Businesses Tend to Get Blasted on Facebook. What Are the Implications for Ed. Companies?

Associate Editor

Consumers—and educators—use Facebook’s business pages to make their opinions known, and now an academic study finds that negative posts outpace the positive ones for Fortune 500 companies by a wide margin.

While the analysis focused on well-known businesses in the consumer world, the lead researcher said he believes the findings can be applied to education companies as well.

“If you think about teachers as ‘users’ in this space, it definitely fits into the framework of our study,” said Mochen Yang, an assistant professor at Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the research, in an interview. The study was published in the INFORMS journal Information Systems Research.

Specifically, Yang and his fellow researchers found that:

  • The ratio of negative to positive posts is nearly 2 to 1;
  • Negative posts get the most comments, followed by positive posts; and,
  • Complaints about a company’s standing on social issues—such as labor, human rights or pollution—receive more likes, but fewer comments, than complaints about quality or money issues.

The study focused on data from 12,000 posts for 41 Fortune 500 companies in six industries in 2012. The researchers coded posts on the business pages into seven categories, which included positive testimonials and appreciation; complaints about a product; complaints about service quality; complaints about money issues; comments about social and environmental issues; customer questions; customer suggestions, and finally irrelevant messages.

“The distribution of different kinds of content would likely be slightly different in the educational context,” Yang said. For example, MOOCs (massively open online courses) would draw comments from the public that are both positive and negative. “Some users would be satisfied and post positive testimonials; on the other hand, some students would not be as satisfied and issue complaints.”

With positive posts come positive results, a finding that has been established by previous research, said Yang. Increased engagement is linked to more brand loyalty, product sales, and profitability, he indicated.

Monitor—But Don’t Censor

Businesses need to closely monitor what happens on their Facebook pages, and be careful about how they respond to less-than-favorable comments, said Yang. “I was surprised to see how a wave of negativity accumulates in a short period of time,” said Yang.

One big takeaway is that “companies should not think about negative posts on their social media as a bad thing,” he said, because those public statements aren’t necessarily all bad.

“You can think of it as a way to collect consumer feedback for free,” said Yang.

Some companies choose to censor negative posts by deleting them. “We strongly advise against this,” he said. “As manager of their business page, companies have the power to do that. But this is a counterproductive way to monitor what’s happening on the page.” A “deletion action” can generate multiple reactions that bring attention to the original post, he said.

Instead, companies need to prioritize different types of posts, recognizing that not all are equally important, and develop a strategy for each kind of reaction, he said.

For instance, businesses can see how much attention is being generated by posts with unreasonable requests or accusations. “Companies may not want to bring more attention to that post,” he said. However,  posts that include hate speech or “grossly inappropriate” comments should be deleted, he said.

The full study, entitled “Understanding User-Generated Content and Customer Engagement on Facebook Business Pages,” by Mochen Yang, Yuqing Ren, Gediminas Adomavicius, is available here.

Caption: In this Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, photo an iPhone displays the apps for Facebook and Messenger in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

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