Seems quite counter-intuitive doesn't it? After all, we're told that people increasingly search the web for reviews and user opinions on products, so surely a negative blog post should really damage sales of a product?
New research suggests that might not be the case however. The paper was co-authored by Rohit Aggarwal, assistant professor of Information Systems at the university’s David Eccles School of Business, and he notes that negative posts can act as a catalyst and can exponentially increase the readership of employee blogs.
This is because people visit corporate blogs expecting to see nothing but rosy testimonials and corporate speak about how great the company is. A more realistic commentary therefore acts to boost the perceived integrity of both the employee and their employer. It makes the company seem transparent and honest, which has positive implications for our perception of their products and services.
“There is some merit in allowing negative posts” by company blogging policy-setters, suggest Aggarwal and coauthors Ram Gopal and Ramesh Sankaranarayanan of the University of Connecticut and Param Vir Singh of Carnegie Mellon University. “Permitting a few negative posts to increase readership should be a good strategy.”
Suffice to say however that a stream of pure negativity is not good, there are clear limits on what is beneficial and what is not.
“We found that the optimal percentage for negative posts is about 15 percent to 20 percent,” Aggarwal says. “Beyond that, you may get more readership but there also is more negative impact on the company in terms of reputation and possibly sales.”
So, what does the research suggest for executives in the process of drafting, or re-writing their policies on blog content? In a word: vigilance.
“We are not advocating, for instance, that a firm should actively encourage its employees to post negative comments on their blogs. Firms may not choose to restrict certain types of negative posts, which is different from actually encouraging negative posts,” the paper states.
That said, Aggarwal adds that his research suggests that companies should be more open toward “allowing employees more freedom to write and freedom to express” even as they “track blogs to see what the ratio of negative posts is to positive ones.
A high negative-to-positive blog post ratio can also serve as a canary in a coal mine, allowing a company to proactively react to brewing discontent among employees. “If the (negative) ratio is too high, they can talk with those employees about their concerns. But while they should monitor those blogs, they should not stifle all criticism.”
All of which paints an interesting contrast to the traditional social media zeitgeist that sees companies terrified that employees will post things that will taint their image if they're let loose on social media. This research suggests that far from discouraging such activities, the odd negative comment may actually do them some good.