Psychology of Online Comments: The Tyranny of the Vocal Minority

Image courtesy of Flickr user Carson Ting.

It’s a dynamic you’ve probably witnessed and one that is substantiated in recent studies: when conversations in online product forums start to skew negative, they tend to stay that way.

One potential solution: provide incentives for more casual customers to post reviews.

As online forums become more populated, "customers who are more positive and less involved tend to stick to the sidelines, while customers who are more involved and more critical take their place." That’s according to Wendy W. Moe, David A. Schweidel and Michael Trusov, writing in the Fall 2011 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. It’s those critical customers who steer the ratings environment.

One intriguing lesson for social media strategists is to encourage the less involved to post, say the authors. How? "If you’re trying to foster a positive tone, incentives for posting reviews should be provided to the more casual customers." (On the other hand, they write, do not give in to the temptation to post artificially positive reviews.)

The four lessons for managers who are listening to social media, according to the article: Don’t forget about the silent majority. Remember that social dynamics in the forum can influence who remains silent. Don’t overreact to negative feedback. And ignore the white noise. "A careful statistical analysis of ratings dynamics can help identify when a marketer should address an issue raised by a negative comment."

For more tips, see the full article, "What Influences Customers’ Online Comments."

15 Comments On: Psychology of Online Comments: The Tyranny of the Vocal Minority

  • Psychology of Blog Comments: The Tyranny of the Vocal Minority … | Social Fobi - Det Du Behöver Veta | October 21, 2011

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  • swarupreadyk | January 28, 2012

    yeah.Never overreact for a negative comment.And Never remain silent too for a negative comment..Try to answer the member with a positive attitude saying that he could be wrong or sincerely apologize him if it is really mistake from our side.Always try to be a better Manager not by your degree but by your Attitude..

    Thanks and regards,
    swarup reddy,
    email: swarupreadyk@gmail.com
    website: http://www.allreviewz.com

  • john | March 22, 2012

    Good article. Never ceases to amaze me how people behave in commenting sections.

    I am doing a little research at the moment on the differences between commenting and Q&A platforms. Have you ever come across an article / report that covers the psychology behind commenting v’s Q&A platforms? Why people use them? What are their real motives? What are the differences?

    From the user behaviour on our Q&A platform for colleges, we see some very obvious differences. But I would like to see if this is supported by independent research.

    Any advice / recommendations:

    email: john@learnpipe.com
    web: http://www.learnpipe.com

    Thanks, John

  • kate | March 29, 2012

    Very interesting concept – most forums at the moment implicitly reward those who post the most, eg with post counts or classifications which get more “senior” as the post count rises. So, I guess you get a negative spiral where the vocal are encouraged and the quiet feel ever more excluded.

    That probably accounts for some of the extreme polarisation you often see, too – the more thoughtful section of the population are maybe just not getting represented!

    Kate
    RM Social Media Ltd

  • info | April 9, 2012

    We finally figured this out a couple months ago:
    –People love to voice the negative, but the minority voice the positive.

    It has to be encouraged, and the environment you create for them has to help it come out.

    Give incentives, awards or simply ask them. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to get positive reviews by just asking :)

    - Dwayne
    Albany Oregon Real Estate Agent
    http://www.valleyoregonhomes.com/linn-county/albany-oregon-homes-and-real-estate/

  • Mary Ellen Wood | August 13, 2012

    Very good article,
    You are right about what you said regarding how forum users ride the flow when a negative comment was first posted. But I think it is unfair if the users or readers will leave a positive comments just because of incentives.

  • CJ Anderson | September 10, 2012

    Excellent article and topic.

    It’s so hard to corral the negative few without resorting to moderator/dictator mode or curbing interaction by turning off comments.

    In my experience, interacting with the negative nellys can help diffuse the situation and show the other readers that you are responsive and can handle constructive criticism well.

    - Cindy

  • Jeff Trammell | April 26, 2013

    It’s like I’ve heard in business, “A happy customer will tell their friends, an unhappy customer will tell everybody.” I think revenge is the most likely culprit of motivation of negative comment posters. Not sure if I agree with the articles notion that a negative comment will inspire others to do the same but what do I know. I think the writer of this article is probably a lot smarter than I am.

    Jeff

  • Ziko khan | May 6, 2013

    Psychology is a great way of learning and I am very happy to read about this.I always preferred to comment my opinion on psychology.

  • jaecrayton633 | June 19, 2013

    Negative comments should not take it lightly nor hard. Not all agrees on an idea. Just accept negative online comments and make it positive.

    Mike Jae Crayton

  • Luxury Bangkok Apartment | July 19, 2013

    But don’t you think both negative and positive comments open our sight wider?
    I think the negative comments also help us improve and it shows the commentator attitude toward the article.

  • Keith Dunham | October 4, 2013

    Yelp and many other websites are profiting off of negative comments and reviews. As the years go by and we start reviewing and commenting on everything such as waiters in restaraunts I believe that we will become more numb to the negative comments. Thanks for the great article.

    Keith Dunham

  • Blair Pettrey | November 29, 2013

    Oh how I wish , DESPERATELY, I had read this blog post prior to negative comments that transpired this summer… key advice, thank you for sharing!!

  • Joanna Clarks | January 9, 2014

    It seems like many people simply discharge their negativity online, particularly in comments. Sad but true.

    Joanna Clarks

  • Alex Babenkov | June 30, 2014

    I think the negative comments have purpose: namely, to stir up debate on important issues of our day, and solicit the views of others – who may disagree.

    Alex Babenkov

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