Thursday, August 20, 2009

Negative consumer content - social media's side effect?

Marketers call it "consumers' revolution", advertisers refer to "the age of conversation", academics point at the effect of web 2.0 whereas consumers are simply interacting, more and more..

We hear opinions of products/services from our fiends offline, we then feel "open" to post reviews online on Amazon and eBay, we also gather into groups of interest on social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook - 250 millions already,Twitter - 44 millions) etc.

Why is it all in ascending order? Researches undertaken by Forrester, eMarketer and Nielsen Online are all reflecting the same issue: consumers are beginning to trust "unbiased" strangers online or friends and acquaintances offline when choosing brands, as shown here:

or here:

Interesting, right? Advertising in a "1 to many" manner seems to be quite unpopular, as it tends to have a sense of "guiding", which everyone is simply trying to avoid.
I won't refer to the causing factors which is a distinct topic to follow, my focus now is on corporate concern for employing social media as a way to interact with consumers online.

Why would it be useful? Because consumers are now given the tools to "shape brands" online, as electronic Word-of-Mouth(e-WOM) travels quick, getting at some point into offline WOM and vice-versa.

So media are not the only influentials - consumers are taking the lead. Online reviews are now taking the form of a new phenomenon - social recommendations, working on a "wisdom of crowds" principle.

Sites like CitySearch,eBay, Amazon, Tipped are happy to "unleash" online users' vocals so that other users could always view them. How about brands? If establishing a listening platform by choosing most influential websites is a "everyone could agree on" task, then the negative content management is the most challenging issue..

Why? Since there's no way to control it, many prefer to keep silent, as the brand equity is in question.

Researches show that "People like brands with flaws", the ones that could admit their pitfalls, take a "repairing" attitude or simply be transparent and authentic while interacting with consumers online, as shown below:

Brands can go beyond negativity, by showing a transparent and caring attitude, transforming dissatisfied consumers into "prosumers"(Mairinger,2008)or even advocates.

Below is an example of new General Motors, trying to embrace the effectiveness of social media by creating a platform for CEO's feedbacks to consumers' reviews online,called "Tell Fritz" (similar to previous campaign "Ask Dr.Z"):

It's obviously a negative comment they're dealing with and although a it's not the CEO replying , the language used by the company tends to have a rather corporate jargon, rather then "consumer"-like language. GM is "reinventing" itself at the moment and testing social media capabilities is an accessible and easy-to-track activity.

A study published by New Media Age in April 17,2008 shows that among the surveyed companies using social media have detected the following benefits:

- Solving problems - usually customer service (by tracking negative comments, used as a "free focus group tool") - 43%;
- Obtaining user feedback on products/services - 41%;
- Enabling consumers to interact with the company brand - 37%;
- Marketing to consumers - 25%.

Clearly, my view on the negative content issue refers to its open, transparent and especially authentic side, which could bring benefits to brands concerned.

This means adopting strategies after having thoroughly listened the consumers, engaged with them and planned a further long-term interaction, by "keeping momentum".
Btw, the last one is incredibly important - as short-term interaction brings "abandon" which consumers may never forget...

Would be nice to hear your views on "pro's" and "con's" of the negative content!

Looking forward,


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Patrik, UK said...

Clearly, online communications are becoming part of mainstream media. We witness now the rise of Internet monthly subscriprions, which are a lot higher than say 5 years ago..In case of General Motors - it seems a more standard answer, too corporate to my mind. Btw, good post.

Nicky, B'ham, uk said...

To give an example of negative content managed poorly by the companies, see: United Airlines dealing recently with a customer complaining on poor customer service:

The YouTube video posted by an upset customer who happened to be an experienced Canadian singer has now reached over 5 million hits!! Amazing! Believe me, the reputation and brand equity are now hot topics for United Airlines..
My advice - watch the video to see what an online complaint may tell you about the "real company face"..

Nadia Tatarciuc said...

Thank you all foe posting! Would be nice to hear more and more examples on both positives/negatives - this will give a lot of insight from case studies discussed.If you'd also have some links to your blogs with similar issues, would be great to see.


Susan White on August 24, 2009 at 1:47 PM said...

Reviews are needed. The problem now is review manipulation. Hotels are a classic example.

Anthony Miyazaki on May 30, 2010 at 12:59 AM said...

Thanks for the great article! I'm going to link to it so my students can find it more easily.

There are definitely pros and cons to social networking (or interactive community) with respect to a particular brand. I've listed some of these in a recent blog entry.

Take a look.


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