Case Study: How TripAdvisor Supports User Competence To Motivate Reviews

Case Study-I wrote my first TripAdvisor review after my trip to Turkey last year. We found a restaurant near our hotel for dinner and liked it enough to return for a second meal. Each time, our waiter practically begged us to review them on TripAdvisor once we got home, and even gave us a business card with a specific call to action to write the review. It seemed that businesses in Turkey (and, I came to notice, in many other international locations) rely on TripAdvisor to drive tourists to their establishments. So, when I got home, I penned the review and a few others for places we’d really liked on the trip.

And from there I got sucked into TripAdvisor’s well-designed motivational framework. For reviewers, TripAdvisor offers a gamified experience that helps continually motivate the next contribution, whether it be a review, a photograph, or a rating. In particular, the TripAdvisor experience is structured to support user competence with lots of positive feedback and suggestions and tools for continued contributions. Here are some of the elements they use to hook reviewers:

Badges (Competence)

TripAdvisor awards badges from the very first contribution onward, and makes them more difficult to earn as you become a more regular contributor. This is good motivational design; build self-efficacy early by rewarding the smallest successes, but as the user’s investment in participation grows, make the rewards more difficult to earn so that they are meaningful.

Badges! Lots of badges, with clear explanations of how they were earned and how to reach the next level.
Badges! Lots of badges, with clear explanations of how they were earned and how to reach the next level.

Other best practices TripAdvisor uses with badges includes being incredibly clear about what behaviors are needed to earn the next one:

Mousing over any locked badge tells you how to achieve it.
Mousing over any locked badge tells you how to achieve it.

Finally, unlike some other sites and apps that offer badges, TripAdvisor clearly ties theirs to desired user behaviors. They want users to contribute reviews, photos, and ratings, and so the badges reflect those activities.

Badges, of course, are a tool that can support user competence by offering feedback that their behaviors are correct and valued. On TripAdvisor, they also serve as a status symbol to those who read your reviews.

Immediate and Regular Feedback

TripAdvisor emails me a lot. Normally, I don’t like receiving emails from companies all that often; I’ve been known to unsubscribe the second an email rubs me the wrong way. But I like TripAdvisor’s emails, because they’re usually to inform me about something good I’ve done with my reviews.

In this first case, TripAdvisor lets me know that my reviews are very popular, and then prompts me to write more based on locations I may have visited in my hometown of Boston:

That's right, I'm a top reviewer.
That’s right, I’m a top reviewer.

In this second example, they let me know someone has given a thumbs-up to one of my reviews . . . and in a great example of a “hot trigger,” ask me to click to see which one.

Someone liked my review!
Someone liked my review!

The emails TripAdvisor sends me always support my sense of competence by praising some aspect of my user behavior, and ask me to contribute something further. The one-two punch of a self-efficacy boost and putting the tools to keep succeeding at my fingertips has definitely prompted additional reviews from me.

If the emails weren’t enough, TripAdvisor actually mailed a physical magnet to my home after my first few reviews. I slapped it on our fridge, where it provides a tangible reminder that maybe I should go review something on TripAdvisor.

Feedback at Multiple Levels

In addition to the behavior-specific (photos, reviews, types of reviews) feedback offered by the badging system, TripAdvisor also gives each reviewer an overall ranking based on contributions to the site:

Almost to the next level!
Almost to the next level!

This higher level macro-feedback helps focus users on an overall pattern of interaction with TripAdvisor, not just a particular type of behavior. Giving both proximal (behavior-specific) and distal (holistic) feedback is a powerful mechanism to support competence even when a user may struggle with a specific behavior.

A Positive Spiral

Supporting user competence and building self-efficacy helps motivate people to keep behaving in positive ways, and to be creative about the ways they try to achieve their goals.  TripAdvisor has designed an experience that led me from trying to do a favor for a very nice waiter in Turkey into trying to earn my Level 6 Contributor status, all without really intending to. I consider their design a best practice for competence support.