Don't Ignore Mean Tweets

Companies that respond well to online criticism see better performance, according to a recent study.
Don't Ignore Mean Tweets
ANYONE WHO HAS been on social media knows that online discourse can be less than civil. But when social media users post negative tweets about an organization, a poor response—or worse, none at all—could result in a firestorm of unwanted media attention. Companies that know how to offer measured responses to “mean tweets” fare better in the long run, say Kelly Hewett, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; William Rand, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business in College Park; Roland Rust, professor of marketing at the Smith School; and Harald van Heerde, research professor of marketing at Massey University in Palmerstown, New Zealand.

The group analyzed more than 60,000 articles, 18 million tweets, and 5,000 press releases—related to companies in the banking industry—from 2007 to 2013. The researchers measured the tenor and tone of each message to get a sense of how the interdependence between an organization’s traditional and social media-based communications affected consumer sentiment and business outcomes. They coined the term “echoverse” to describe the interactions between social media, news coverage, and traditional forms of promotional communication.

Of the banks they studied, Bank of America emerged as the one that managed its social media presence most effectively—it posted consistent, moderately toned, and often personalized tweets in response to negative feedback on social media. As a result, the company was more successful at mitigating the effects of negative feedback than firms that sent out one-fifth the number of tweets or that posted tweets with a more positive yet promotional tone.

In fact, a bank’s lack of response to negative feedback often led to mounting negative media coverage, which in turn led to consumers making fewer deposits. The co-authors also found that while advertising increased levels of consumer deposits, it had no significant effect on traditional media coverage, social media tone or volume, or brand perception. Positive press releases, on the other hand, resulted in fewer negative customer tweets and better business outcomes.

In the early days of Twitter, the researchers note, positive messages were more likely to go viral and affect consumer sentiment than negative ones. But that’s no longer the case. “The media has not always been stuck in a negativity loop,” says Hewett. “In 2010, negativity started to take precedence, and correspondingly the volume of company tweets began to be more important.”

“Brand Buzz in the Echoverse” was published in the May 2016 issue of the Journal of Marketing.