How does TripAdvisor rate in social media?

ImageThe TripAdvisor website is a popular site that allows users to read, raise questions, and provide comments on travel experiences. It was an early adopter of user-generated content and produces ratings on travel destinations and providers based on user content. They are successfully ‘managing the human cloud‘ and utilising a ‘virtual workforce’ – but how are they doing it and why is it successful? 

Companies have increasing opportunities to tap into a virtual, on-demand workforce.

To give some framework, I’m using the pattern  “Harnessing Collective Intelligence” from ‘What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software’. This concept of ‘harnessing the crowd’ means that others outside your organisation provide information to your business that can become a ‘powerful asset’. So, in the spirit of user reviews, this post explores “how does it rate?“.

1. Reward the user first: TripAdvisor allows user to achieve their objectives by either accessing other people’s reviews and comments or  posting their own questions or comments. Their users seem happy, based on their recent milestone of 100 million reviews and opinions. (My rating: 5/5)

2. Set network effects by default: Network effects are critical for TripAdvisor who need a good supply of content and reviews to attract and retain their users. The network effects start to show when TripAdvisor ratings are quoted on other travel booking sites. (My rating: 4/5)

3. Involve users, explicitly and implicitly:  TripAdvisor clearly has explicit user participation covered through their user-created content, and guessing by their advertising they would not be losing the implicit user information around user actions and preferences.  The site has attracted a strong user base and there are good indicators of this increasing. (My rating: 4/5)

4. Provide a meaningful context for creation: The TripAdvisor context of travel is an easy attractor, but I think the loose structure  means posts can end up in the wrong location and “findability” is currently not great. Some users, may be happy to ‘wander a while’ as they plan their trip, but it seems TripAdvisor has identified some improvements with new search functionality  in the pipeline.   (My rating: 3/5)

5. Trust your users:  A true Web 2.0 application must trust the users to provide content and to share control. TripAdvisor allows users to  provide comments, start new threads, and provide advice to other users on where their thread should go. The users also seem to trust each other since the majority of users won’t book a hotel that has no reviews.  (My rating: 5/5)

6. Software design that improves with more users : The goal here is to ensure more users produces more value and benefits not more mess and chaos. Their large user base also gives TripAdvisor credibility in the competitive landscape and means their ratings are actually quoted on other travel sites. (My rating: 5/5)

7. Application that facilitates emergence : This is all about giving the application enough flexibility to change to suit the emerging needs of the users. It means not presuming all features up-front, but instead adding extras in as required. TripAdvisor has some new innovations with stats and infographics for businesses,  advice for hoteliers to increase user engagement and  support for providers under attack. (My rating: 4/5)

So, according to O’Reilly’s pattern of “Harnessing Collective Intelligence”, TripAdvisor should be on your “must see” list of social media sites. But is this the whole story?

There are some issues around the “Harnessing Collective Intelligence” and TripAdvisor has experienced a few of them.

Privacy and liability for individuals: The anonymous posting allowed under TripAdvisor leaves few risks to the posting individuals. However, there is still a chance that individuals associated with the provider could be at risk based on negative reviews or comments.

Privacy and liability for providers: This seems to be causing the most challenges for TripAdvisor. Their policy of accepting all anonymous posts has led to legal battles in Australia and the UK from providers who believe they are the target of untrue, malicious, or adverse commercial attacks. 

Quality, not just quantity, matters: At the end of the day, the site content needs to be credible and reliable. Some comments suggest that if TripAdvisor develops strategies for verifying posts and checking the credentials of posters, then the quality of this site will strengthen.

So, how does TripAdvisor rate as a social media site? According to the Web 2.0 pattern of “Harnessing Collective Intelligence” it gets top-marks.

Their founder journey is a great story about ‘Harnessing Collective Intelligence’ and also explains how they had to fight to retain the value they had built up against big players like Google.

Disclaimer: Bronwyn is not associated with TripAdvisor but she does have a love of travel and is a frequent visitor to their site.

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Related Posts:

How TripAdvisor is using ‘Innovation in Assembly’ – blog by Matt J Low

How TripAdvisor is ‘Harnessing Collective Intelligence’ – blog by Monique Alvis

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Related Articles:

Using the crowd as an innovation partner – HBR.org

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Updated 12/4/2013 – added Related Article on ‘using the crowd’

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32 thoughts on “How does TripAdvisor rate in social media?

  1. This is a great analysis & TripAdvisor definitely ‘Harnesses the Collective Intelligence’. One thing I believe they could do better is allow you to tag friends via Facebook when you ‘check in’ to places. This would directly involve other users & if the tagged friend had direct access to the ‘check in’ via a comment they would likely engage more people. Thoughts? You pointed out the ability of anyone is able to comment/post on a destination/attraction. This is difficult to deal with! I thought one way would be if each destination had a ‘QR’ code that allowed the individual to scan before commenting however I think user engagement would likely decrease dramatically. I guess the power of the people will filter false & misleading comments & I know they analyse suspicious comments by staff/owners via the IP address the comment is made from. What ways do you think TripAdvisor can make reviews more legitimate without losing accessibility?

    • Thanks for your comments, Matt. I think the idea of linking from one site/app to another is a great idea and one that TripAdvisor probably doesn’t do so well at the moment. If you take a look at the ‘founder’ video I added, it illustrates how their site has changed and evolved so maybe this is the next new thing?

      I also agree that some validation of users might be necessary, though while the valid ones are in the majority then the invalid minority get drowned out. Something that other sites do (a good example is http://theconversation.com/au) is they require you to validate yourself before you can comment (eg LinkedIn, Facebook, Blog, Twitter etc). At least it proves you are an online identity – though still a virtual person so who knows who they really are!

  2. Pingback: Is LinkedIn a Web 2.0 site worth recommending? | Bronwyn Shimmin-Clarke

  3. Thought provoking. Is TripAdvisor a social media site or is it much more than that? Has it crossed over to something else that provides a billboard for a person to post unsubstantiated comments without retribution that travellers rely on to make decisions about where they eat, sleep, and visit? Does it help you find something your looking for? Does it provide a good grounding for you to make decisions in spending your hard earned cash? Read on for my own personal experience.

    Like a lot of people these days I’m settled with the idea of having information that is relevant to my needs at my fingertip regardless of where I am. In fact, it is common for me to require information when I’m out and about that satisfies a need or want, and generally it is not convenient to go home to search on a computer. Today I believe people are more interested in location aware apps running on mobile devices that can be used to track down that need or want.

    Personally I have never used the traditional browser based TripAdvisor website, I use the iPad/iPhone app, and I have done that standing in the heart of Honolulu looking for a place to eat not too far from where I was standing. More on that experience later.

    While in Honolulu 18 months ago tour operators (multiple) asked how I had selected the Hotel where I was staying, and what my experience of the Hotel and it’s service was like. My Hotel decision had largely been based on comments found in TripAdvisor. Shortly after I had booked rumour on the Internet had surfaced regarding Hotel employees logging into TripAdvisor and leaving very favourable ratings, and of course this left me concern about my own choice. In my own experience I found the comments to be spot on for my selection of Hotel and I would happily return after a great experience.

    I personally found the location aware capability of TripAdvisor on the iPad/iPhone to be of great assistance in finding options and recommendations to satisfy my needs and wants while I was away. I used the app to find a place to eat and checked on what other people thought of the food and service. But with my own experience not all recommendations on food offerings were accurate. Some people might make the observation they were slanted a particular way and did not reflect reality. A long queue does not always make for a good experience, it could just mean lots of people have read the same comments (or is that propaganda added by the restaurant operator).

    I found TripAdvisor to be a tool that provided information to me based on my location and it did that very well. Does it contain the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – give me the name of a social media site that does. Like many categories of information on the Internet you need to exercise care and don’t assume it to be gospel. Am I happy with my own TripAdvisor experience? – yes. Did I post my own honest feedback? – sort of – honest yes though only the best and the worst received attention leaving the middle without the support they rightfully deserved. Could I have posted less than honest accounts of my patronage without any possible retribution? – yes. Does that make me trust TripAdvisor less? – no, not at all, it just makes me look a little harder for comment consistency. But that would be true of any social media – right? Could TripAdvisor do much more and offer suggested information based on information viewed? – yes. Would that be helpful? – only if it can be controlled.

    • Thanks for sharing, Imnotsharing (?). TripAdvisor may be social media, depending on your definition of social media (here’s a sample).

      I really liked your personal comments on what works for you (portable devices, location aware capability) and what concerns you (are they real/reliable reviews). The content reliability seems to be the biggest concern, and yet the stats (see my link about booking hotels) seem to suggest that most people have reacted like you – the glowing ones could be inside comments, the terrible ones could be competitors, and the bulk in the middle are a fair representation.

      I’ll be considering a few other Web 2.0 sites over the next few weeks so hope you drop by – LinkedIn coming soon!

  4. Pingback: Web 2.0 – Harnessing collective intelligence | My Blog 2.0

  5. Very Good Post, I especially liked the personal ratings of each aspect of harnessing collective intelligence.

    Do you think the possibility of TripAdvisor creating a walled garden where only paying hotels/airlines are show in searches could become more prevalent then by ratings gained by collective intelligence?

    • Interesting question about limiting the range of content and becoming a “walled garden”. I personally think they wouldn’t cut out a whole sector of the market and exclude them…but they could be more subtle and have “featured” (i.e. paying) hotels and airlines.

      Either way, the business model is at the total discretion of TripAdvisor. If the changes don’t suit the users (i.e. they don’t “reward the user first”) then users can walk away…remembering the content is not about the users so they won’t be personally attached to it.

      And this creates an opportunity for anothere Web 2.0 social media site!

  6. Hi bronwynse
    Your post is so nice ..
    The tripadviser is a great web 2.0 website , I use it every time before traveling to any city ..
    It also helpful in your own city , it give you the chance to know a new places in it..

  7. Hi bronwyn,
    Great post, I have used some travelling websites but none of them is like TripAdvisor website
    I just checked it and it is really awesome with all its features, also it had an Arabic language from so many other languages which is really good.
    For traveling this site is going to be #1 for me.

    Eman

  8. Hi Bronwyn!
    You have some great evidence which support your argument. I agree that TripAdvisor is a great example of Web 2.0 Applications as it relies on users sharing their experiences and recommending different places. Though there seem to be a lot of privacy and liability issues and inappropriate comments that come from user generated content as it is difficult to monitor and regulate. Overall, awesome post and I look forward to reading your next one!

    • Thanks, Marayka. I think TripAdvisor is great and is very user-centric. Andrew commented about anonymous posts and raised a valid point about it “rewarding the user”. It also hasn’t compromised the quality but legal battles are a different issue. Something to think about with user-generated content…

  9. Hi Bronwyn,
    As all have said before me, really great post, well structured, thought out and informative. I’ll most certainly be hitting your blog up regularly.
    Whilst potentially letting anonymous posters on is a negative aspect to Trip Advisor from a business perspective, i think it also this is one of its strengths. Not having to log in and remember another password is probably a great motivator for people to add their opinions and experiences. Reward the user and all that 😉
    laters…

    • “Anonymous posting rewards the user by removing some admin” – I like it! It doesn’t seem to be a big problem based on the stats from their user survey (see “users wont book a hotel without reviews”). At the end of the day, if it’s not working people won’t return but at the moment they all seem happy with the quality of the content. Looking forward to sharing some more Web 2.0 concepts.

  10. I like this post. you provide many information and organization very well. I like this style. Although I have heard this site before, but I never use it. After read your post, may be I will give it a try.

    • Thanks for visiting William. I think trying these different sites is a good idea since it allows us to experience different approaches to user-created content.

  11. Hi Bronwyn

    As you describe in your post Tripadvisor seem to be one great example about Web 2.0 ‘Harnessing Collective Intelligence’ pattern. I can see why you give low rating to TripAdvisor at ‘Provide a meaningful context for creation’ that people with vague keyword might not get the answer they are looking for from TripAdvisor. However, travel should be a little bit vague as it is. You don’t really want the same result every time you are trying to find a good place for your trip. It will limit our chances to experiences the world.

    Prapat W.

    • Hi Pratap, I really like your comment that a vague result allows you to wander a while. For a travel site, I can see how that can be a good thing. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Bronwyn

  12. Excellent! you managed to dig out their information on the user’s reviews and feedbacks and many have been pretty satisfied with the website when sharing information on the places they frequent or visit. So, what other positive points that you think TripAdvisor can improve on to increase the number of collective data? 🙂

    • I think their data will be stronger and more reliable if they can establish that the people actually booked or stayed somewhere. There are changes in the pipeline to improve the Search and link to providers. I think this will help. Much like the online buying sites, where you need to have bought to make a comment. TripAdvisor has a huge following so I think they will get there.

  13. Great post – love the way you’ve set it out! Never thought of using ratings before 🙂 With TripAdvisor, you can trust the user implicitly because it’s their own opinion and everyone understands that – it’s a great service and I have decided against certain hotels because of this site so it’s a great example of the practical nature of user-generated content.

    • Thanks, Eve. I figured if TripAdvisor asks us to rate others they should have no problem with me rating them! I’m interested to hear your opinion on using TripAdvisor and it seems to match up to what the survey results found (see the link to “users wont book a hotel without reviews”). It has some pretty interesting stats and some good tips for what the users are looking for (eg traveller-submitted photos were highly regarded).

  14. Interesting…I never thought of TripAdvisor as a social media site but I guess it is! It has grown significantly over the past few years and expanded to many different platforms – including iPhone and iPad apps. In fact leaving a Trip Advisor report has almost become a fallback to tourists as they seek the best service possible. Companies and providers know that TripAdvisor can have a real impact on their popularity, and the problems of this you have accurately highlighted.

    • Hi Amy, thanks for your comments about the iPhone and iPad apps. I might sneak them in to an updated version of this post 😉 You can take the credit though! With more platforms and more users, they will need to navigate their issues carefully.

    • Thanks, Barry. I think a lot of us take things like TripAdvisor for granted. It helps to look at things from a different angle. The Web 2.0 analysis should help us see these sites in a clearer light.

    • Thanks for reading the post, and I did drop by your blog too. I think this subject at uni about Web 2.0 will be great. I have tried to keep out of the public domain – but this blogging has pushed me out there.

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