Boo! Hiss! Everybody stand up and denounce the villain of the restaurant industry: Tripadvisor. It’s shit, right? All those pompous gits, whining and complaining, with their made-up reviews sabotaging the competition, what a bunch of wankers. Ban it!
I’m the first to admit, Tripadvisor is a pain in the arse at the best of times. An unregulated, unelected free-for-all, lawless pit of self-important judgement, like the wall of graffiti in the school toilets, but written by people who read The Daily Express.
Sure, It has its fair share of idiots and bullshitters. There’s also the clichéd vision of the typical Tripdavisor reviewer, very similar to mine, which is a cross between Nigel Farage and Howard and Hilda from Ever Decreasing Circles. The idea that anyone the least bit informed or cool would use Tripadvisor is a bit of a joke, or that’s how we all like to imagine. It’s also the root of all restaurant marketers’ problems, with the dreaded ‘one star review’ morning notification welcome less than a tequila hangover.
But has anyone taken the time to look beyond the criticism, and analysed the real impact and influence of such a behemoth on this industry?
My personal enthusiasm for the dreaded TA is well-known. Quite often I’ve stood up in restaurant marketing discussions and been the sole lonely voice making the case for everyone’s favourite pain in the arse. So I’m going to stick my head on the block and make the case:
If you’re a restaurant, Tripadvisor has to be your friend.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD, USER GENERATED CONTENT
One of the most interesting things is how quickly we’ve all adopted the online review as part of life, like they’ve always been there. TripAdvisor began its life in 2000. To get an idea of how early this was, Google only moved out of their garage the year before, and Facebook and twitter wouldn’t happen for 5 years. It was never intended to be about users’ opinions.
Originally it was to focus on a mix of official words from guidebooks or critics reviews in newspapers and magazines. A helpful digital combination of all. So far so good, everything works fine, just like many other guides.
Then one day, someone added a little button for visitors to add their own reviews, famously the feature Amazon pioneered only a couple of years previously for books.
Take-up went crazy. Website visits and registered users skyrocketed. Do you know what happened? People were more interested in the user opinion than the ‘professional’ opinion.
Basically: welcome to the world, the user-review.
THE OPINION CONSENSUS
As a restaurant marketer I’ve been trying to make sense of guest influence in restaurants for 20 years, and I don’t think I’m alone in believing the user review has been the single biggest game changer in restaurant marketing in that time.
What’s clear to me is this: People trust other people.
People trust people like themselves. It’s part of the opinion consensus, the internet or specifically Tripadvsor has simply provided a platform for this.
The old media has obviously been disparaging: you don’t have to look far to find journalists sneering at ‘hoi polloi’ and their basicness. See how they guffaw at Mr Smith and his good lady wife from Tunbridge Wells, the ‘opted for’/‘melt-in-the-mouth’ brigade. It’s the same snooty attitude which is heaped on ‘comment warriors’, the same ‘comment warriors’ who have driven arguably the biggest revolution in how media effectively earns money since the battle of Wapping in 1986.
But this self-satisfied sneering needs to be watched. AA Gill seems almost Luddite now when heard quoting ‘Citizen Journalism’ back in 2010.’ (00.23)
‘Would you trust a citizen dentist?’ he cries, chuckling smugly to himself (I love how he proudly puts journalists in the same bracket as the medical profession). His ‘leave it to the professionals’ point is a good one, and granted not simply taking about critics, but sadly this attitude all sounds a bit twentieth century now.
THE USUAL COMPLAINTS
Let’s start with the addressing the usual complaints about TA. To begin, we hear a lot about the ‘no control’ angle. Nothing we can do, no reasoning etc etc. What’s funny to me is how nobody has a problem when they get a nice review. Only when they get a bad one. So instead of thinking about the reason someone posted it, they moan about TA like it’s got something in for them. Like having a suggestions box, not liking the suggestions, so you shout at the box. And don’t start the ‘but that’s not public information’ argument. This is 2016. Transparency is King.
Another argument frequently trotted out is, ‘if you have a complaint, you should make it at the time’.
Well, call me British, but I’m not one of those people who likes to treat every commercial or hospitality experience as a live confrontation session for raising problems with service. I go out to enjoy myself. Nobody likes the complainer, not your friends, guests, colleagues or anyone else. The only people who complain in restaurants are frankly arrogant, self-entitled tossers who relish this pathetic bit of power they manage to uncomfortably ejaculate over some poor young server. No, normal people keep these things to themselves.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Now that the restaurant industry has begun to realise the user review cannot be ignored, its time to think cleverly about the positives. TA is quite possible one of the industry’s best sources of feedback one could ever wish for.
It was Gordon Gekko in ‘Wall Street’ who famously said ’the most valuable commodity I know of is information’. Well, feedback is your information. We all know it’s crucial, which is why every serious consumer business in the world invests so heavily in it. Tripadvisor gives people the best chance to let you know what you are doing right or wrong, and that information should be relished. Ignore it at your peril.
Lastly, there is customer loyalty. Think about the process of leaving that review. The guest has paid their bill, then left, gone home, and then taken the quite boring and tedious process of entering their review. They really wanted to do this. Why? Quite honestly I don’t know myself. But they do. Good or bad (but usually good, it has to be said) the urge to share is there. If it is a bad point they want to share, we have to consider why they want to do this. Spite? Pure vengeance? I’m not sure. I like to think it’s mostly a cry for help. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve contacted guests after they’ve left bad reviews, reasoned with them, killed problems with kindness, and they’ve become our best ambassadors and most loyal regulars to this day. People feel let down, unloved perhaps. TA gives you the chance to love them again.
I believe what we have to accept is Tripadvisor and the user review is here to stay. The way I see it is its all part of an evolving situation. Tripadvisor is not perfect, but if you are looking for pure unbiased guidance then neither is the highly corrupt PR/Journalist self-preserving model that has existed in old-world press and reviews for years. People are not stupid, they don’t go to Tripdavisor for the last word, it just provides another opinion.
And maybe they just love reading the hilarious home-made reviews about Nazi Maitre d’s and dirty loos in hotels.