience.)
There’s not much that managers can do if a competitor gets inordinately positive reviews. When it comes to suspicious negative reviews of their own establishment, however, they can take action.
Scroll through TripAdvisor’s one-star reviews, and you’ll find posts from managers questioning whether a complaining “guest” actually stayed in the hotel, usually by referring to the date and the specifics of the complaint. It’s not clear how effective these rebuttals are — they don’t alter a hotel’s average star rating, the metric that’s presumably most important to consumers.
As user reviews continue to drive business, it’s helpful for everyone to maintain some scepticism. But there’s good news, too: Based on the study conducted, the overall number of faked reviews appears to be small. — Today