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When is a negative review good for you?

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When is a negative review good for you?

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There is an awful lot written about the importance of reviews, whether it’s for your local restaurant, your doctor, or even fellow employees.  Whilst the importance of these peer reviews has spawned a burgeoning industry in astroturfing (fake reviews to you and me), the perception has persisted that the only kind of good review is a good review.

A new study suggests that might not always be the case.

“Most of the research on consumer reviews has been on the content and volume of the message,” write authors Ryan Hamilton (Emory University), Kathleen D. Vohs (University of Minnesota), and Ann L. McGill (University of Chicago Booth School of Business). “Our research looks at how the politeness with which a particular message is communicated affects consumer opinions.”

The researchers conducted five experiments whereby they explored the role politeness played in how that review was perceived.  They wanted to test whether a negative, yet polite, review was actually beneficial to the perception of the thing being reviewed (and of the reviewer themselves).  Politeness in this context included various means by which a reviewer might soften the blow of negative feedback.

One of these experiment for instance required participants to read two versions of text describing a luxury watch.  One was a neutral description, whilst the other included a complaint, albeit a polite one – “I don’t want to be mean, but the band pinches a bit”.

The results of this experiment found that consumers were willing to pay more for the watch when it included the polite complaint.  The gap was not a small one either, with a rise from $95 for the standard description up to $136 for the one containing the complaint.

Other experiments in the study found that these polite complaints also impacted upon the perceived personality of the brand.  They were shown to cast the brand as more honest, cheerful, down to earth and wholesome than an identical review minus the polite complaint.

“Our research raises the intriguing possibility that brands might benefit when polite customers write reviews of their products—even when those reviews include negative opinions,” the authors conclude.

Of course, this might also prompt the astroturfers to begin taking a slightly more polite tone.

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