In April 2009 online information provider LexisNexis commissioned a study of usage of online review and rating sites by small businesses and consumers.
Although the study was broad, encompassing all types of review sites, the results are instructive to small tourism related businesses, particularly when we also look at the results of the 2008 study commissioned by TripAdvisor, focusing specifically on travel review sites.
I was struck by the fact that a majority of consumers (53%) felt that the consumer reviews were more trustworthy than third-party independent reviews.
I also took note of the fact that 54% of the respondents felt that it was too easy for a business to post “fake” reviews. The study commissioned by TripAdvisor found little indication of characteristics typical of false reviews.
What can we take from this?
1. Usage of review sites for travel planning is significant and growing.
The growth of usage and trust in the accuracy of reviews should be supported by locally owned tourism businesses. A business should never be tempted to fake a review. It is just as easy to ask for one from a satisfied customer.
It is big business that is most fearful of losing control of their marketing message. Small tourism businesses are naturally more customer-focused and able to quickly turn negative reviews into positive opportunities.
2. Review sites can level the playing field for small locally-owned tourism businesses.
With trust levels higher for consumer-generated reviews, small businesses can use their limited advertising budgets to encourage positive reviews. These are not fake. They are genuine comments from satisfied customers who have been encouraged to tell others.
By creating a short flyer with a review site URL and a polite request, customers can be encouraged to go online and share their positive experience. These can be handed to satisfied customers as business with them is concluded.
The owners of Cupcake Connection in Nashville, TN have noticed a huge boost in their small business because of Yelp reviews. Signs on the cupcake window and on the door encourage visitors to leave their comments on Yelp. And by the way, these people have nothing to worry about regarding negative comments. They make possibly the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten!
Links to review sites can be added to web sites, blog posts and email newsletters.
Most review sites allow businesses to create information pages including pictures and descriptions. These aren’t “fake” reviews. They support the consumer reviews with the additional information people need to make their final decisions.
Spending time rather than advertising dollars to create these profiles makes good business sense. Remember, people have more trust in the information on these pages than they do in fancy expensive advertising that research shows isn’t working very well anyway!