Opinion

Sifting through all the mean posts online

A new study shows that nasty online comments may not be as they appear

October 10, 2012
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crystal lindell
Crystal Lindell

You know, the internet can be so mean sometimes.

People seem to have no problem leaving nasty posts on whatever page they come across. Comment streams can devolve into screaming matches full of capital letters, multiple exclamation points and words with stars for letters in minutes. And the comments appear to just go on and on and on.  

Once that happens, the people with nice things to say seem to tune out, or move on. And the author of said posts usually ends up either crying in the fetal position in the corner of their bedroom, or throwing their computer out the window.

But it turns out, even extremely long comment strings of negative comments may not be so bad after all.

In fact, a new study shows that a majority of the negative, nasty comments online are made by a minority of commenters — at least when it comes to three controversial health topics.

KDPaine & Partners conducted an in-depth study of social media conversations about some of the most controversial healthy topics of the moment, including: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), genetically modified foods (GMOs) and vaccinations.

While the study was funded by the Corn Refiners Association (which supports HFCS), the results were revealing.

They analyzed 301,497 comments posted online between Oct. 1, 2010-Oct. 1, 2011 about the three topics using software that monitored publically available conversations containing various related keywords. The content was found on blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook, video and photo sharing sites and online news sites.

It turns out that more than 33% of all posts were created by 10% of posters, and 15% of posts were created by 1% of posters.

So that means, it’s one guy writing similar comments under different names.

Even more upsetting was the finding that many of their comments weren’t really people — they were robots, fauz social media accounts, content farms or pay-per-click sites.

And of course, 73% of the comments or posts from these posters were negative in sentiment, which means if they’re discredited, a whole bunch of the negative conversation is discredited.

So, of 150 comments of people writing various versions of: “GMOs ARE POISON AND WILL KILL YOU!” on a CNN article article about California may not actually be coming from 150 different people sitting at home contemplating the issue and hoping to offer authentic conversation. Most of them may actually be coming from robots.

Meanwhile, the study also found that 55.56% of posts were created by people who only commented once or twice a year. And it was the people who commented 13-14 times a year who offered the most authentic conversations on the various issue.

Which sounds a lot like real life if you ask me. The people who complain the loudest take up the most attention, while the people with the most thoughtful analysis tend to get lost in the noise. And then, about half the people only care enough to make a quick comment once a year.

The challenge for online marketers of anything from HFCS to candy bars is to know that this is the case and respond accordingly — easier said than done, of course.

Maybe it means having a more active voice online themselves. Maybe it means rewarding people who leave a comment to inspire more of a presence from them.  Maybe it means taking the time to respond to every single negative comment, thereby simultaneously drowning them out and leaving responses for people just browsing through.

Or maybe it just means taking a breath before feeling the need to respond to what appears to be a slew of negative feedback.

No matter how they do it though, if they can figure out how to steer the conversation, the marketing results will be priceless. 

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