The brand new UGC-site Simonseeks.com, developed by Moneysupermarket.com founder Simon Nixon, has been getting a fair bit of media attention. Intriguingly, it offers reviewers a share of the revenue they generate. Here’s my take, as published in an “Expert eye” opinion piece for Marketing Week:
“Sites relying on user-generated content need users, and Nixon’s idea of incentivising participation is a clever way of achieving a critical mass quicker than other start-ups. It might not be the best way. Offering a cut of clickthrough commissions is offering a cut of a very small cut: as with the site itself, generating personal revenue will be a numbers game. It won’t take users very long to work out whether it is worth their time.
Incentivised UGC entails a number of problems. First, if users are racing to write as many reviews as possible, it may also encourage “fake” reviews gleaned from the huge variety of other reviews on the web. As money is being made by the writers, however little, monitoring validity and plagiarism could become a legal strain. Simon Seeks will also face a challenge in converting hits and reviews into revenue. In an increasingly saturated market, and in tight economic times, holiday makers are painfully aware of value. I frequently look for well-reviewed hotels on a UGC site, and then shop around on price comparison sites to see who can offer me the best value.
Finally, the biggest challenge facing Simon Seeks is UGC itself. The market is dominated by TripAdvisor, which is becoming a victim of its own success as users strain under mountains of content backed by a dearth of validity or trust. Do we really need another rabbit hole?”
To expand slightly on the final point: I’m increasingly unconvinced in UGC as a stand-alone medium. For me, the ideal platform for travel advice combines UGC and expert advice; a blend of citizen journalism and professional journalism. If nothing else, over-reliance on UGC is laborious. I usually don’t have the time to scan through 438 reviews; I want an expert to pick me a hotel, and then I’ll cross-reference it with some UGC, just to make sure it isn’t a stinker.
The idea of UGC sites becoming a victim of their own success- and girth – is something brilliantly described in this article from last year, on “The travel site with a black mark against every hotel”. Here’s the key point:
The First Law of TripAdvisor is this: no matter how wonderful somewhere may be, how highly recommended by friends or guidebooks, somebody on TripAdvisor will claim to have spent the worst night of their life there. Which gives rise to the Second Law of TripAdvisor: if you book a room anyway, that bad review is the one that will prey ceaselessly on your mind until you get there.