Negativity Bias

In a great post on {GROW} , Mark Schaefer talked about Negativity Bias. He commented on a poster for NASCAR that highlighted a hig speed crash. He felt that this was a smart move by them as it is:

a reflection of our normal tendency to focus on the negative. The negative is the news. There is ample clinical research that codifies this trait, which is called Negativity Bias.  Humans have a heightened physiological and psychological response to events they see as negative. Our attitudes are more heavily influenced by downbeat news than good news.

Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily probably evolved for a good reason — to keep us out of harm’s way. The brain developed systems that would make it notice danger and hopefully, avoid it.

He goes on to talk about how McDonalds, who he holds in high regard:

They are a gold standard in terms of authentic social media outreach and connection. How many companies of their size have a team of tweeters available for one-on-one conversation? In terms of effectively “humanizing” their brand, I use them as a best practice case study in my college classes.

….recently got a lot of bad press/wom/buzz around an idea they had for twitter.  They launched a hashtag #McDStories and then they invited customers to tell their favorite stories of McDonald’s experiences. But it didnt exactly go according to plan, as people began to use the hashtag to talk negatively about the brand. It soon became known as the McFail campaign.

What is interesting is that out of the 79,000 tweets (give or take a few) 2,000 were negative. So while McFail became a major story, they actually had a positive sentiment analysis of 97.5 percent! Mark contends that this is all due to negatvitiy bias.

I think an Irish example of this would be the recent issues new mobile brand 48 had over last weekend. The brand launched only about 6 weeks ago, with an incredible un-mobile network like campaign (check out the ad below).

The offer was, and still is, incredibly strong too (10 euro a month for all texts and calls). All in all this was a case study of how to do a launch. Then (potential) disaster struck, when the network went down last weekend. There was a leak somewhere that knocked the network out, apparently other networks were affected too. I think the guys at 48 did a great job on Facebook communicating with their customers.

They proactively took to the site to explain that there was a problem and that they were working on it, then they updated people throughout the day. They also let the community talk amongst themselves and stepped in to give updates or try and address specific concerns people had. My favourite response was:

Kieran – to be fair, we didn’t say the outage was caused by rain. Still working to fix the remaining issues! Alan @ 48

I’m not a customer (clearly not the demographic!) and I am sure there are people who are still a little frustrated and annoyed by the whole experience, but overall I think 48 did a good job. And this week they gave their customers the choice on how they would like to be compensated (and 1,000 people voted for a weeks free membership!)

Back to Mark Schaefer now. He warns that, due to this negativity bias, we are  standing on digital quicksand.

It only takes one infinitesimal shift in customer sentiment, one outcry from a small number of passionate detractors, to dash an otherwise sterling reputation.

As we have seen many times, even an experiment that barely makes a dent in the company’s overall social footprint can overwhelm any good that is being accomplished, any sincere intentions, any attempt at innovation.

Personally or professionally, is it worth it trying anything new in the social space, even if you thought you could have a success rate of 97.5 percent?  In a world where Negatively Bias is gasoline on a viral fire, and one misstep can overwhelm years of positive work cultivating raving fans, why would anybody take a risk on the social web?

That’s a tough question and it’s one that probably won’t help anyone who is trying to convince their senior management that the social web is a place for them. Yes you can get it wrong sometimes, or even things outside of your control can cause negative sentiment. But is that a reason not to be present. Surely you are better to be there and address the situation (like 48 did). Im sure McDonalds havent decided to abandon their social agenda? Maybe they have just adapted and amended things?

Negativity bias has always been there. I remember being told years ago how a bad experience in a hotel or restaurant led to the customer telling 9 of their peers, and that had a knock on effect. That hasn’t changed, excpet now people are telling 100 of their friends – really quickly. Surely you want to be there to respond?



6 thoughts on “Negativity Bias

  1. Nice read, Conor. I’ve been really impressed with 48’s creative. As you say it feels very unmobile, which I believe gives them great stand out.

    The whole consumer interaction with brands on Facebook and Twitter is such an interesting dynamic, both how they are attracted by brands originally (I’ve written a piece on that here ) and then how the consumers interact with them when they get there. There is always a much higher standard held to the brand (as they have way more to lose) than the consumer when commenting. As a result, I’m sure there’s a large amount of lip biting by agencies / clients alike when dealing with sometimes unreasonable consumers.

    • I love this quote from your post “We need to remember they aren’t actually fans, that is just what Facebook calls them, they are often just people that have been recruited by competitions and they aren’t really engaged”

      Yes, moderating can be a challenge! And I think its ok to remember that sometimes people are being unreasonable. But also people have a right to use the medium to air their grievances. I was given out to by a journalist for being critical of her view on a topic on my blog. She seemed to have a problem with the fact that bloggers have a view point! I think that is also something brands can’t lose sight of, people have views and now have a way to get them out to a lot of people (maybe not a lot in my case!!)

  2. Great post. Thanks for continuing the dialogue!

  3. Handling customer negativity well is a better measure of a company than not seeing the complaints at all.

    • Totally agree. Had a buritto related experience recently! Doesnt matter what it is…listening makes a difference

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