An experiment by the RTS questions the reliability of rating platforms in the restaurant industry. In three weeks, “Le Sixième” has risen to the top 10 of the best establishments in Lausanne according to TripAdvisor rankings. But this restaurant never existed.
To test the functioning and reliability of rating platforms and the power of social networks, the RTS program À Bon Entendeur (ABE) has created a new trendy restaurant in Lausanne from scratch. With a striking specificity: this new restaurant does not exist. Only his image exists on the Internet, on social networks and the Google and TripAdvisor reference platforms.
The program À Bon Entendeur has opened a fake restaurant in Lausanne. [RTS]The result is spectacular: in 20 days, the fake restaurant “Le Sixième” has been included on TripAdvisor in the ranking of the 10 best establishments in Lausanne. The team received more than 400 phone calls from people wanting to book a table. They were told the establishment was “full”.
“It’s amazing to see this kind of customer response and the behavior of these platforms,” said Caroline Juillerat, co-president of GastroNeuchâtel. “We do our work with passion and we like having real customers.”
The Sixth’s phone has already ringed over 400 times
>> Watch the full show:
False reviews not detected
To achieve this result, the editors called on a series of accomplices. They have published more than fifty very positive fictitious opinions on TripAdvisor, making the “Sixth” quick progress in the site’s rankings. It also bought fake reviews generated by specialized companies in an effort to test TripAdvisor’s detection systems.
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The American company calls itself “the world’s leading travel platform”. Every month, almost 250 million people consult or book a restaurant, hotel or leisure activity via this platform. Revenue in 2019 was over $1.5 billion.
TripAdvisor says it is constantly cracking down on fake reviews and has “taken steps to remove more than 240 paid review companies that attempted to post content”. But as part of this experiment, it failed to detect the fake reviews.
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The power of influencers
Content was also generated on Facebook and Instagram to increase awareness of the establishment and convert the interest of future customers into reservations. A true digital marketing strategy has been put in place, led by industry professionals, Natacha Gadjowski from Imedia and the team from the Creatives agency.
Whether in the hospitality industry or for other establishments, it is complicated to want to do without social networks
Influencers from French-speaking Switzerland also participated in the experiment to quickly develop the popularity of the fake restaurant on social networks, especially on Instagram. Among them Whitney Toyloy, ex-miss Switzerland followed by almost 16,000 people on Instagram, the French-speaking comedian Yann Marguet, but also culinary influencers and journalists. In total, they have nearly 100,000 subscribers on the networks. During a fake VIP party, they generated positive content about the Sixth.
“Whether in the hospitality industry or for other establishments, it’s complicated to want to be without social networks. Then word of mouth and a good reputation are just as beneficial to an establishment, but getting yourself known is important,” says Whitney Toyloy.
>> (Re)see also the ABE report on the e-reputation of companies:
Some fake reservations accepted
The Facebook and Instagram statistics of the “Sixth” accounts reveal the impact of the publications of the influencers present during this fake VIP evening. The fake restaurant community has grown rapidly and the website has experienced peaks of varying sizes in its publications.
At the end of the experiment, the fake restaurant accepted about 40 reservations made through The Fork platform, which is itself owned by TripAdvisor. This made it possible to highlight the functioning of this intermediary, which offers a special introductory offer to highlight the branches on its site for a month. The Fork charges 6 francs per cover for any reservation made at lunchtime and 8 francs in the evening.
The ABE team then called everyone who had reserved a table through this channel to explain that the restaurant did not exist. “Such an experience creates awareness,” says one of the customers. “It makes us aware that you should not believe everything you read on the internet (…) and that as a consumer you do not know how the system works internally”.
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There is a kind of magical thinking around these reviews. We tell ourselves that there may be false comments, but ultimately these opinions must be true
When asked about the topic, Nicolas Capt, a lawyer specializing in media law, believes that the opinions published on the various TripAdvisor media are very popular with consumers, who are sometimes uncritical.
“Content that people think comes from people like them has a much higher confidence index than ads, which is why consumer opinion is the holy grail,” says the specialist. “There is a kind of magical thinking. We tell ourselves that there may be false remarks, but in the end the overall picture has to be the reality.”
These platforms have temporarily succeeded in making themselves indispensable
This strong appreciation of the opinion or comment gives a lot of power to reference platforms, such as Google, Booking or TripAdvisor, adds Paul-Olivier Dehaye. The mathematician, strongly committed to the protection of personal data, closely monitors the presence and establishment of these platforms in the digital landscape.
“They have succeeded in making themselves indispensable. Or rather, they have temporarily succeeded in making themselves indispensable,” he warns. “More and more people are looking for alternatives, perhaps with more local solutions, to try to reverse that power dynamic a bit.”
>> Presentation of the Swiss startup Foodetective, which offers these kinds of alternatives, in the program On en parle:
Lack of transparency
Is the weight of algorithms underestimated or overestimated? [RTS]These platforms communicate very little about how their algorithms work, the criteria they use to establish their rankings, the monitoring systems they set up to combat fake comments or the sometimes fine line between added content and sponsored content, for example through premium subscriptions. paid by institutions or advertising.
“The opacity certainly suits them, because it becomes very difficult for restaurants to estimate the value of paid services,” analyzes Paul-Olivier Dehaye. “They feel compelled to participate in this system.”
The ultimate goal is to get the money into the treasury
During this experience, the fake restaurant team was asked several times by TripAdvisor’s sales department to subscribe to the platform’s paid services in order to improve the attractiveness and exposure of its page.
The Premium subscription, which offers more advanced functions in the promotion and management of its page, costs about fifty francs per month. A TripAdvisor ad campaign that puts a restaurant at the top of restaurant searches — not top rankings — can cost hundreds of dollars a day.
Paul-Olivier Dehaye is categorical on one point: “The ultimate goal is to bring money into the treasury. And for that, you have to be able to monetize all the traffic on the platform through restaurant reservations, premium services, advertisements,” details-he. “The goal is to optimize this revenue. Optimizing the traffic, the quality of the information, is secondary.”
>> Also listen to the explanation about the investigation in the news from 12:30 pm:
François Egger, with LB