No Such Thing As Bad Publicity? Apparently There Is

bad publicity

Think all that matters is how much people are talking about your brand online? Think again. A recent study finds sentiment is more important than volume of online conversations when it comes to driving sales.

The study co-authored by Dr. Shyam Gopinath, at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, found that the sentiment of online conversations is more important than the volume of conversations when it comes to driving product sales. In an interview with Small Business Trends, Gopinath explains:

“The focus of managers should be on the online word of mouth content (what is said) and not the sheer amount of buzz (how much is said). Moreover, not all online word of mouth content is the same. Recommendation-related conversations have the biggest direct impact on sales.”

The study specifically looked at word of mouth and other factors and how these affected brand perception of five leading smartphones from their introduction through the mature stage of their product life cycles.

This “online word of mouth content” as Gopinath calls it, can be split into three basic categories:

Attributes are simple descriptive statements, but may also carry with them positive or negative assessments of a product or service. Examples might be “the battery on my new iPhone really lasts a long time” or “the weight of this item is quite light.”

Emotion statements are defined by Gopinath in his study as statements that carry keywords with strong sentiments including “like” or “dislike” or even “love” and “hate.” Examples might be statements like “I really like my new tablet” or “I absolutely hate my new car.”

Recommendation statements are, as the name implies, those that suggest an endorsement. Comments like, “I can recommend this product!” or conversely “I don’t recommend it.”

But Gopinath’s study also concludes that while word of mouth commentary in social media did impact sales, traditional advertising continued to have an effect too.

The study found that traditional advertising – television, radio, print ads – is a stronger driver of sales earlier in a product’s life cycle. But online commentary becomes more critical as the product matures. This may be because in the beginning lack of customer experience with a product forces people to rely on advertizing. However, as more customers buy and use a product, people tend to rely on these early adopters’ experiences more.

The research could change how even small businesses view the balance between the importance of traditional advertising and customer generated word of mouth on social media when marketing any product or service.

Gopinath explains:

“The two key questions that managers try to grapple with are – is traditional advertising losing the battle against consumer generated media? And can firms influence online conversations? This research suggests that traditional media is still important as newer forms of consumer generated media emerge. However, that importance wanes as a product matures.”

Conversing Photo via Shutterstock

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Mark O'Neill Mark O'Neill is a staff writer for Small Business Trends, covering software and social media. He is a freelance journalist who has been writing for over 25 years, and has successfully made the leap from newspapers and radio onto the Internet. From 2007-2013, he was the Managing Editor of

8 Reactions
  1. Great research and I can only imagine the hours some poor students spent analyzing the intent of the buzz they measured.

  2. Traditional advertising will not die simply because it still catches people. As long as it catches people, it can still get them to buy. With that, they still work. The key is to mix it with online advertising and try to create as much of a positive sentiment as possible.

  3. Well word of mouth has not died down even during current circumstances, that is why it very important for any brand to provide the best of services to attract more & more customers through positive vibes. Otherwise bad publicity can ruin all the hard work done towards business establishment.

  4. A research similar to “chicken or the egg” story. Thoughs that doesn’t have hard evidence, based on opinion of few people.

  5. I’ve felt for a long time it’s way overly simplistic. It can be true, certain people have gotten more well-known after a “scandal”. However, if it was so true, then why would Penn State and other organizations cover up their bad actors so aggressively? Anthony Weiner couldn’t get re-elected despite this “no bad publicity” adage.