Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Five Stars: The Science Behind Social Media Reviews

Where’s your first stop when trying to find that perfect restaurant for a fancy date tonight? Or when researching a bed and breakfast for a weekend away with friends? Before blindly booking, most of us turn to social media. We scan online reviews, check out photos from events, and scrutinize travel sites to read about other people’s experiences. Negative reviews raise red flags for us, while positive ones reassure us that our choice is right. (Fake reviews are a whole ‘nother story...)

Here, I’ve analyzed social media reviews to quantify how each platform facilitates a different type of conversation. Reviewers liked to comment on everything and the kitchen-sink, however by focusing in on Yelp, Instagram and TripAdvisor reviews, I’m able to see some trends across social media. The top three categories I took a look at were:

  1. Product
  2. Operations
  3. Food


How do you know whether the place that’s just opened across the street is a good one? You go to Yelp and check them out! Product reviews were 1.3x higher on Yelp, and 1x higher on Instagram, and made up just over 19% of conversational categories across social media. Although there were a fair number of product-related conversations happening on TripAdvisor, it’s at a much lower incidence than the other social media sites and lower than the overall average.

Over 22% of reviews across social media included an image along with the reviewer’s commentary on the particular product. Furthermore, regardless of category, images were usually tied to positive reviews rather than negative ones.


While people didn’t go to TripAdivsor to rate products, they instead took a keener interest in operations than any other site did. Operations made up over 17% of the conversations of the travel review site, a rate 4.5x higher than overall. People wrote warnings to “beware the road construction” and that hotels or rooms were “noisy noisy noisy!”

An interesting note: People seem to rarely complain or talk about safety and damage claims on social media. Perhaps they send those directly to the managers responsible instead.


Pass the salt, please! The mentions of food on Yelp was 1.6x higher and TripAdvisor 1.4x higher than the rest of the online reviews we looked at and was diverse in terms of responses; overall, food was mentioned in 13% of the conversations with almost 8% accompanied by an image.

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Reviews were mixed; words such as “delicious” were unambiguously positive while words such as “awful” indicated disappointment with a dining experience. Perhaps surprisingly, the appearance of “good” in a review didn’t necessarily point to a pleasurable experience. It was frequently accompanied by modifiers such as “but” as in “The sauce was good, but the tortillas weren’t fried” or “the food is never as good as we hope…”. It’s a mixed bag of reviews but that’s unsurprising, considering it’s recently been suggested that writing a negative review is a way to psychologically deal with a bad experience.

Yelp reviewers didn’t tend to post photos in addition to their review — but that’s what people went to Instagram for. When discussing banquet events, people snapped photos and uploaded them to Instagram at a rate over 3x higher than the overall. As events are dominated by photos in social media — and Instagram is entirely photo-driven — it’s possible that people are taking those pictures to commemorate positive experiences, events, and celebrations. (Of course, you could be just trying to one-up your Facebook and Instagram friends.)

The takeaway? Next time you see someone capturing a quick picture of their meal, you can safely bet your friends that it’s ending up on Instagram rather than Yelp or TripAdvisor.

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