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The power of negative thinking – customer gripes are good for online advocacy

The power of negative thinking – customer gripes are good for online advocacy

Imagine a world where everyone is unfailingly positive and complimentary. Negative thinking and comments are not tolerated and we only speak in complimentary terms about what we do on a daily basis.

If that world were reflected in a newspaper or TV programme, I doubt many people would read or view it. Not only would it be boring and one sided (we need light and shade for a balanced perspective) it would also seem alien and unrealistic. It is human nature (especially among the British!) to complain, gripe and moan about almost anything. We sometimes even complain when something is “too perfect”!

So why is it that many brands are afraid of presenting anything less than a “perfect” view of themselves online? From a brand managers point of view, any negativity is a bad thing, but when that brand is constantly portrayed in glowing terms, not only does it start to grate, but we as consumers begin to feel sceptical. 

Dealing with negativity is part of everyday life, so when we encounter a fan page or customer comment section of a brands website that is unremittingly positive it does not reflect  reality and does not come across as sincere. Brands that appear as authentic create a greater emotional connection with consumers - they can sniff out insincerity at a hundred paces.

Naturally a brand doesn’t want fans posting slanderous or offensive comments on its fan pages or comments section on its websites, but criticism and negativity can be good. Criticism sparks debate, and debate sparks interaction and engagement. If groups of fans rebut the criticisms of other fans and spring to a brand’s defence, it’s very powerful online advocacy. And of course it sounds much better coming from another customer than from the brand itself. Identifying brand ambassadors and getting them to work for you is a key part of building online advocacy.

Sometimes of course there will be negative comments that other customers cannot defend (especially if they are true!) or comments that appear on other social media sites and earned media that you cannot directly edit or control.

This is where a good Active Web Listening (AWL) programme comes into place. It allows you to pick up negative comments very quickly – and act on them.

Customers appreciate brands that respond to their comments online, but like it even more when brands take action and change the way they do things. In one sense it’s a fundamental process of co-creation. Customers highlight faults in a product or service, brands respond to these issues – and fix them. See our ebook on co-creation for more. And in the instances where brands put things right, they make great stories that customers can tell and disseminate. This provides far more compelling content, than if it were generated by the brand itself.

For example every time Apple upgrade their operating system for iPhones, there are usually lots of reported problems, with things like slow upload, missing data and losing apps. However fans will often to spring to its defence, giving out tips on how to avoid problems or reinstate lost items. There will be debate about the advantages of the new system versus the previous one, people will promote the benefits through social media and customers will put up with spending hours uploading the system. It’s not perfect but then what is? We as customers weigh up the pros and cons, forgive the brand its shortcomings and await the upgrade. Meanwhile Apple can relax with the satisfaction that a huge amount of coverage, engagement and advocacy has been generated.  

Without negative comments, there would be less customer interaction and engagement and less opportunity for product improvement. If you can engage with your critics you get them to co-create with you! By bringing fans and critics alike into your inner circle, by being seen to address customer concerns and acting upon them, a brand becomes more real and plays a greater role in your life.

By embracing the negative a brand becomes more “real”, gains more personality and we as customers are more likely to forgive, even defend, its shortcomings. You can’t ask for better advocacy than that!  




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