The impact of experience on companies' reactions to negative comments on social networks
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Owing to the increasing adoption of social networks among consumers and the effect of their online negative reviews on firms’ profitability, this paper explains research into possible strategies for replying to negative word-of-mouth (nWOM). On the basis of a study involving 237 firms, we examine how companies can react to nWOM communication and how their actions are influenced by experience with the social network. The results show the eight most frequent strategies adopted: discount coupon, post removal, request for post removal by consumer, sending another free product, product substitution, acceptance of consumer's request and providing excuses/explanation, plus ‘no reaction’. The results also correlate the number of fans and presence on Facebook to the type of reaction, with a significant difference among highly experienced firms and a significantly higher level of ‘no reaction’ among less experienced companies.
Keywordssocial networks user-generated content information management organizational practices customer experience
Due to the increasing adoption of social networks like Facebook, interacting with large communities of consumers has become easier for firms. This channel represents a valuable opportunity for organizations to gain knowledge of consumers’ past experiences with their products, as well as their needs and preferences.1 In fact, there is wide availability of consumers’ comments online, both negative and positive. The role of these comments has been largely studied with reference to their ability to influence other consumers.2 Their role as a source of knowledge for firms has been considered less often. In particular, there is a dearth of studies on the role of negative comments on social networks from the organizations’ point of view. In this paper, we specifically focus on the role of negative reviews on a company's subsequent actions, by investigating to what extent the firm's experience with the social network affects this reaction.
The management of interactions with users on social networks is becoming more and more important for firms. The high number of users, comments, discussions and reviews on a brands’ Facebook page is an indicator of popularity of the brand, the product or the firm itself.3, 4 Moreover, many organizations use online interaction to target potential customers, identify market trends and propose customized marketing strategies.5 In fact, other studies have highlighted the opportunities offered by Facebook for implementing loyalty programmes6 and for influencing their purchasing decisions.4, 7, 8
Users’ comments online are part of electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM), an informal way of communicating among individuals through digital channels. Comments on social networks can be used by organizations to improve their products and services and as a valuable source of information. More specifically, negative comments provide information on limits and opportunities for improvement of products or services. In this paper, we refer to negative comments on social network as negative word-of-mouth (nWOM). While eWOM has been extensively studied in previous literature,1, 13, 14, 15, 16 nWOM is still an under-researched field.
As a company grows more experienced with the use of social media, it is likely that its approach to managing nWOM will change. In fact, experience influences different activities such as problem solving, information processing and forming opinion at the individual level.17 From a consumers’ point of view, experienced social media users (in terms of people who make extensive use of the social medium) are more willing to be influenced in their purchasing decision.1 Hence, it is possible to argue that experience with the social network also influences organizational behaviour.
The aim of this paper is to understand what are the possible reactions to negative online posts and how experience with the social network influences this reaction. To achieve this goal, we conducted a content analysis that involved 237 subjects from Italian firms.
The first part of the paper is devoted to an analysis of the literature on user-generated content (UGC) and eWOM supported by social networks; the second part focuses on a qualitative analysis involving 237 firms to gain an understanding of the practices adopted by firms in reaction to nWOM and the impact of their experience with social networks. Future directions for satisfying (online) consumers’ expectations follow.
This knowledge-sharing among users is a form of eWOM. Given the rapid growth of this phenomenon, an increasing number of third-party infomediaries has begun to invite consumers to rate the products or services they have consumed and then offer an aggregated rating of the item.23 This process is quicker and more efficient than traditional word-of-mouth based on face-to-face messages, which is not able to collect all consumers’ impressions and provide a final product evaluation.
Past research has furthermore showed the greater influence of nWOM compared to positive comments.16 In fact, consumers usually pay more attention to negative reviews than to positive ones and consider negative ones more informative.26, 29 On the one hand, a negative review has negative consequences for sales, on the other it can hinder other (positive) posts or solicit other negative comments.30
Hence, understanding the practices that firms use for mitigating the negative consequences of nWOM and to exploiting the knowledge emerging from nWOM becomes an important factor for the business success. For instance, some authors suggest that creating strong ties with customers might reduce their intention to spread nWOM.33
Other research on social media suggests that, just as with individuals,36 organizational experience with using social media also influences behaviour. For this reason it is expected that, as the experience of a company with Facebook increases, the way it reacts to negative reviews changes. In particular, previous studies highlighted how experience with technology influences adoption and usage behaviour.17 For instance, Jones and colleagues observe that as experience with Customer Relationship Management increases, the procedures and routines adopted by salespersons in firms change.37 Dellarocas35 observes that some firms manipulate online comments and that their manipulation practices evolve in time. Wolk and Skiera38 found that sales practices of firms using e-commerce channels change with their experience with the technology. This influence of organizational experience with social networks on their reaction to nWOM has not been addressed in previous studies.
This research aims at investigating how firms’ reactions to negative consumer reviews and comments change when the experience of the organization with Facebook increases. We consider experience as a factor that affects an individual's or an organization's approach to performing a certain task and/or using a particular system.17 In this study, experience has been measured through two variables: (i) in terms of months of presence on the social network (the longer a firm's page has been on Facebook, the higher the experience of the firm with managing customers’ comments); (ii) in terms of number of fans (the larger the community of fans, the higher the opportunity for interaction and, as a consequence, the potential experience in interacting with the customers).
Profile of firms researched
Presence on web 2.0 (Facebook, Twitter, etc)
Less than 1 month
Between 1 month and 1 year
More than 1 year
Number of fans
Less than 1,000
Between 1,001 and 9,999
More than 10,000
Frequency of nWOM
Frequency of reaction to nWOM
Main strategies for replying to nWOM
Accepting consumer's request
Request to revise post
Behaviour by length of presence on social network
Less than 1 year (76 firms)
More than 1 year (152 firms)
No reaction (%)
Accepting consumer's request (%)
Product substitution (%)
Post removal (%)
Free product (%)
Request to revise post (%)
Discount coupon (%)
Behaviour by number of fans
Less than 1,000 fans (91 firms)
Between 1,000 and 10,000 (100 firms)
More than 10,000 (44 firms)
Accepting consumer's request (%)
No reaction (%)
Post removal (%)
Free product (%)
Request to revise post (%)
Discount coupon (%)
The aim of this study is to understand if firms’ experience with social networks and with negative consumer comments influences their reactions when they receive a negative comment from a fan.
The content analysis we conducted produced a list of possible reactions to negative comments adopted in the past, including also the lack of reaction. The absolute and relative frequencies of these reactions were considered. A noteworthy finding is that ‘Excuse/explanation’ is the most frequent reaction, whereas the second is ‘Accepting consumer's request’. When adopting these reactions, a firm recognizes that an error has been made and tries to correct its behaviour. We call these ‘positive reactions’. The likely goal of the firm is to improve the opinion of customers by proving that their comments are taken into consideration and the organization is willing to satisfy their needs.
‘No reaction’ ranks only third and, while ‘negative reactions’ like ‘Post remoal’ or ‘Request to revise post’ were found, these are less frequent than reactions aimed at mitigating the complaints. When choosing this kind of reaction, a firm is aiming to reduce the visibility of the negative comment, thus avoiding its impact on the firm reputation.
We analysed how the frequency of various types of reactions changed with experience.35, 37, 38 As explained in the ‘Research’ section, experience was measured through two distinct factors: (1) the time elapsed since the firm started its presence on Facebook (by creating a profile or page); (2) the number of fans.
Similarly the frequency of the ‘excuses/explanation code’ increases from 51 per cent in the group of firms with less than 1,000 fans to 82 per cent in the group with more than 10,000 fans, while the ‘no reaction’ code decreases from 14 per cent in the group of firms with less than 1,000 fans to 7 per cent in the group with more than 10,000 fans. These results suggest that as experience with Facebook increases, they tend to react more positively to the negative comments of customers.
Firms learn by experience how to interact with customers on the social network. Previous literature suggests that negative comments can damage a firm's reputation.26, 28 Our findings suggest that positive reactions to these are more likely to be chosen by experienced firms. It is likely, then, that in time positive reactions have been found more capable of reducing the damaging effects of nWOM than negative ones.34, 35
Our findings suggest that firms with less experience on Facebook tend to underestimate the opportunity offered by consumers’ comments, in particular negative ones. Facebook is not only a channel for advertising and diffusing the brand image, but also a channel for communicating with customers and evaluating their experience with the firm.
Conclusions and future works
The importance of negative reviews as a powerful resource for organizations to evaluate and improve their current strategies has been recognized in past studies.32 Furthermore, from a consumers’ point of view, the absence of nWOM reduces the attractiveness of the channel.30 Hence, firms are forced to take into account the presence of nWOM. Moreover, they can exploit it to improve business profitability.
Although this study provides interesting results, it presents some limitations. First, the study does not question the truthfulness of the respondents’ answers, considering that they could have a different perception of consumers’ nWOM or have manipulated answers to preserve their reputation. For instance, they could have declared a lower number of online complaints than was actually experienced. Secondly, this study considers the experience of firms with the social network, but it does not take into account other factors that could influence the capability of the firm to reply effectively to consumers’ requests. Therefore, further researches should test the effects of parameters like turnover and size.
References and Notes
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