The Effects of Posters and Lurkers on Product Reviews

This forthcoming research paper sounds interesting. With all the talk about blogs and businesses, it could help explain how feedback on blogs and other websites affects consumer perceptions of a product or service.

Website posters post. Lurkers lurk. Sometimes a poster becomes a lurker or a lurker turns into a poster. You can't be both at the same time–but you can switch around as you like. In the ever growing use of the Internet as a place to communicate with others asynchronously, the ability to rate products or learn about other consumers' experiences with a product that you are considering has become an important tool for consumers. An article in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research investigates further into this play between posters and lurkers. The research reveals that posters' negative opinions drop even further in the midst of other negative reviews.

"It appears that reading a negative review triggers posters' concerns with the social outcomes of their public evaluations, thereby causing them to strategically lower their public ratings. In fact, this bias was limited to posters' public opinions–their private attitudes and thoughts did not differ from those of lurkers," finds Ann Schlosser (University of Washington).

The first reviewer could set the tone for all the reviews to come, in a sort of anchoring effect. If this happens, and existing reviews affect future reviews, the information provided by the customer feedback can give an inaccurate picture of the way customers really feel.

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This raises an interesting question, one that I hope will be investigated during The Business Experiment. Can large groups of decision makers whose perspectives remain largely anonymous resist the anchoring effect? If private views don't change that much in response to negative reviews of something, and voters perspectives remain private, will that help filter out this type of bias to get more accurate information? Or will the lack of accountability that is inherent in a non-public decision cause less analysis and therefore poorer judgement?