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Spotting The Fake Volunteer Abroad Reviews

Talk about irony.  While I was writing this 3rd Blog post about online reviews I received an email about a brand new volunteer abroad online review site.  Online reviews must be the fastest growing online business in the world.  The new site will be called Volunteer Voice and soon you can find them at volunteervoice.org.  All this industry needs is another online volunteer abroad program review site. I didn't provide a link, because the site is not live right now. So...moving on to the point of this post.  If you take an hour and go to 3 or 4 of the current online review sites and take time to read reviews, you will clearly see that some of the reviews are fake.  While there are no studies on exactly how many online reviews are faked, it’s clearly happening. Companies hire out review writers to flood popular services like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Places, and company pages on Facebook with glowing reviews. Others hire people to leave bad reviews for their competitors. How can you tell which reviews might be fake?  And why does GeoVisions think this is important to Blog about? You can't stop fake reviews.  You CAN take a stand against the online review sites publishing them and having no system in place to verify that the reviewer is indeed a former volunteer with that organization.  And that is what we intend to do.  We are not going to do business with people who have no verification process in place.  Will this impact our bottom line?  Yep, it will.  But if you don't have integrity, you really don't have a sustainable business, do you?  And we think fake reviews hurt good businesses.  Hit an organization with enough fake, negative reviews and you can put them out of business.  Flood the review site with fake positive reviews about your own organization and you are doing a disservice to the public.  You're lying. But the key is most consumers have no clue this is happening, and most consumers believe what they read.  That is why it is so important for the online review site to put verification services in place.  If you don't, you're passively encouraging fake reviews to mislead consumers. Given our use of social media these days, someone needs to tell me how anyone can trust a review from someone you know nothing about?     My New Best Friends This photo is copyrighted by The NY Times.  In the photo, from left, Claire Cardie, Myle Ott and Jeff Hancock are among the Cornell University researchers studying fake reviews. These researchers from Cornell recently published a paper about creating a computer algorithm for detecting fake reviewers. They were instantly approached by a dozen companies, including Amazon, Hilton, TripAdvisor and several specialist travel sites, all of which have a strong interest in limiting the spread of bogus reviews. The researchers have developed an algorithm to distinguish fake from real, which worked about 90 percent of the time. Also, research shows that humans are 5 times more likely to remember (and therefore write about) our negative experiences rather than focussing on promoting the good ones.  This leaves good organizations in a pretty poor state. They need people to see at least 5 times more positive reviews than negative, yet we are psychologically programmed to be five times more likely to leave negative reviews than positive ones. Is it really surprising, therefore, that business owners have had to resort to dishonestly writing their own good reviews as a way to try to even up the balance? What do the comments on a review site actually mean if you know nothing about the person leaving them? If an 18-year old college student says she paid too much for her program to go work with orphans in Cambodia and you're 50 years old and you're going to China and teach English, do you really care that the student thought the program was too pricy? The fact is, if you don’t know even a little about the person leaving the comment, then how do you know if it is relevant for you? Sandra Parker Ms. Parker is a professional reviewer.  She wrote hundreds of fake reviews for companies in order to create a buzz.  While the companies didn't require her to write lies or tell her exactly what to write, if the review wasn't five star, they didn't pay the typical $10 to $20 fee.  And Ms. Parker is only one of thousands of people, who, everyday write fake reviews. "Each of us was tasked with writing and posting a five-star review in order to create the appearance of having many satisfied customers. Having too many five-star reviews is a surefire clue that something is amiss." "When I was paid to produce a review, I was usually given a deadline of 48 hours for completion. The same held true for the other reviewers assigned to the same project. This meant that what we reviewed would have anywhere from 10 to 50 or more reviews posted within a 48-hour period. If you find a bunch of reviews posted around the same date/time, be wary." Other Ways To Spot A Fake Review Look at the language of the review: does the reviewer use the actual company name? If they repeatedly say “GeoVisions” [insert your company name here] when they could just say volunteer abroad, they could be trying to game the search engines. If numerous users all left reviews around the same time, and there hasn’t been much activity since, they could all be the same person or company leaving reviews under different names. Steer clear of user reviews that read like a sales ad. User reviews are a valuable tool that you can use to gauge whether a program will work for you. The main thing to remember when reading them is to trust your instinct. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, no matter what the reviews say. Ignore reviews that focus on details rather than value. Be skeptical of totally positive reviews. While there are hardcore fans of certain programs, most of us don’t have an incentive to write glowing reviews just because a organization does what we expected (and paid for) it to do. Rather, people usually write reviews to vent their frustration against a company, warn people against problems, or assess pros and cons. Watch out for super-negative reviews too. In addition to praising their own products, fakers will also knock competitors’ programs, especially their terms and conditions. Simple claims of “the program cost too much,” “I'm leaving this as a warning,” or “beware!!!!” are empty adjectives. So in sum Look for ratings a couple notches below perfect, with some details that don’t sound like copy-paste work. Pay attention to reviewer names and their history, and Google anything suspicious. Follow that advice, and you have a good idea who to trust.
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Did You Volunteer Abroad? Are You Sure?

on Oct 31, 2011 9:27:00 AM By | Randy LeGrant | 1 Comment | Program Reviews Volunteer/Work Abroad Industry Updates
On October 27, USA Today reported that a $10 million lawsuit has been filed against TripAdvisor.  "Our complaint is that TripAdvisor went too far. Instead of just reporting what people said, they made a flat-out statement that the hotel was the dirtiest," the Grand Resort Hotel's attorney, Sidney Gilreath, told USA TODAY. "Are the reviews from guests, or from former employees? We're going to look behind the curtain to find out," said Gilreath.
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Volunteer Abroad Organizations And Those Online Reviews

on Oct 27, 2011 9:25:00 AM By | Randy LeGrant | 3 Comments | Program Reviews Volunteer/Work Abroad Industry Updates
I don't know how many of you have a subscription over at Travel Mole.  If you do, you can click the link to see the article I'm Blogging about today.  If you do not have a subscription, I'm pasting the entire post below so you can read it.  I've provided the URL and the author's name.
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Two Steve Jobs Quotes That Help Us Do Volunteer Abroad Better

Here in our Guilford, CT office we look out onto a town Green that was established in 1639.  Same Green, same foot paths for 362 years.  At the North end sits the traditional New England white church with the clock tower and required bell that tolls at Noon.  On the other 3 sides of our Green sit buildings dating back to the 1700s.  Our office is in a building built in 1750.  We are surrounded by rich history.  All of us here are deeply attached to this place and we feel proud to be here.
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Voluntourism Certification: The Financial Risk Makes It A Bad Idea

on Aug 16, 2011 12:25:00 PM By | Randy LeGrant | 2 Comments | Volunteer/Work Abroad Industry Updates
There is an interesting debate going on over at Voluntourism Gal's Blog.  It concerns Tourism Concern's launch to "certify" travel organizations involved in voluntourism. In short, this is very ill-timed, but perhaps very well-meaning.  It is, ultimately, "much ado about nothing" and 5 years from now will not even rank as a distant memory.  What they will do does little to move the voluntourism needle forward, which is truly needed when thinking about communities, sustainable projects, locals and volunteers.  I've been doing this for 36 years, and I've seen these debates come and go over the years, and I've seen them go as often as they come.  What this will do is provide some guidance in the short run, it will take the minds off operators who refuse to get involved and how they will market against the effort, and as voluntourism changes again (it has gone through massive metamorphosis in even the last 3 years) the guidance will be so out of date to render it all meaningless. I am uncertain as to why people think "regulation" and "audits" are the only way to clean up a global mess.  And that is exactly what we have with voluntourism right now.  I guess, here in America (and certainly the UK) where colonialism is a part of our DNA, we want to make sure the rest of the world follows our direction and divine guidance and that we know best. IVPA (International Volunteer Programs Association) which is essentially a closed membership protective association at least has a very stringent set of Best Practices and to be a member, one must adhere to those Best Practices and Standards.   The Building Bridges Coalition (BBC) has spent 3 years developing a set of Best Practices and Standards for this industry.  WYSE Work Abroad has a global set of Best Practices and Standards for their membership. In other words, almost everywhere you look there are Best Practices and agreed upon industry standards.  And now we're going to be faced with Tourism Concern.  And what will be different?  Tourism Concern will still set up the guidelines, Tourism Concern will collect fees, but will they also accept the risk involved in verification or certification? Best Practices and Standards are a dime a dozen in volunteer abroad.  You can find them anywhere you look.  But no one has accepted the risk of verification and certification.  If Tourism Concern actually takes the next step and verifies…they assume a global financial risk no one else has ever dared.  That means, if I send my daughter on a program that has been verified by Tourism Concern, and it fails to deliver as the verification process suggests, I can sue them.  Because that's what we do here in America. What Tourism Concern wants to do is what IVPA, BBC, WYSE Work Abroad and many others have done already.  It's just more noise.  But if they back their guidelines and standards with real verification and stand behind it, now they have my attention.  Because they will have to pony up the incredible financial system to protect themselves and others when things go wrong.  I wrote WHEN, not IF.  And that's why you do not see verifiable standards out there today.  So I am interested in seeing if Tourism Concern will put their money where their mouth is.  All it will take is one American voluntourist who goes on a Tourism Concern verified program, and report that the standards are not being met and then sue to get their fees back.  I live and work here.  Yes, that will happen.  I will bet my lungs on that. So verify up, Tourism Concern.  I'm old, and I'm set in my ways.  But there is a first time for everything, and this I want to see.
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