Though we may not care to admit it, what other people think
about something can affect what we think about it. This is
how critics become influential and why our parents opinions
about our life choices continue to matter, long after weve
moved out. But what kind of opinions have the most effect"
An important new study in the Journal of Consumer Research
reveals that negative opinions cause the greatest attitude
shifts, not just from good to bad, but also from bad to worse.
Consumer attitudes toward products and services are
frequently influenced by others around them. Social networks,
such as those found on Myspace and Facebook suggest that these
influences will continue to be significant drivers of individual
consumer attitudes as society becomes more inter-connected,
explain Adam Duhachek, Shuoyang Zhang, and Shanker Krishnan
(all of Indiana University). Our research seeks to understand
the conditions where group influence is strongest.
Consumers were presented with information about a new product
and allowed to independently form their evaluations. As would
be normally expected with many products, some of these evaluations
were positive and others negative. The researchers then revealed
to participants whether their peers evaluated the product
negatively or positively. They found that the opinions of
others exert especially strong influence on individual attitudes
when these opinions are negative. Additionally, consumers
that privately held positive attitudes toward the product
were more susceptible to influence from group opinion than
those who initially held negative opinions.
Furthermore, the researchers also found that those with negative
opinions of the product were likely to become even more negative
if asked to participate in a group discussion: When
consumers expect to interact with other consumers through
these forums, learning the views of these other consumers
may reinforce and even polarize their opinions, making them
more negative, the researchers reveal.
This research has several interesting implications.
First, given the strong influence of negative information,
marketers may need to expend extra resources to counter-act
the effects of negative word of mouth in online chatrooms,
blogs and in offline media. Conversely, companies could damage
the reputations of competitors by disseminating negative information
online, the researchers explain. Consumers should
be aware that these social influence biases exist and are
capable of significantly impacting their perceptions.