Why negative feedback is good for your community

September 25, 2008
Posted by: Matthew Hammer, VP- Marketing

Written by former LiveWorld employee, @BryanPerson
Here’s an interesting nugget from Mitch Joel’s recent post wrapping up the Shop.org Annual Summit: On customer ratings and reviews site, “a negative review converts more effectively into a sale than a positive review.”
At first, this might sound counter-intuitive, but think about it: If you’re looking to buy a new book, CD, or gadget (I confess that the Amazon Kindle is on my mind for the coming holiday season) and every piece of feedback is positively glowing, don’t you smell a rat and suspect that comment sanitizing is at work? I know I do.
But when customer reviews are balanced, as Mitch notes, you’re more likely to trust that feedback site and make a purchase from that site.

The value of negative comments

The same can be said of critical remarks by members in branded communities, too, and it’s the primary reason we advise our customers to adopt an inclusive commenting and posting policy.
“Originally, most clients will say, ‘No, no, no,'” to that recommendation, says Julia McDonald, LiveWorld’s senior manager of moderation services. “But we tell them, ‘Those comments are just as important as the positive ones.’ It lets [the companies] know what the issues are.”
Kristie Wells, the founder and president of the Social Media Club, has a similar take. “It shows a confident company, that they can take a little criticism,” Kristie says. “Allowing negative comments to stand could build a level of trust in the customer base that says, ‘This company is not trying to sugarcoat everyone.'”
On her own blog, Kristie is guided by her own “no-[expletive] policy.” As long as commenters are adding to the discussion at hand and not resorting to personal attacks or harassment in the process, their contributions stay.

The ‘Rules of the Road’

As companies launch new communities, we exhort them to post community standards, or “rules of the road,” to a page that’s easy for members to find and refer back to. Good community standards make clear the kind of content, language, tone that is encouraged and allowed, and what isn’t acceptable. They should also note whether comments are moderated before or after they’re published (we generally recommend that latter, but every community is different).
Companies that advocate for and then actually embrace a full range of voices — complimentary and dissenting alike — are well on their way to building strong communities.