Why Is Consumer-generated Commentary So Negative?

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by: Mark Rogers

A client, reviewing some of the sentiment scores on the net approval work we have been doing for them recently asked: “why are these people so negative? We don’t get these scores from our off-line net promoters work.”

The client was identifying a pattern we see quite regularly. Online commentary is more negative than off-line. Why? There is no systematic answer to this question, but if you were to attempt an answer you would divide it into three sections:

The squeaky wheel. People are likely to post on a blog or message board or a consumer review site when they have a reason to. The post can often be prompted by a problem they wish to solve, for example – difficulty with the product – if a car won’t start or a program won’t install. Because of this, and given the likelihood that the problem may persist, complaints about the product and the brand are likely by-products of a web session.

Monologue is more negative than dialogue. Research we have previously published  refers to work done by Delahaye pointing out that blogs are more negative that messageboards. 23% of blog commentary is negative, compared to 11% of message board commentary. The reason? People tend to be more measured, more polite face to face than they are in monologue. They do not make such bold, inflammatory “look at me” negative comments. The reason is that in dialogue a speaker is unsure of the feelings of the interlocutor. If he or she makes an emphatic statement about a product or service, he or she risks spoiling their social relationship with the other speaker (or poster) who may be a big fan of the product in question. This politeness factor may also explain why the results of face to face conversations are less negative than a sample of online opinion might suggest.

The third reason is that, particularly for bloggers, staking out one’s social territory online involves a certain amount of display activity – particularly for men! A vehemently negative comment about a large brand demonstrates a certain kind of alpha male aggression. It is show-off behaviour. Bloggers want to be linked to, and being showily negative, particularly in a witty way, may garner more links than a considered “one the one hand, on the other hand” approach.

Paradoxically, as we explained in our “Measuring blogger influence” report, this negativity amongst bloggers actually reduces their authority on a topic. For the casual reader, strongly negative views are off-putting. A neutral is more likely to be impressed, and influenced by the argument of someone who has weighed up the evidence for and against a brand, citing their evidence, than by someone who says: “Brand X SUCKS!”So … although brands are worried about extreme negative commentary online, it generally has little influence. That is, unless there is a special case.

The special case is, as in the example of Jeff Jarvis and Dell:

a) the issue complained of is real and the complaint justified, and echoed by others;

b) brand makes no direct statement on the topic, leaving the existing authorities no choice but to link solely to the complainant.In that one case, bloggers can be VERY influential.

Original Post: http://www.marketsentinel.com/blog/2006/10/why-is-consumer-generated-commentary-so-negative