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Why getting early negative reviews can be a good thing


If you’ve ever struggled to convince a client on the benefits of allowing negative comments about their products, here’s one for you. A piece in Harvard Business Review (thanks @euanwilcox) reveals that getting bad reviews early on can actually be good in the long run.

The findings come from a study of 51,854 reviews contributed to Amazon, covering 858 books from 2000 to early 2004. Researchers Ye Hu and Xinxin Li  found that recent user comments often focus more on addressing the previous reviews than evaluating the book itself. Meaning that books that initially received negative reviews often ended up with broadly positive reviews at the top, and vice versa.

Why? The authors cite two main reasons: expectations and self-selection:

Your friend’s assertion that “The Tree of Life” is the greatest movie you’ll ever see is pretty much a guarantee that you’ll be scratching your head afterward…An expectation disconnect is one of the factors that prompt readers to post reviews…

Self-selection refers to readers’ motives for taking the time to write. Some contribute reviews in order to correct what they see as misperceptions; others do so just because they like to be contrary in order to stand out. Either way, the result tends to be disagreement with the initial wave of reviews.

This follows previous research into Amazon reviews suggesting that the specificity of a review can be as telling as whether the overall sentiment is positive or negative.

Related posts:

  1. Online reviews: how to read between the lines
  2. Why the long tail isn’t killing the hit – the paradox of engagement