One thing businesses obsess about is customer/audience sentiment online. Negative reviews, scathing blog posts, ugly tweets.
The question is, how much do negative vs. positive comments affect your audience? As usual, there are many variables, but a recent study offers a few clues into how variables come together to influence sentiment.
The first clue is that well-known trusted brands are less impacted by negative commentary because the recognized brand name automatically puts the audience in what the researchers call “promotion orientation” (as opposed to “prevention orientation”). The bad news is that if your business is already struggling with a poor reputation, this is likely to automatically put your audience into “prevention orientation” mode, and in turn they will be more influenced by negative commentary.
Another clue is in how much information is presented. Similar to studies that show people can only handle a small cognitive load of choices, so too can they only typically process a few brand comments, and are thus likely to rely only on a few comments and additionally will take more seriously those comments that reflect their orientation to “promotion orientation” or “prevention orientation”:
When provided with a large number of mixed commentaries, promotion- and prevention-oriented individuals were biased in expected ways, positively or negatively. Under high information loads, individuals’ processing capacity was limited so they relied on only a subset of available information to simplify the judgment process. But this changed when only a few commentaries were provided. “When information load is low, individuals have higher cognitive capacity to process inconsistent information,” the authors write.
While this is only one study, what can you take away from this?
If you’re already a strong brand, don’t spend too much time worrying about negative brand comments. Obviously it’s important to listen and respond to customer complaints, but this is probably enough to attenuate negative comments.
If you’re an unknown or struggling brand, negative comments matter more. Monitoring social media is important as well as responding in a timely manner and making responses public, as well as following up with responses by making appropriate changes internally. You can further strengthen these responses by publicly announcing changes to products, customer service, your website etc that are a result of negative feedback.
Additionally, budget priorities should go towards customer relations and gaining positive reviews that are search engine friendly.
Lastly, no matter how strong or weak your brand, remember that your audience will only process small amounts of information at a time. So when using testimonials, highlight the most important through layout and design so that your audience can quickly scan and get the “gist” from just a few testimonials.