Customers, Social Media and the Internet’s Silent Majority

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A new article in MIT’s Sloan Management Review written by marketing professors Wendy W. Moe, David A. Schweidel and Michael Trusov sheds some light on how people use the internet to interact with products and with each other, specifically in terms of what spurs and defines social media comments. In recent research, the authors examined the comment ratings and sales of a popular unnamed company, studying 2,436 individuals writing about 200 products. They ask: “[H]ow accurately do these conversations represent the true underlying sentiment of a product’s customers?” Here’s what they found:

  • More involved customers will often skew their ratings downward to stand out from the crowd, and most customers will be influenced by comments that have already been made.
  • Forums with a “pre-existing consensus of opinion” garnered more positive customers.
  • Customers are likely to comment on products they have an extreme opinion about, one way or the other.
  • Comments tend to become more negative over time as the more involved, more critical customers begin to dominate the forum while their less involved counterparts stick to the sidelines.

The authors also emphasize the silent majority that exists online and caution retailers not to overreact to negative feedback and “ignore the white noise.”

Do these rules hold true for Freakonomics.com as well?

The authors of this study encourage the less involved customers to post more.  Do you hear that, Silent Majority?  Post away!

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  1. cjones says:

    .

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  2. Aaron Eden @ Garious says:

    I may not be one of the ‘silent majority’ you’re inviting to post here, but I think that these findings make a lot of sense. I only wish that when customers are happy about your products/services, that they’ll feel like sharing this good news – without being asked. Most often, the Web is used to voice out dissatisfaction ( and all those rants from A-Z ) when they could have simply contacted customer support. Perhaps, they feel ignored…

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  3. Nanno says:

    “Customers are likely to comment on products they have an extreme opinion about, one way or the other.”

    You’re making it quite hard to make nuances when voting options are either thumbs-up or -down.

    Also (in general, not just here) people tend not to make the effort of commenting/posting when they generally agree, an extreme opinion is considered more relevant or at least worth adding solely because it is different.

    In my opinion this research confirms the general consensus of how people are influenced when sharing their opinion, you tend to read and be influenced by previous postings, you only post when you think it’s relevant or adds value (standing out from the crowd, extreme opinions and negative comments all fall into this category) and over time, when a product or topic is known, promoting it has little to no influence and additional value over those twenty first post praising “this new amazing product”. For example: the first few days a new gadget come out everybody is elated about all its new features and cutting edge design, so the first (50) people post positive comments, now the consensus is that it’s a good decent product, the only relevant information after that are well argumented negative comments. (anyone remember the holding-your-thumb-on-the-side-where-inexplicably-some-designer-placed-the-antenna)

    I do realize, however, that I’m “White Noise”, don’t worry, I’ll be fine.

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  4. Mark says:

    Why comment here if you don’t provide a “subscribe to comments” function? Most normal Comments sections have a Subscribe option. Certainly part of the motivation for commenting on a post anywhere is seeing the responses to the comments. But continuously go back to that specific web page to see the comment thread? That’s so Web 1.0.

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    • richard d says:

      I’m pretty sure it’s because they use basic WordPress’s commenting system. They could implement a better forum/commenting system, but that requires a bit of extra work, like implementing disqus.

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  5. Charles Sagan says:

    If say Amazon were to post the unit sales of a product to the number of comments, then I think potential buyers might recognize a skewing of opinion. If 1,000 units were sold and only 25 comments of which 10 are negative, then might consider ignoring them. Admittedly many comments are petty so I discount them automatically. The negative ones I put into perspective – if the same issue is mentioned repeatedly.

    And yes, I am influenced by customer comments about products but not services.

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  6. Enter your name... says:

    I wish they would do this study for Wikipedia or other large online communities. Every time Facebook changes something, people scream bloody murder. Does that mean most people actually don’t like it (until they get used to it), or does it mean that most people don’t care/don’t say anything, but some people really, really, REALLY hate it and those are the only ones you hear from?

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  7. Wun-Yan Huang says:

    It proofs the theory of spiral silent in public communication and also shows the logic of collective action. Most people want to be free riders rather than posters. They prefer find information on internet than provide information. It’s human nature.

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  8. Kevin says:

    Being a student I don’t feel like I have the experiences yet to add anything that isn’t common sense to the rest of the commenters.

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