The difficulties in trusting online reviews

In an unfamiliar place and short of time, it’s often easy to look for an easy shortcut to a good experience. People often go to TripAdvisor to find recommendations for a good restaurant or experience in their location. 

Having done the same thing recently, I started to better understand how top-rated places achieve this. 

  1. Incentivising patrons to leave a review
  2. Asking patrons to leave a review

Incentivising visitors is against TripAdvisor policy. Before leaving a review, reviewers are asked to confirm that they are not associated with the establishment and are not incentivised to leave the review. 

Asking for a review 

When businesses ask for reviews, the common theme is that they ask their customers if they enjoyed their experience first. However, each company I came across that asked for a review went out of its way to ensure the review would be positive before soliciting it. 

It reminds me of the posters I’ve seen from years gone by  – “If you like our service, tell others if you don’t like it – tell us.”


With some businesses realising the value of having recommendations and reviews online, it becomes harder for the general public to know what information they can trust online.

During recent research, I’ve repeatedly heard that people have worked out the secret code for understanding reviews. Commonly, they will look at the best and worst reviews and judge how believable they think the review is. Do they think it’s someone paid to leave an overly positive fake review? Or a disgruntled customer trying to get their own back on a business?

Famously, a few years ago, a writer from Vice magazine challenged themselves to get to the first position for a restaurant in London that didn’t exist. The restaurant was in his shed and served ready-meals from Iceland supermarket. Spoiler alert – they managed to get the made-up restaurant to number one. It was an interesting experiment that’s worth a read –

Sometimes we go for the easy option

I had arranged to meet some friends for dinner. We didn’t know where we would go, but we agreed on an area, a strip, actually, around brick lane – for some curry.

On my way to meet them, I remembered an excellent restaurant I had been to several times but hadn’t been to in a while. So I did a quick TripAdvisor search about it and found the following:

Without time to look into it, I immediately dismissed taking my friends there. No one wants to be responsible for making their friends ill. We ate somewhere else, and the food was mediocre, but I digress.

Fake news and false ratings

The following day I decided to look up the initial restaurant on the food standards agency website, and lo and behold, they actually had a 5-star rating, not a 1-star. I had been duped. Someone had intentionally put ‘fake news’ online to discredit the restaurant, and I had taken it at face value in my hurry.

In an age when anyone can say anything on the internet, it becomes harder and harder to figure out what the truth is. It’s harder for people to know what to believe when fake news is associated with a legitimate organisation. This is especially true when people are time-poor.

Association with a legitimate organisation

Whilst working in the hotel and leisure industry, I’ve seen a rise in companies that amalgamate trusted reviews so users know that the advice they are being given is genuine and trustworthy.

A similar trend is growing in other industries, especially the media industry. With this growing trend, observing how people make decisions when they want advice but don’t know who to turn to or who to trust will be interesting.

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