Contagious Negativity And The Dangers of Social Media


Some people say there is no such thing as bad press. Even bad press, after all, gets people talking about your product or service. Now a study in the Journal of Consumer Research concludes that negativity is contagious.

"Consumer attitudes toward products and services are frequently influenced by others around them. Social networks, such as those found on Myspace and Facebook suggest that these influences will continue to be significant drivers of individual consumer attitudes as society becomes more inter-connected," explain Adam Duhachek, Shuoyang Zhang, and Shanker Krishnan (all of Indiana University). "Our research seeks to understand the conditions where group influence is strongest."

"This research has several interesting implications. First, given the strong influence of negative information, marketers may need to expend extra resources to counter-act the effects of negative word of mouth in online chatrooms, blogs and in offline media. Conversely, companies could damage the reputations of competitors by disseminating negative information online," the researchers explain. "Consumers should be aware that these social influence biases exist and are capable of significantly impacting their perceptions."

Unfortunately, many companies suffer from social media ostrich syndrome. They prefer to put their heads in the sand and hope no one says any bad things about them online. By choosing not to engage in the conversation, they are missing a chance for valuable feedback and the chance to convert some naysayers over to champions. Instead, they should be exploring social media.

  • Thanks for pointing out there exists empirical evidence that word of mouth/buzz/conversation is critical for a brand to succeed in today’s marketplace. Now if only all the CEOs and CMOs out there would read your blog, companies would start trying to find ways to monitor and be a part of the conversation. (And hopefully in appropriate ways.) Thanks for the knowledge. Forwarding to CMO-types now.

  • In their book “Blogging for Business,” Shel Holtz and Ted Demopoulos cite a few examples of companies and people who fell victim to intensely negative “blog swarms.” They make a point of highlighting some good (and bad) examples of how companies have responded based on the nature of the “swarm.” My two favorite examples are Target and Apple who both responded in in very different, and positive ways to the negative press they were getting in the blogosphere.

    In the case of Target, a blog swarm formed when their online shopping interface inadvertently displayed Marijuana as a product available through the store (it was actually a book, but didn’t have the context necessary for users to understand that). Their response was to do nothing – purposely ignore the bloggers under the assumption that no one really believed they were selling marijuana. They were right – the story never got picked up by the mainstream media and it quickly died.

    Apple, on the other hand, did address the swarm they were getting over a faulty product design. They responded QUICKLY through mainstream media, honestly addressing the issue and instructing consumers how to get a replacement for the product. The blogger who started the swarm announced on his blog that “Apple did the right thing” and gave a review of his positive experience.

    In general, this is a great book – I would recommend it to any PR or Marketing exec who wants to understand what to “do” with social media.

    I agree – companies can’t bury their heads – but they can’t go in the opposite direction either and be too forceful in this environment. Its still about being appropriate and professional and now, more than ever, its about responding well to customer needs. People are just as likely to rave about a good experience as they are to complain about a bad one.

  • “The only thing worse than being talked about… is not being talked about.” -Oscar Wilde

  • Funny, I am combining the two in an experiment, trying to use a blog as a platform for business. And I am all for embracing things like Facebook and MySpace. There is no doubt these are going to be forces in the future.