And here is another new standard in trompe-l’oeil, which one wonders what it will be used for . It is proposed to us this time by the AFNORgroup , the standardization association.

Satisfied with herself, she says “publish the first voluntary standard, in the world, aimed at making the processing of consumer reviews on the Internet more reliable .” She adds: “43 organizations have been able to work collectively, for 18 months, to define rules applicable to all review sites relating to products, tourism, catering and services in general.” We are in admiration, but we shouldn’t dig any further. We will stay hungry.

It was – a laudable project – to seek to regulate consumer opinions on the Internet to make the system more loyal and to guard against cheating. But also (and above all) to hunt down fake reviews written by editors, generally located abroad, paid by professionals to speak well of their own establishment or to exterminate false negative reviews posted by malicious competitors. Hoteliers could legitimately expect a lot from them, they who feel so helpless in the face of their clients (or false clients) who speak out about hotels.

It must be said that while 93% of travelers search for hotels to stay on the Internet , 41% consult online reviews before making their choice ( Coach Omnium study – April 2013). 64% say they are sensitive or influenced by these opinions of other travelers and only 12% say they have already published one or more comments following hotel stays.

An optional standard
So, a whole series of “voluntary” standards were laid down by AFNOR and its 43 acolytes, over 13 meetings, such as the Shadocks who kept pumping and pumping. There is a jumble of the prohibition to buy reviews, the request for the provision of proof of purchase by the commentary (customer), the display of the most recent reviews first, a free right of reply by hoteliers, identification of the authors of comments posted, etc.

This magnificent repository is of course made for sites that publish reviews online. We think first of behemoths such as Booking , TripAdvisor and soon Google . They are invited mouth to heart by AFNOR to adopt this standard. They could then either use it by “self-checking” (no laughing), or by calling on a certification body to validate its application. Which, by the way, will bring some money into the coffers of the latter and of AFNOR, which is always good to take.     

This is all very well, except that it is absolutely useless. The big mountain has given birth to a skinny mouse, which has nothing else to do but go and hide quickly. First, this standard is voluntary : it is optional, we take it or not; and if we adopt it, everything is optional. It’s hard to be softer, more timid and inefficient.

Besides, how could it be otherwise? Who could impose such standards on the giants hosting online comments that have an international resonance and that brew millions of visits per day? Yet it was foreseeable that nothing could be imposed on anyone. So what ? You might as well ask a wolf to put on skates before entering the sheepfold.

The content, even if it could have been mandatory, still poses serious questions. What site would dare to require proof of purchase from all of its Internet users in order to comment on a hotel? Such a constraint – heavy, long and boring for the Internet user – would dramatically reduce the number of reviews filed (which certainly would not displease hoteliers) and would considerably reduce Internet traffic. Impossible to accept for an operator who has all his conscience and a minimum of concern for profitability.

However, if comments are annoying hoteliers, especially negative opinions of course, we must keep in mind that this is still a chance . Before this opportunity to express themselves online, customers had nothing concrete to learn to find out what other consumers thought of hotels (or other services). Beyond consumerism, these expressed criticisms help professionals to know what their customers think of their establishment and to correct any recurring defects denounced. Before that, there was nothing so effective about this registry.

Moreover, even by demonstrating that one is a real customer, the standard will never prevent people from writing what they want , even if it means exaggerating the faults they wish to denounce. It is the word of the customer against that of the merchant. In front of other consumers, the former has the most weight and credit, rightly or wrongly.

Nor will the standard be able to reduce the growing trend of blackmail from customers asking for a benefit “otherwise I would be forced to write a negative review on Trip about your hotel”.

Finally, that will not put out the many cheats coming from the hoteliers themselves , to write rave reviews about their establishment. They will only need to issue an invoice as proof of stay with an assumed name to write the praise they want on their services.

If 3/4 of Internet business and / or leisure travelers think that there are bogus reviews on the Net, the latest Coach Omnium study (April 2013) confirms that they generally know how to distinguish between false and true. A habit of reading is acquired very quickly. In other words, we easily detect what seems sincere from what seems artificial and fallacious. And each consumer takes into account a form of average in what he reads. He doesn’t stop at a single comment, be it laudatory or murderous.

In short, the AFNOR standard can be stored in the cupboard. All that for this. Because to boast of creating a standard which did not exist in the whole world but which is totally unsuitable, it is “Move on, there is nothing to see”.

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