Let me tell you about something that drives most businesses either online or offline. It’s why we choose one product on Amazon.com over another, and it’s why we stand in the longer line in the Food Court. Let’s talk about ‘Social Proof’. Loosely defined, social proof is ”
a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behaviour, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.” (Wikipedia)
Mom wasn’t lying when she warningly mocked us, saying “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Conforming to what other people are doing has many positive and negative consequences that I will leave you to debate in the comment section below. What we want to discuss here is how social proof affects our travel research and decision making, and whether we can really trust measurements like “star” ratings based on travel feedback, and can you trust online travel reviews?
THIN THE HERD!
Reviews, blog or forum posts, are just individual blurbs where someone has marked their opinion as favourable or unfavourable, and potentially on a point scale. By themselves the recommendations aren’s really reliable, but when they become a crowd they turn into a reliable guide. Once you have a list, it’s time to thin the herd a little bit. When you are looking at a list of reviews, it’s always best to disregard the top 5-10% of the great reviews, and 5-10% of the crummy ones. You can safely assume that the small percentage of very top reviews are written by the employees or friends thereof. As for the percentage of the lowest reviews, they could be written by people who may just have been having a bad day, or even a businesses competitors. Like Aristotle, we are looking for the middle ground between to extremes and seeing where it leans. Unintentional rhyming is fun, isn’t it!
What you want to do next is to pass over the reviews of people you don’t generally agree with. What I mean by this is, check and see if the person who wrote the review that piques your interest has written other reviews. Do you agree with what they’ve said on other topics? Are all the reviews this person leaves in a similar rose coloured or disgruntled tone? The main point is to remove the weight of those reviews by extremists.
WHAT DOES THE BUSINESS SAY?
If you are on a popular review site like TripAdvisor, or even on the social account for the business itself, you should see how or if a business responds to a negative review. If a hotel or restaurant responds to a complaint or review in a responsible way and do not dismiss the criticism, it is pretty good evidence that the owners care about their customers and what they think. These sorts of companies are trying to be better.
TRUST YOUR JUDGEMENT
When it comes down to it, choosing a place to eat, stay, or travel to is your decision. Review your options and if a place seems like it’s reviews are far too good to be true, or really doesn’t seem to have anyone saying nice things about it, use your discretion. We’ve eaten at places everyone else seems to have hated and loved it, and stayed at places people raved about and felt pretty indifferent. Trust yourself first, then your immediate social circle, and lastly the trolls on the interwebs.