How to spot a fake TripAdvisor review

Picture of social media controlsSo, are you enjoying the summer of sport, wanting to get along to an event or two, thinking of booking a restaurant or hotel and make an event of it? Then watch out. If you use the many social media review sites you might find yourself reading something deliberately biased. A hotel group in Ireland was recently caught considering putting false reviews on TripAdvisor and you can see from the article the fuss that caused, even when it didn't get as far as the site itself.

It's worth stressing that there is no suggestion that TripAdvisor or any other social media site is colluding with overly fulsome reviews. They feel very strongly about them and do everything they can to remove them.


It still happens, though. A colleague of mine wrote and self-published his own book. He left a business card with the local branch of a national bookseller and was told to get lost - later finding that a lot of bad reviews had gone onto Amazon, which it later transpired came from staff at the bookseller. They removed them eventually but they had labelled the positive reviews from other people as 'unhelpful' and this can't be removed.

And viewers of the first series of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on Channel 4 may remember the time he turned up at a restaurant that needed rescuing, only to find that an online review said it was better than any of his eateries or those of Jamie Oliver. He asked the owner whether he'd written the review himself and the owner denied it. He asked again and the owner confessed, breaking down in tears. He'd been desperate.


So how can you tell when a review is fake and when it's genuine? The first thing to stress is that the fakes are in the minority. I've written a few reviews myself and if you happen across one on TripAdvisor I can assure you I have no connection with the places I've mentioned other than as a customer, you may have done the same yourself. The vast majority are just intended as helpful, or from people who like writing independent reviews, or whatever other reason they might have. The kebab shop in Camberwell that hit the headlines last week for outranking the Ritz was completely genuine, for example.

There is the odd fake, though, and there are sometimes signs.

1. Is it full of marketing speak? A review that talks about a 'mission' or 'front of house' may well have been written by someone very close to the business, or to a similar business. Of course marketing professionals can write a review just like anyone else but if it looks filled with jargon, check other reviews as well.

2. Is it a maverick review? Does everyone else say something is wonderful but this one says it's terrible? That can be genuine, a place can have an off day or just not be to someone's taste. But then - wait for it - does it recommend an alternative nearby? This is something a lot of small businesses try, and somehow they forget to mention they're recommending their own establishment.

3. Is the reviewer associated with the product?An author I know had a glowing review published almost as soon as their book came out, which would've been great - had I not known it was written by the author's partner. If their spouse had declared their interest it would have been fine. It's a shame because it is a good book and didn't need the exaggeration!

4. More superlatives than detail - research in the US highlighted in this Daily Mail article suggests that if someone tells you something's brilliant without telling you why, it's probably not real. My own view is that even if it is, it's pretty useless - I might tell you a curry house was great and mean it's great because the curries are really mild, which could be the wrong thing for you anyway.

Remember, most reviews are perfectly genuine - hopefully the above will help you spot some of the tiny minority that aren't!

Guy Clapperton is the author of "This Is Social Media".