Bogus reviews – Randy stole my blog!

By Sallie Grayson. Filed in good and bad practice  |  
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I was going to write a post about how to read review sites – and eerily as I started writing it I got an alert about another blog I follow – Randy Le Grant’s Geovisions blog

And he’d been and gone and beaten me! Whats really scary is that he was, in all liklehood, writing it at the same time as Kate, Harold and I were discussing the problem of fake reviews.

So thanks Randy ( I think!) heres his blog: –

I wrote this post flying from Washington, DC to Denver to attend a conference on Voluntourism.  When I landed and got to my hotel, I read what I had written and thought I might send it.  But it seemed more of a rant to me, so I didn’t hit the “publish” button.

Next day at the conference during my presentation, I mentioned to the group what I had written.  The subject was Program Review Sites.

I originally wrote that I hate them.

After the conference and listening to others in the room, I still hate them.  But I hate them as they are, and I now embrace what they could become.

(And in my home, I always tell my children that “hate” is a very strong word.)

I originally wrote that I would expose some program reviews as bogus.  In other words, pointing out reviews that are placed by people who never even traveled on the program they are reviewing, or reviews posted by program owners to bolster their ratings.

After the conference and listening to others in the room, I am going to encourge the owners of these review sites to police their sites better, and provide a platform where consumer (volunteer) and provider can learn.  I want them to provide a space where volunteers can be educated in the realities of volunteering abroad and program providers can take constructive criticism and make their programs better.

Two way communication in reviews.I learned, by listening to some very wise people in the room, that program reviews can be more powerful than testimonials.  That review sites can actually become a “community” of sorts.

Today I read a post by a young woman who wrote, “I rely on reviews, many reviews, to make a decision to buy.  I want to know I’m joining a community of people who share my values, who paved the way before me, and give me lots of things to consider.  I know there are the raving outliers who will rant about anything, so I pay no attention to those.  I look for real reviews, written honestly, with the intent to inform and give personal opinion.”

I listened to an author at the conference in Denver, who struggled with a very negative review of a well-known program and took the time to do some research and found another person who had a very positive view of the same program.  The author then included both reviews to give balance.

So here I am on an airplane the next day, rewriting my original post.  I have tossed 99% of what I originally wrote.  I owe that decision to some great comments from a great group in Denver.

I now understand review sites are important.  I understand they have the power to form a community.  And I realize they are not going away.

The Top Five Things Review Site Owners Can Do To Be Responsible

1. Please remind reviewers before they start writing that what happens on the Internet, STAYS on the Internet. At the very minimum, you owe these people that much.  Their comments will stay there FOREVER.

2. Make people come forward, not hide behind a fake name.  Over on a leading abroad review site, anyone can sign in and use a made up name.  SallyLampShade207.  Why?  Why would ANYONE take a review on that site seriously?  All you need is a unique IP Address, an email address to get a verifying link from them (and this can be a one-time email address that is never used again), you set up a user name you can hide behind, and you can write a review and post it.

3. Share the responsibility.  Provider, reviewer, review site owner.  If program providers are held responsible for their programs, hold reviewers responsible for proving they were really a participant on the program they review.  Let them know if something looks odd, you’re going to come back to them.  Let them know you are going to share their email address and name with the provider, so they can make things right.  It will make the reviews more helpful to consumers.  A reputation can go south overnight on the Internet.  If you shirk your responsibility, you share in pushing that reputation over the edge.

4. REMOVE bogus reviews.  REMOVE THEM. This idea of, “You may not remove your review, but you may add to it.”  That’s cowardly.  Get rid of them.

5. Post your motivation for providing reviews to the public:

  • Is it to have a hyped up site to sell more Google ads?
  • Is it to have more negative reviews, so you attract more traffic?
  • Or are you truly committed to improving the industry, and to provide a community of fellow voluntourists who are now, after their experience, committed to the community too?  If you are doing this for the right reasons, you’ll become active and you’ll attend conferences and you will contribute valuable information to providers, lessons all of us want to learn to be better.

The abroad review site I mentioned above violates every one of these 5 suggestions.  I hate that site.  (Look…I had to leave at least ONE thing from the original post.)

If you own such a site, get in touch.  I’d love to chat with you.  We’re not perfect over here at GeoVisions.  I’ve done this work 36 years and GeoVisions celebrated 10 years on February 11.  So we’re not in business to upset people or provide an inferior experience.  We care deeply about our volunteers and teachers and we are grateful for them.  We care about our programs and that they are safe.  Provide me a platform where I can learn more (like I did this week in Denver) and I will embrace you.  I can help drive even more traffic to your site.

Or better yet, attend a conference.  I was just at one in Denver.  There will be another in Barcelona, Spain in mid-September.  And there will be others.  Get involved in the community you want to review…and that will show your true motivation.

Right now, I know of one.  GoOverseas.com.  Those guys want to to it the right way.  They are active in our industry.  They provide remarkable content 7 days a week.  They work with providers and they provide information to hopeful volunteers and teachers.  They work with organizations to “get it right.”  They listen.

BBB SealI like the BBB (Better Business Bureau).  We display the BBB logo on our Home Page.  It is actually a dynamic link to our BBB rating.  Right now we are proud to be an A+ business.  But if we fall, that is noted right on our Home Page.

On that site you can write a review or file a complaint.  And yes, you have to use your real name.  You can no longer use SallyLampShade207.  You can also see the other complaints and how we rectified them.  We like the BBB because they insist on two-way communication.  You wrote this.  The company wrote that.  And here is how it all ended.  Right there for everyone to see.  Use it.  It’s on our Home Page for cryin’ out loud.

Isn’t that what this is all about?  You just gave a ton of hours, a lot of money and you want to see something improved?  The BBB site requires that.  You can’t just write a review and move on.  You have to interact with the company.  That way, things get better.  100% of the time.

If you have comments about this post, we encourage them here.  Yeah, you have to leave your real email address and name.  But we are eager to know what you think.  Get that?  We are eager to know what YOU think.

3 Comments

  1. Comment by Randy LeGrant:

    Hi Sallie. Sorry about that. Thanks for publishing my post here and I look forward to working hand in hand with you to correct what these review sites are doing. And, I’m very proud to be working on a project with you and People and Places. What a great organization!!

  2. Comment by Sallie:

    just so you are all in the picture this is what Randy and I plan

    me to Randy
    “mmmm well thanks a million Randy – this was going to be my very next blog – I promise – and you stole my thunder – take a look here – http://blog.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/
    I guess really I should say thanks – copying yours was easier than writing it myself.
    seriously – lets work together on this one to help volunteers work their way thru the smoke and mirrors. Another great post”

    Randy to me
    “Hi Sallie,

    You can use anything at all I write. And if I actually did steal your thunder, we’re on the same page. I am eager to work with you on this subject. Thanks for your kind words and as always for your support. Randy”

    me to Randy
    “so how about we write something together. “A guide to reading volunteer trip reviews” and we divide and conquer and post it on a comment on all the review sites on all the reviews – it’ll be interesting to see who posts it and who doesn’t?”

    So watch this space – who else will join me and randy in our campaign to stop these bogus reviews and help potential volunteers make informed decisions?

  3. Comment by betethome:

    I like blog.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk, bookmarked
    bet and home

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