I recently posted a poll on Twitter asking whether it is fair that breweries can rate their own beers on Untappd. The response was huge. So big, in fact, that I decided to combine my own thoughts with those of others on the matter.
If you aren’t familiar with Untappd, it is essentially a web and mobile-based beer rating application. Nearly all breweries are using it nowadays and many bars are making the most of the recently added features that can quickly update their beer lists and broadcast them to the world. Unlike RateBeer (which also has an app), Untappd has rapidly become the beer drinker’s choice on which to rate alcoholic beverages. I think this is due to the intelligible and relatively user friendly interface of the app. For me, RateBeer seems to be the place where it is almost assumed that someone will write more than 140 characters about a beer, while characterising the technical details of its foaming ivory head or its peach-like aroma. A lot of people on Untappd tend to use it as a bookmark of sorts: to keep track of the beers they have drunk, whereas RateBeer, as the name suggests, places more emphasis on the rating of the beer.
Initially I decided to post this poll to gather general public opinion along with that of brewery affiliates. This quickly evolved in to the ethics of it all. Bars, bottle shops and people in general can’t collect every bottle in the UK, let alone the world (they aren’t Pokémon, after all); it’s impossible to taste every beer from every brewery, so to use some form of internet based rating app would surely separate the most wanted, well-received beers from the not-so-wanted, right? However, with people rating their own beers, or those of affiliated breweries, the temptation to rate them as ‘5 out of 5’ would surely arise. The call of the social media marketing opportunity. This would inevitably aide certain beers and help raise them to the top of the ‘pops’, so to speak. Make the brewery look good and the beer look even better. From my perspective, this creates a fake, undeserved hype.
When the poll went live, at least 20% of 176 voters disagreed with my thoughts on the matter.
Whichever option Purity Alex voted for is somewhat irrelevant (if indeed they did vote in the poll), as you can’t see the individual responses, however Twitter comments such as these added extra perspective on what people believe. Purity Alex has a very valid point. Untappd is a free tool that anyone can use. There are no restrictions on rating certain breweries or beers. My only gripe with the example given is that you can only vote for yourself once in an election. Untappd will allow you to rate beers multiple times, whether you have links to that brewery or not. Whether people do this to their own beers remains unseen, however the ability to create multiple Untappd accounts can facilitate, as Two Towers have alluded to:
There are many brewers that are honest and critical of their own work, who benefit from rating their own beers on Untappd. Following the progression of a beer through its time in the bottle/ keg is one example of how using a beer rating site can help to progress and improve a beer. How many times have you forgotten how a beer tasted, only to be surprised or shocked the second time around? You are, however, only judging based on your own taste buds; surely over time you will be slightly biased to your own product. A point Sean made:
After 3 days of polling it became clear what the majority thought. Be it brewers or beer drinkers, most people felt that rating your own beers on Untappd isn’t the way to do things. A massive 67% – around 119 people. There seem to be many reasons why people thought this way:
Boak and Bailey decided not to be too cynical about the whole episode but introduced me to the term ‘astroturfing’. Which equates to ‘the deceptive practice of presenting an orchestrated marketing or public relations campaign in the guise of unsolicited comments from members of the public.’ (Google can put it better than I can). At what point will rating beers on Untappd become a ‘deceptive practice’? Is it after the second rated check in, or the first rating without declaring that you work for the brewery in question?
Maybe the way forward is to be open and honest in all of this; by this I mean declaring that you are linked to the brewery in the comments section. Maybe not even rate the beer at all. This is one of the benefits of Untappd: you already have the option to do this. A lot of people who aren’t linked to breweries already do because they just use it as a way to remember what they have had. Either way, you are then not only being open to yourself, but also to everyone that buys the beer you have a link to. Alas, like most internet social platforms, you can use it however you want; business is cut throat sometimes. People will still use it however they see fit, even to further their goals, but all that effort could surely be invested in making and continually improving the beer, rather than concentrating on making your scores better on a social media platform. Maybe, just maybe, your scores will then go up on their own.