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."

27 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,

  • 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:


    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!

    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

  • 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.


  • 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

  • ASM Afsary | December 9, 2014

    Negative comments definitely have a purpose. All positive comments cannot verify the value of a topic. Therefore, I think we should welcome people let their thoughts, share in the comment section, as long as it’s proven to be valuable for conversation implement.

  • Heather Faires | November 29, 2015

    I’ve often struggled to avoid overreacting to those few negative online comments in spite of enormous positive comments I receive face to face. Thanks for the article.

  • Pat Filippelli | October 30, 2016

    Keep on writing, but also keep on working on your writing. While some of the wording is offensive, which surely is not helpful to get their point across, some of these comments actually ring true.

    Pat Filippelli Sales Representative

  • Adam Michalowicz | November 21, 2016

    Straight to the point; comments are always a difficult area to moderate without limiting the voices of your audience. The concept of an incentive to maintain civility is something of a novel concept, especially when you factor the Wild West that is social media as the predominant precedent for comment etiquette.

    Adam Michalowicz
    Digital Marketer

  • AFOUAJ Youssef | February 5, 2017

    As allways dealing with user comments, this topic is always headache, to moderate all comments become a time consuming, the best way for that is to be updated and interacting with audience .

  • zulay florez | February 10, 2017

    Very interesting post, I will be using it with my students.
    Tu Psicólogo en Bucaramanga
    Best regards.

  • Chad Sullivan | February 11, 2017

    I don’t see any issue with incentives for comments. It isn’t much different than running some type of promotion or discount for being a member of a club or something of that nature. The idea is to help generate interaction and have people that might normally sit on the sidelines, participate. I don’t know that there is any room for the “higher ground” when it comes to these types of needed interactions.

    C Sullivan

  • Priya Negi | October 25, 2017

    I think the negative comments also help us improve and it shows the commentator attitude toward the article. Priya.

  • Roy Roy | November 8, 2017

    Psychology is a great way of learning and I am very happy to read about this

  • Lina Khan | November 27, 2017

    I read the content. this content is very useful and informative for everyone. I hope you will post more and more content in the future.
    I have a blog, my blog name is How To That (https: // www. howtothat. com/) and its helps the people to learn everything do anything and go anywhere.

  • kiaweb hatami | December 8, 2017

    i think a good article is the best and we can have more comment

  • hung odd | January 15, 2018

    With online comments, people always think that they are zero to responsible for what they had written. But they are also unware that their comments can last long as the website.

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