Saturday, August 15, 2009

Consumer Hotel Reviewers Have to be Seen to be Believed at

With all the controversy about fake hotel reviews, Oyster Hotel Reviews, the new website featuring professional reviews by journalists, began requiring consumers to use Facebook Connect if they want to rant or rave about a hotel.

The Oyster Blog unveiled the new policy in a post, You’ve Gotta Be Seen to Be Heard: Oyster Hotel Reviews introduces Facebook Connect.

"To ensure all user comments are consistent with Oyster’s standard of providing high-quality, authentic information, we require all commenters to log in through Facebook Connect to submit feedback," the company wrote. "The way we see it, if you’re willing to attach your identity to your commentary, you’re willing to stand behind what you say."

"We’re building a community of sincere and credible hotel evaluations drawn from the experiences of our own hotel experts and from you," Oyster added. "No anonymous mudslinging; no PR propaganda."

Oyster's policy is a great step in the right direction in trying to ensure the credibility of reviews.

Is it a panacea?


Can hotels or others still game the system?


Does requiring travelers to use Facebook Connect serve as a bit of a deterrent to casual review-writers who might otherwise trash a hotel for no good reason behind the veil of anonymity?

Sure, it does.

But, this is not tamper-proof.

Consumers, or hotel employees, can easily sign up for fake or misleading Facebook accounts: They merely need to provide name, e-mail address, password, sex and birthday.

And, consumers posting reviews on need not have stayed at the property they are reviewing as is required on and some other websites.

Priceline, for example, only solicits reviews from customers after they've completed their stay at the property, and I respect this policy.

But Priceline customers still post reviews semi-anonymously.

With Priceline's user reviews, you have to take the word of "John" or "Sara," with no link to a profile or clue about who these people really are unless they decide to provide some detail in the review.

Oyster's stipulation that consumers writing reviews do so through their Facebook accounts does provide a level of credibility, and that's great.

So when Kim-Marie Evans writes on that the W New York Times Square doesn't "seem to deep clean the rooms, given that it's somewhat of a party hotel, I wish it were more thoroughly cleaned," we sort of know where she is coming from.

And, kudos to Oyster for going this route because consider all of the SEO (search engine optimization) benefits and stickiness attributes, which advertisers love, that Oyster is sacrificing.

Granted that Oyster has just launched consumer hotel reviews through Facebook Connect, but Evans' review of the W New York Times Square is the only user review about the property that Oyster has posted.

In contrast, the thousands of reviews that TripAdvisor can attract are a major factor in its not reforming its review-writing requirements despite all of the guff.

TripAdvisor, with its freewheeling-review policies (no proof of stay required and the ability to write anonymous critiques) has 443 reviews of the W New York Times Square.

The SEO lords at Google, Yahoo and Microsoft love this wealth of content, as do TripAdvisor's advertisers, because it adds to the user experience and attracts consumers who are deep into the trip-planning process.

TripAdvisor, too, can take this review bonanza and slice it and dice it for use on the websites of its subsidiaries like Family Vacation Critic. TripAdvisor gets more SEO love for doing so.

Oyster, of course, is not the first to use Facebook Connect as an entryway into user-generated content.

TechCrunch, for example, uses Facebook Connect as one of its several alternatives for leaving a comment on its website.

"Enter your personal information to the left, or sign in with your Facebook account by clicking the [Facebook Connect] button below," TechCrunch states.

So, in sum, congratulations to Oyster for using its pearly whites and putting some teeth into its new consumer-review policy.

The policy isn't a 100 percent solution (few are), but the hotel-review writing issue is evolving and steps like Oyster's will help.


TripAdvisor Launches Family Vacation Critic in its Own Image

TripAdvisor: The Beat (of Hawaii) Goes On

Hotel-Review Dilemma: Expedia's TripAdvisor Gives Notice, Mum, But...

Update and Flashback: The Truth About TripAdvisor and Professional Reviews

On TripAdvisor, Oyster and Professional Hotel Reviews: My Totally Reasonable Solution

TripAdvisor vs. Kayak: Paid Reviews Don't Float My Boat

1 comment:

Pete Meyers said...

I think we'll be seeing many more travel sites taking a similar approach and use Facebook Connect, Open ID or add'l 3rd parties for authentication and other purposes.

A couple things I wanted to point out though:

1.) I don't see how using FB Connect is limiting SEO in any way, other than if it creates a barrier to users contributing content. Theoretically, one of the benefits of FB Connect is the simplicity of site registration, so using it should actually increase rather than decrease hotel review volume.

2.) In addition to helping user review transparency / reducing review fraud, probably the 2nd biggest benefit for Oyster is that by using FB Connect they have the potential to tap into into the wall feeds of millions of FB users. Good social media strategy, but I wonder if users will be turned off by being locked in to this as their only option.