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Negative Buzz Gains Traction Among Web Users

Negative reviews increase in influence as consumers turn to more online sources of research

September 28, 2011

A lack of control over messages associated with the brand often comes with the territory for digital marketers, who must deal with the possibility that negative word-of-mouth can spread virally online. But positive word-of-mouth can also replicate itself across social networks and other sites, winning new customers and keeping loyal ones.

Past research, such as an August 2010 survey of US internet users by Keller Fay Group, has found that positive word-of-mouth is more credible, and consumers pay less attention to negative buzz. That poll found 66% of web users thought positive brand chatter was believable, compared with just 48% who said the same about negative talk.

But a 2011 poll from strategy and communications agency Cone suggests that picture may be changing somewhat. Positive word-of-mouth online was still more likely than negative word-of-mouth to have an effect on a purchasing decision, according to the respondents. And positive buzz increased its effect by 7 percentage points, to 87% of those polled. But at the same time, negative word-of-mouth had swayed 80% of respondents, up 12 percentage points from the year before.

Effect of Negative or Positive Information When Searching for a Product/Service Online According to US Internet Users, 2010 & 2011 (% of respondents)

Overall, web users told Cone they were more likely to do a variety of online research before making a purchase decision compared with a year ago. Researching product information, searching for consumer reviews and searching major ratings websites are now popular among at least half of respondents. The smallest gain was made by social network research; just 12% of internet users solicit their network’s opinion before making purchase decisions.

Reasons US Internet Users Go Online Before Deciding to Make a Purchase, 2010 & 2011 (% of respondents)

Brands still face the same challenge: to reap the benefits of positive word-of-mouth without being sunk by negative buzz, especially by complaints from customers who are simply disgruntled. And since customer dissatisfaction is bound to happen to any brand at some point, having a plan in place to deal with the fallout can help limit any problems that develop.

Keep your business ahead of the digital curve. Learn more about becoming an eMarketer Total Access client today.

Check out today’s other article, “Gen Y Embraces Smaller Screens for TV and Online Video Viewing.”

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