The importance of negative reviews

by Tiggered

Writers of rants, criticisms and assorted negative reviews deserve our undying gratitude. Why?

Negative reviews are frowned upon and generally surrounded by negative press. Speak well or not at all. Approach rubbish with elegant silence. Look the other way and move on. Think of all the hurt you'd be causing to the creator of the reviewed item. No one really wants to listen to your moaning. Criticizing is unprofessional, unnecessary and wouldn't it be nice if everyone was nice. Blah blah blah.

I've heard all the arguments and I even agree with some of them, but there's another side to this coin.

Whenever I think of all the junk items I've been dissuaded from buying by an honest negative review, I feel a huge surge of gratitude towards those anonymous, unrewarded complainers. Thank you for saving my money and my peace of mind!

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Why negative review writers are your friends?

negative reviews - shoesImagine a pair of shoes. The shoes in question are made of the cheapest, most toxic material available, labelled according to a skewed size chart, manufactured by the thousand in a sweatshop in some dark corner of the world and basically, they are destined to fall apart after an outing or two. As I'm sure you've had a chance to learn the hard way, the world is full of such items.

Still, the manufacturer coughs up a decent sum for a top-class photographer, so judging from the picture, the shoes look pretty decent. Good light philter turns rather dull shade of red into attractive crimson and with the complimentary angle used cardboard soles hardly show at all. The first step to economic success has been made.

Second, the manufacturer writes a professional sales pitch, aimed specifically at online shoppers. It is full of words like 'cool', 'beautiful' and 'bestseller', promises the future wearer a thing or two ('these fantastic shoes will turn you into a real princess!) and possibly is crowned with a high-sounding, but entirely meaningless slogan.

Third, price. It is really, really low and the manufacturer does not forget to tell you how it was lowered even more with your, the customer's, benefit in mind. No, it's not cheap materials. No, it's not slave wage paid to the workers. It all comes from the purest desire to make your life better and fuller and to protect your wallet from the dark shadows of global economy. Manufacturer's profit? Come on, gentlemen do not talk about money!

Fast forward a few weeks, our shoes hit the market and start to sell.

Some people won't buy them, but will pretend they have, or that they want to, and will rave about them all over the Web. They will probably enjoy the money they will have made by the cut from the sales, too. It's cool to have money.

Other people will buy them and will throw them away after three days (IF they fit, that is). Still, they will write a positive/neutral review, because it is so unkind to write about strangers in an unpleasant way.

Others still will silently froth when throwing the shoes into the rubbish bin, get over the disappoinment and move on without saying a thing (swear words exchanged with friends and family members don't count).

Now we're ready to meet the heroes of our story.

A small group of selfless, altruistic people, confronted with such a disaster, will jump online and write until their keyboard bursts aflame. They will go to the review section and produce a 200-word rant, warning potential victims away from the danger. They will tell the shoppers what exactly was wrong with their shoes - no need to use abstracts when you have some solid data.

Obviously, they will get no money for their trouble. No one pays for negative reviews. Individuals of delicate disposition might ever turn from the screen with distaste ('you mean the world is NOT all sweet and pink and good? But you MUST be mistaken!'). Some may call them rednecks for voicing their dissatisfaction - SO inelegant! SO unprofessional!

Fortunately, some lucky almost-shoppers will silently thank the negative reviewer for saving them from buying yet another piece of junk. I really, really do want to believe that karma exists and that the good deed will come back to them in some mystical form, because they cannot really count for any other reward.

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The economics of review writing

negative reviews - moneyContent writing is not the best paying job in the world. J.K. Rowling may get paid for writing, and a handful of highly talented/lucky/well-connected individuals too, but for most mortals, the rule is simple: no one wants to pay for reading your stuff. Readers do not pay writers for what they read (there are some exceptions to this rule, but there are few and far between).

Some online writers do it pro publico bono, simply because they like to churn the words away, because they enjoy belonging to the writer's community or for another similar, non-monetary reason.

Those who are in the business for money have few options available:

a) write informative articles, as many as you can, stuff them with ads and hope like hell that there are still people without an ad-block built into their brains

b) sell, sell, sell. Don't bother too much with actual writing, the buck is in sales percentage, not in words. 'Positives only', 'sell benefits not features' and other lovely marketing rules apply fully.

c) write whatever you want in large quantities and hope for a miracle. Perhaps someone will actually discover you before you starve.

Of course, most online writers hover somewhere in between the extremes above, but my point is easy to spot: money in online writing comes either from ads or from sales. Exceptions are so rare that they cannot be realistically counted upon.

Bottom line: there is no incentive to write honest reviews (product recommendations or whatever you want to call it). Multitudes get paid for writing positive ones, honesty being secondary consideration, negative ones are not rewarded in any way, even though their usefulness has been demonstrated.

The poor victims of negative reviews

negative reviews - meteor strikeI've often heard arguments that criticism should not be voiced for fear of offending or hurting the criticized. The argument surely deserves some consideration because it is often a valid one.

Toxic criticism is a low blow. Venomous personal remarks are ugly and those who soil the Web with them should burn in hell, howgh. Let's move on to some less clearly defined cases.

What if someone, say an artist, tries really hard. What if he or she genuinely wants to make the world a better place, it's just that the results are... let's just say... not exactly as stunning as planned?

Or let's consider the manufacturer of the crappy shoes I imagined above (imagined! For the record - my shoe story is completely made up and coloured for dramatic effect). The poor thing surely has a family to feed. A mortgage to pay. A ferrari to maintain... I might be getting carried away, but in some sad cases, this is only a slight exaggeration.

In the poor producer/poor customer opposition, whose side do you take?

I have to confess that as a customer, I wholeheartedly sign up to the customer camp. I hate, hate, hate being taken for a ride by b%$@s$%t marketing and manipulative sales people. Not that it happens so often these days - one learns - but it used to, and it hurt. I am a total believer in the damaging effect of stress and frustration, so if my customer's woes have skimmed a few years off my life, I know who's to blame.

As regards the poor producer, I have only those harsh words to say: if you try really hard, but can't produce decent shoes anyway, you probably should't be in the shoe business in the first place. Moving on will most likely bring happiness to you and relief to the world.

If you consciously manufacture junk just to get rich, you deserve all the negative reviews in the world. And a meteorite strike on your head when you least expect it.

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My hero, the negative reviewer

negative reviews - drinkI am really, truly grateful to people who take their time, go out there and warn the general public against shoddy goods. They don't have to. They don't get any sort of a reward for their efforts - apart, maybe, from the warm feeling inside.

I would be grateful for honest, positive reviews too, it's just that with the marketing business being what it is, I simply don't believe them. Producers have financial interest in praising their goods. Affilliate marketers have financial interest in praising someone's goods. I don't trust opinions that have been paid for. To me it seems the most logical conclusion in the world - sometimes I wonder if it is just as obvious to other people. Can you let me know?

Negative reviews don't earn. No sale, no cut for the reviewer. If someone does go out there and makes the effort to put a few words together, they are either from a competitor's business (it happens, I know - but how many competitors can there be?), or they have had authentic unpleasant experiences with the product and simply want to warn people of it, as a public duty or a frustration vent.

Thanks, guys. If I ever come across one of you in a pub, I'll buy you a drink. You've earned it.

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Time for voicing off: negative reviews - aye or nay?

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Long live the ranters!
BarbRad on 12/14/2012

I agree. I only wish I'd been smart enough to Google for negative reports before getting taken on an unwise purchase. Many I'll write up my own negative experience and actually name the name. I was afraid to before, because the company could have retaliated.

katiem2 on 11/21/2012

I agree, these are the people who offer up a real evaluation of your work. They have obviously read it and take issue with it. A good debate can develop from this type of review if a mindful and respectful approach is taken. Yes, the bad review an be your best friend. Who was it that said, "there's no such thing as bad publicity"

More opinionated writing by Tiggered

Selling dreams is pretty much what today's marketing is all about. Does it work?
Surviving Progress is a 2011 Canadian documentary that asks - and answers! - some serious questions
How much value does money actually represents? How much is your cash worth?
Smile or Die is a book by Barbara Ehrenreich. It is also a very real and cruel dilemma most of us are facing each day.
Updated: 04/08/2013, Tiggered
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Tiggered on 12/15/2012

Always a good piece of advice. Venom is not ok.

BarbRad on 12/14/2012

I think maybe the trick is to save the venom until you cool off a bit and can sound a bit more objective.

Tiggered on 11/21/2012

Agreed :) There are reviews and reviews :)

Tiggered on 11/21/2012

Well, there'll always be people who just want to vent off, nevermind how. I'd rather have them bitching about a product than taking a gun and going postal in a local school.
What I am mainly interested in here are honest reviews, subjective or otherwise, as a useful counterbalance to sponsored marketing.

sheilamarie on 11/21/2012

I have mixed feelings on this subject. In the case of the shoes, yes, the negative review is called for. But I have read so many negative reviews for which I honestly don't understand the motivation. Some people can be just crabby. Sometimes they complain about things because it make them feel important, or they are trying to be funny. You see this in news stories, for example, or Youtube videos. I know you are talking about products, not news stories, but still, some reviews strike me as coming from that same mind frame. I appreciate honest reviews on a product, positive and negative, but like Sam, I ask myself, "What is my motivation in posting this?"

katiem2 on 11/21/2012

Yes indeed :)

Tiggered on 11/21/2012

That's exactly the attitude I try to promote :)

Tiggered on 11/21/2012

When reading a review you can usually see whether it expresses a subjective opinion (e.g. too many pictures - how many pictures is right, exactly?) or if it provides solid, measurable info (wrong size, shoddy workmanship).
I wouldn't enjoy throwing mud at someone just for the hell of it, but if I really don't like something - even something like a book etc. - I don't have too many doubts before saying so. It's just my opinion, after all, I can express it, people can disregard it.

Tiggered on 11/21/2012

There you go, so negative reviewers have saved you a penny or two as well :)

katiem2 on 11/21/2012

If it raises interest and deeper thought it's always a good thing in my book. If you get a mean review from someone who's having an obviously bad day, don't take it personal and remind yourself everyone is entitled to their opinion in an open discussion. :)K

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