Nicola Peaty

User Generated Content…who knows best..?

By Nicola Peaty

Trip Advisor - user generated content driving purchasing behaviourMother? Experts? Peers? Well probably all three. Given the chance I’m sure they would all want to voice their opinions and maybe advice. My recent media spot in BA’s inflight magazine, Business Life, certainly endorses the value of peer opinion. In an interview with Steve Kaufer, President and CEO at Trip Advisor, he explains how his business model relies on the content from users together with cost per click advertising.

Trip Advisor was born from his own need to find ‘insightful’ information about a vacation he was looking into, back in 1999. Frustrated by the predictable, standard glossy brochures, he went on to the internet and found comments that helped him decide where to stay on his holiday. Following a great time away, his wife said “Hey, you should start a company that makes that easy for people”. And indeed the following year, Steve Kaufer, together with three co-founders (and a million dollars in venture funding) set up Trip Advisor. 

They had no reviews to start with but lots of links to websites with reviews about the hotels they had on their site. The key to encouraging their own reviews, was simply a big button with the words ‘Write your own review’. In time they built up their reviews. Interestingly, the traffic analysis showed that visitors to their site were reading the amateur reviews before the professional reviews. So they re-ordered and put the user reviews first on their site, which consequently grew the user reviews even more.

It all sounds so simple. And it really is. User generated content (UGC) for many websites can really enhance the content offering, as well as the user experience. Whether it is to encourage comment or opinion, via blogs or wikis, UGC can really add value to a website and even the product/service offering.

Obviously it’s important to have certain measures of quality control in place to check the relevance, credibility, any profanities and legitimacies. Also, it’s important to understand and appreciate the difference between fact and opinion. It has been known for personal rants to be vented via these channels, so caution should be taken with any extreme biased information.

At my previous company, many of our websites had discussion forums, which are often subject to ‘known’ regular users voicing their strong ideas and opinions depending on the subject matter. Our website administrators monitored these closely and just pulled any offending content as and when they felt necessary. We used different hooks to encourage debate and content, from posting controversial topics to running competitions for the funniest holiday snaps. You’d be amazed what would work the best. But then again, look at Facebook and You Tube.

Social networking is a prime example of user generated content, where anything goes. There is a real thirst for users to share home videos, family photos, their latest ‘status’ and of course their shared knowledge. I can hold my hands up and say, that if I have a problem or need advice on something specific, I either Google or ask my Facebook friends. I’d say that nine times out of ten, I get the best advice and answers from my peers whom I trust and who have the relevant experience or knowledge pertaining to my question.

This then brings me neatly back to remind us why the business model for Trip Advisor works so well. It makes sense that you’d trust several reviews from travellers who have actually been there, done it. No wonder the simple model which taps into a popular subject and global market, is such a roaring success.

Finally, in view of this subject matter, I now ask you to present your thoughts and views on this or any of our previous blogs!

Nicola Peaty, Director – VG&A