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Salt Lake City, UT (Profitable.com) It seems counterintuitive, but when it comes to employee blogs, sometimes the best posts contain moderate criticism of corporate policy, service or even products, says a new study from the University of Utah.
That is the surprising conclusion of a paper co-authored by Rohit Aggarwal, assistant professor of Information Systems at the university’s David Eccles School of Business. He notes that while some companies have reprimanded or even fired employees over “negative” posts, others have adopted policies tolerating or even encouraging criticism.
In “Blog, Blogger, and the Firm: Can Negative Posts by Employees Lead to Positive Outcomes?” which has been accepted for a forthcoming edition of the Information Research Journal (http://isr.journal.informs.org), Aggarwal contends that “our analysis suggests that negative posts act as a catalyst and can exponentially increase the readership of employee blogs.”
Visitors to corporate/employee blogs do not expect to see anything but positive commentary on company products and services. Critical commentary is seen as reflecting integrity of employees and honesty and openness from the company about their products or services.
“There is some merit in allowing negative posts” by company blogging policy-setters, suggest Aggarwal and coauthors Ram Gopal and Ramesh Sankaranarayanan of the University of Connecticut and Param Vir Singh of Carnegie Mellon University. “Permitting a few negative posts to increase readership should be a good strategy.”
Aggarwal and his colleagues also found that while a few negative posts served to season perceived legitimacy of corporate/employee blogs, too many negative blogs can reverse that initial, favorable reaction from readers. In other words, all things in moderation – including online criticism.
“We found that the optimal percentage for negative posts is about 15 percent to 20 percent,” Aggarwal says. “Beyond that, you may get more readership but there also is more negative impact on the company in terms of reputation and possibly sales.”
So, what does the research suggest for executives in the process of drafting or re-writing their policies on blog content? In a word: vigilance.
“We are not advocating, for instance, that a firm should actively encourage its employees to post negative comments on their blogs. Firms may not choose to restrict certain types of negative posts, which is different from actually encouraging negative posts,” the paper states.
That said, Aggarwal adds that his research suggests that companies should be more open toward “allowing employees more freedom to write and freedom to express” even as they “track blogs to see what the ratio of negative posts is to positive ones.”
A high negative-to-positive blog post ratio can also serve as a canary in a coal mine, allowing a company to proactively react to brewing discontent among employees. “If the (negative) ratio is too high, they can talk with those employees about their concerns. But while they should monitor those blogs, they should not stifle all criticism.”
You can read Aggarwal’s paper in full by visiting http://bit.ly/empblogs.
About the David Eccles School of Business
Founded in 1917 in Salt Lake City, the David Eccles School of Business has programs in entrepreneurship, technology innovation and venture capital management. Emphasizing interdisciplinary education and experiential learning, it launched the country’s largest student-run venture capital fund with $18.3 million (the largest in the United States), and is home to the Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center and the Sorenson Center for Discovery and Innovation. Approximately 3,500 students are enrolled in its undergraduate, graduate and executive degree programs. For more information, visit www.business.utah.edu.
David Eccles School of Business
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