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Fact-Checking the Crowds

2 minute read
Brad Tuttle

Crowdsourcing decisions has become second nature. And as consumers become more reliant on the wisdom of the Web before they buy, good reviews can translate directly to dollars. So it’s inevitable that some businesses will try to game the system by, say, bashing a competing hotel or even paying for positive reviews.

When it comes to hotels, “the occurrence of fake reviews is probably more common than the industry would like to admit,” says Douglas Quinby, an analyst at the travel research company PhoCusWright. There are no firm numbers on fraud, and sorting through the tens of millions of hotel reviews out there can be overwhelming. Here’s how to avoid getting duped:

Read bad reviews first.

“Browse for things to watch out for–patterns,” says Adam Medros, TripAdvisor’s vice president of global product. “You’re looking for a reason to disqualify the hotel.” If critics are all on the same page–filthy pool, indifferent service, whatever–there’s probably something to it. If the gripe is an anomaly, it might be a plant by a competitor or just a fluke.

Review the reviewer.

The new TripAdvisor Facebook app allows you to see reviewers’ real names when they’re your Facebook friends. When reviews are anonymous, do some detective work: How many reviews has this person written? Is she a world traveler, or was this her first time leaving the country?

Be wary of too many reviews.

If a hotel is trying to skew its ratings, there may be a brief period when spammers post an outsize number of reviews. For example, Chris Emmins, co-founder of the online-reputation tech company KwikChex, is skeptical about the entire hotel-review scene in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, where the top 20 properties have an astonishing 50,000-plus TripAdvisor reviews, including one resort with nearly 9,500 (mostly glowing) reviews.

Mind pronouns.

Cornell researchers found that fake reviews tend to feature a generic he or him instead of actual hotel staffer names. (Reviewers who have been to a hotel are probably more likely to reference specific staff members by name or description.)

Consult a range of sites.

TripAdvisor is useful because it has the most hotel reviews by far. But sites like Expedia, Priceline and Hotels.com that require users to verify that they’ve stayed at a hotel may be less vulnerable to fraud.

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