Have you ever given your opinion online? Most likely, your answer will be no, even though current developments in technologies have made it easier to share your thoughts online. The 90-9-1 rule entails that in any group of 100 people, there is on average one person that produces 90% of the content, nine persons that provide 10% of the content, and the remaining 90% never contributes to anything online. That is why the last group is better known as ‘the lurkers’ – they merely observe and follow the contributions of the first 10%. Much research has been going on to study the reasons for being a lurker and how these lurkers can be delurked (e.g. Xia et al., 2012). Furthermore, the applicability of the 90-9-1 rule is subject to debate and consequently changes to this rule such as 70-20-10 or 80-19.99-0.01 have been proposed. The fact remains that there are still many more people that do not contribute their thoughts online.
What drives this small number of people to publish their thoughts online and how do the previously posted reviews affect their contributions? Moe and Schweidel (2012) studied how previously posted ratings can influence someone’s posting behavior in terms of whether to contribute and what to contribute. They focused on consumers’ posting behavior after they have used the product and formed their post-purchase product assessment. The dataset used consists of 3,681 contributions of 2,436 customers of an online retailer of bath, fragrance, and home products over the course of six months. A sample of 200 products was taken, which included 100 most rated products and 100 additional products which were chosen at random. The online contributions included both a score on a five-star scale and a review text.
The results of their study are the following. In general, Moe and Schweidel (2012) observed that the tendency to post was different across individuals and individuals preferred different posting environments. Individuals who were not used to post product opinions were more positive and exhibited bandwagon behavior. Frequent posters (activists) were controlling the online product rating environment by contributing more negative and differentiated opinions compared to the opinions that were expressed before. Activists increasingly participated over time, whereas the involvement of other group decreased over time. Positive environments led to more contributed opinions, and negative environments decreased the amount of opinions contributed. Additionally, Moe and Schweidel (2012) found that the contributed content was subject to adjustment effects, which entails that the contributed thoughts affect the content of future postings. Furthermore, they found that the posting decision was subject to selection effects that can affect the composition of the posting population (Moe & Schweidel, 2012).
Previously private conversations about products have become publicly available to potential customers and the firm. Before, firms have never been able to get so close to their customers and engage them in such a relevant manner. Increasing customer insight and engagement is highly important in influencing the success or failure of a product. Knowledge gained on customer experiences can aid the firm in driving benefits throughout the value chain by forecasting demand and creating product promotions, among other benefits. Therefore, the previous results are important for consumers and firms. Consumers and firms should take into consideration that online product reviews do not always reflect the opinion of the whole customer base, but rather the opinion of the vocal and more negative activists. In addition, firms should not overreact to negative feedback because there is a high chance that the more positive majority may have chosen not to participate in the online forum. In order to deal with negative feedback, the firms could provide the most silent customers with incentives for posting reviews.
Xia, Huang, Duan & Whinston (2012). To Continue Sharing or Not to Continenue Sharing? An Empirical Analysis of User Decision in Peer-to-Peer Sharing Networks. Information Systems Research, 23(1):247-259.
Moe, W.W. & Schweidel, D.A. (2012). Online Product Opinions: Incidence, Evaluation, and Evolution. Marketing Science, 31(3):372-386.