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At what point does social media get an ASBO?

There has been a fair amount of coverage in the news recently about the reliability of Tripadvisor and the amount of twaddle talked on Twitter.

The negative publicity about Tripadvisor shook me to my very core. I very rarely book any hotel ever without feverishly reading the reviews and analysing the stats on Tripadvisor first. I’m what Alan Sugar would describe as a “Steady Eddie” – I’m risk averse. If I’m going to be spending money on a holiday and staying in a hotel then I need to be reassured that it is clean, comfortable, safe and conveniently located.

The reason that I was so distressed by the news is because I regularly leave impartial, factual reviews on the site myself. I like to think that somewhere out there, a Cautious Carole is booking her room safe in the knowledge that my words have put her mind at rest and that’s one less thing to worry about with the whole traumatic experience of travelling.

But if recent reports in the media are to be taken with the hysteria they demand, then nearly every review is either written (in one underhand way or another) by the hotel owners themselves or, on the flipside, by somebody with a grudge that wants to destroy a hotel’s good name simply because they weren’t given a free upgrade to a honeymoon suite. Or it could just be a rival hotelier trying to put his competitors out of business.

The difficulty facing social media is that the more people are using it, the more potential it has to bring in (or take away) new business for brands and therefore the higher the stake for the brand owners and the higher the temptation to influence what is being said about them in a clandestine way.

If genuine users start to suspect that a site is too heavily influenced with fake reviews they will eventually vote with their feet and look for an alternative that has not yet been compromised.

Personally, my experience of Tripadvisor has been very good to date so it is still in my list of “trusted brands” – unlike certain orange-themed “budget” airlines I could mention. If my reviews are genuine I like to believe that the majority of others are too – although it’s probably fair to say you are more likely to leave a review if you have either a fantastic or an awful experience and less likely to if it was just run of the mill.

Now onto Twitter: I have to confess I still don’t really get it.

Loads of my friends use it and preach its brilliance. Maybe I’m just a Luddite, but I really don’t feel the need to know that Cheryl Cole is going to the shops. Or not having a fling with MC Harvey.

There must be benefits – otherwise millions of people wouldn’t be using it. I’m pretty sure that when this blog is posted a tweet is set to automatically go out from WordPress to notify people, so I suppose that could be useful if anyone is actually interested in reading it. But being more of a glass half empty kind of person I’m always more aware of the pitfalls. Stewart Lee, the comedian, demonstrated one of these in a monologue a few years ago when he spoke about Ironik, the rapper:

“He was a tweeter and one Saturday last November, he twatted, which is the past tense of tweet. Ironik twatted that he’d bought a new diamond necklace and he twatted that he was on his way to Southend to do a gig, and then he twatted that he was on his way back to London, and then he got mugged outside his house. And now Ironik understands the meaning – if not the spelling – of his name.”

More recently, there was a case in the news last week about a guy called Leigh Van Bryan who inadvertently spoilt his (and his travelling companion’s) holiday to Hollywood before it had even begun when he was arrested at LAX and subsequently denied access to the USA. He was considered a potential threat by the Department of Homeland Security when he posted a tweet to his friends saying he was going to “dig up Marilyn Monroe and destroy America”… which, of course, he clearly wasn’t.

In the old days it was just so much more effort to be stopped from flying or barred from entering America. You had to literally walk up to a security official at an airport and joke with them you were carrying a bomb or something. Now though, when you share a tweet with your mates you better beware of the fallout, because the powers that be are watching and they don’t always have a sense of humour.

I’ll finish with some stats I read in Friday’s Metro:

Tweeters say that only 36 per cent of the tweets they receive are of any interest, about 25 per cent are actively disliked and the rest are instantly forgotten.

There are a few points of advice for tweeters here. I, however, will be choosing to ignore them altogether. I feel so much safer that way.

3 thoughts on “At what point does social media get an ASBO?

  1. Rob says:

    Great post. User Generated Content (UGC) like in the case of Tripadvisor is great for SEO. But if your site is being abused there’s not too much you can do about it. As this article states, “it’s difficult to stifle”.
    http://www.tnooz.com/2011/11/21/how-to/how-to-combat-fake-review-optimization-in-travel/

    But you should really get on Twitter!

  2. Sue Thomas says:

    I found this blog via Twitter. Don’t knock/bite/slap the hand that feeds!

    1. Rob says:

      Yes, I suppose I should be wary of poking a hypocritical stick into a potential hornets nest of tweeters whilst tweets are automatically set to notify people of my own blogs. I suppose this shows both the benefits and the costs of twitter in a nutshell – quick publicity but a risk of annoying your audience at the touch of a button.

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