Many companies spend a lot of time controlling what’s said on their Facebook pages. Deleting negative comments is one way to ensure customers don’t form negative impressions about the brand. On the face of it, this makes sense. Public comments that are all positive should instil trust towards the brand, building associations with high quality. Positive comments mixed with negative suggest flaws in the brand’s ability to provide a consistent high quality product or service. Or does it?
I have long argued that natural communications about your brand should not be tampered with. It is rare that a brand does not have some unhappy customers on occasion. These customers should be given the chance to publically display their disgruntlement. In other words, brands should never tamper with their Facebook page by deleting negative comments, only allowing the positive comments to shine through. Ideally, responding to negative comments creates an opportunity to show the world that you care. The result is greater feelings of trust, honesty, and genuiness towards your brand.
Consumers form relationships with brands, much like we form relationships with other people. In the same way we form impressions of other people, we also form impressions of brands. Who wants a friend that is not genuine in the way they communicate with us? We want honesty, because honesty suggests that person cares about us. Our closest friends will tell us what they think, and will also help us when we need it. Only telling people what you think they want to hear is not a good way to build lasting strong relationships.
To demonstrate how this works, we conducted an experiment at the University of Melbourne. We exposed three separate groups to three separate Facebook Pages. Group one saw a Facebook Page where the comments were 100% positive. Group two saw a Facebook page where the comments were a mixture of positive and negative. Group three saw a Facebook page where the negative comments where responded to by the brand.
Figure 1: All Positive Comments
Figure 2: Mixed Comments with Reponse
The results were as follows. As we would expect, participants in the Positive group viewed the Positive comments as being more positive. This response mirrors what many brands expect.
However, simply viewing a brand as positive does not necessarily speak to more valuable traits such as honestly, trustworthiness, and genuineness. These traits lead to long lasting strong relationships. As we predicted, those who viewed the Facebook page with a response from the brand viewed that brand as more genuine.
When we look at the differences between honesty and trustworthiness, we see a stronger effect.
These results suggest widespread practice of deleting negative Facebook comments about your brand may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The results suggest that publically responding to negative comments can have a dramatic impact on perceptions of honesty, trustworthiness, and genuiness towards the brand. Interestingly, even simply keeping the negative comments does not result in any significant decrease in honesty, trustworthiness, and genuiness.