The socialsphere was buzzing last week about the iPhone4. Not so much about its super-sharp display, front-facing camera, or other impressive new features. The conversation last week around Apple’s newest phone centered instead on another story – the brand’s apparent censorship of its discussion boards.

After lab tests for reception issues led Consumer Reports to recommend that readers skip the new iPhone in favor of an older model, The Unofficial Apple Weblog found that Apple’s support forum moderators were deleting threads referencing the poor review. The story has since been covered by sites like Wired, Financial Times, and Fox News.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: negative reviews are a gift. Here are five reasons Apple (and all manufacturers) should embrace and learn from their negative reviews.

1. Negative feedback builds authenticity.

The mere presence of some negative feedback on a site creates trust in the brand. A site full of nothing but glowing reviews can make a shopper skeptical – consumers fear “white washing” from the brand. Allowing a mix of positive and negative feedback shows customers you’re willing to let them share their authentic opinions, and that you care what they have to say.

2. What’s bad for some isn’t bad for everyone.

Not all shoppers will use your products in the same way, so negative reviews from one customer won’t necessarily deter another. A designer’s criticism of a laptop’s lack of adequate graphic design capabilities wouldn’t necessarily deter a college student seeking a laptop for schoolwork. A negative review from a mother about a remote control’s small parts won’t deter a bachelorette from buying it.

3. Reviews – even negative reviews – drive sales.

Case studies prove it: reviews drive sales. We’ve found that even products with three-star ratings sell better than products with no reviews at all. Quickbooks enabled customer reviews on ProAdvisors, experts businesses hire to help them use the software. They found that not only did ProAdvisors with reviews get more clicks than those without feedback, but the number of reviews was more important than the rating. For example, a ProAdvisor who rates four out of five stars but has nine reviews gets more clicks than a five-star ranked ProAdvisor with just two reviews.

4. Negative feedback uncovers opportunities to improve.

Reviews turn your customers into an ongoing group of beta testers, uncovering areas brands can improve their offering to deliver a better customer experience. Oriental Trading Company brings negative feedback to their vendors to create better-quality products. Land of Nod and QVC UK have done the same. Domino’s Pizza recently made headlines with their “Pizza Turnaround” campaign, publicizing their decision to act on customers’ feedback to radically change – and improve – their fifty-year-old recipe.

5. There’s nowhere to hide.

Consumers are reviewing your brand and products online, and as Trendwatching hypothesized in December, they’re doing so in real-time. Social media gives your customers a voice just as loud – if not louder than – your brand’s. Ignoring the negative feedback that’s out there won’t make it go away. And in this case, it only made things worse. What was one negative review (be it from an expert panel) has now become a national story on Apple censorship, with some bloggers going so far as to draw ironic comparisons to the brand’s infamous “1984” ad. Which did more damage – the poor review, or the censorship story that followed?

“Bad” reviews are not the enemy, they’re an opportunity. Brands that recognize the value of this feedback are acting on it – and reaping the rewards.

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/myover Paul West Jauregui

    I enjoyed your pont about negatve feedback buldng authentcty. The more contrved the world seems, the more we all demand what’s real. As realty s qualfed, altered, and commercalzed, consumers respond to what s engagng, personal, memorable – and above all, authentc.

    Negatve feedback s a part of the 'real world'. I agree, marketers sacrfce authentcty when they shelter customers from negatve feedback.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/myover Paul West Jauregui

    I enjoyed your pont about negatve feedback buldng authentcty. The more contrved the world seems, the more we all demand what’s real. As realty s qualfed, altered, and commercalzed, consumers respond to what s engagng, personal, memorable – and above all, authentc.

    Negatve feedback s a part of the 'real world'. I agree, marketers sacrfce authentcty when they shelter customers from negatve feedback.

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  • http://twitter.com/be3d Ian Greenleigh

    Growng up n SF as I dd, and workng n tech for a bt, I sometmes forget that not everyone s a ravng Apple fanboy. In ths case, Apple may have forgotten ths, too. Ther response seems to be mprovng and helpng ther mage recover, so I'm nterested to wat and see.

  • http://twitter.com/be3d Ian Greenleigh

    Rght. So, can t be sad that “all buzz s good buzz”? Probably not, but you brng up an nterestng pont about defensve maneuverng by Apple loyalsts, whch mght have a postve net effect overall.

  • http://twitter.com/be3d Ian Greenleigh

    I thnk you're rght, but I wonder how much ths type of censorshp has really hampered nnovaton. Apple stlls seems to be a leader n that regard.

  • http://www.soapyhollow.com DeAnne

    Whle your ponts are vald as to *why* companes should allow honest dscourse, I thnk t's mportant to note the other sde of the con, whch s that what Apple does on t's customer forums s ndcatve of what Apple does on Tunes and the app store…nvsble, underhanded censorshp of anythng that doesn't meet Poltburo Polcy.

    Ergo, Apple's polcy gave consumers a good vew behnd the curtan, and f they contnue to choose Apple over better prced, better optoned compettors who don't promote censorshp; well, that gves the rest of us an dea of how strong ther brand really s. (And I tell ya, Apple's been coastng on that 1984 ad for decades…even after Steve Jobs sad hs goal was to elmnate adult fcton and entertanment from the web, people stll see Apple as a beacon of “alternatve-ness”. That was possbly one of the greatest advertsements ever from a memetc standpont.)

    Whch s to say: Honesty, Openness, Revews…all fne and good; but t's all trumped by good advertsng.

  • Austen Trimble

    Great nsght. I thnk another thng that exacerbated Apple's problem here s ther unwllngness, ntally, to acknowledge that the “ssues” were even real. Ths really undercuts confdence n your base of support, bad dea. They need to learn to gve ther problems a “hug” .e. embrace them, not the “hesman” -pushng them away out of fear. Both responses wll translate to customers, I thnk we know whch s a better message to send.

  • http://blog.college-laptop.org College Laptop

    Good nsght. Its nterestng how consumers wll automatcally place a product n ther “spectrum of choces” even f they have heard bad thngs about t. The exposure alone promotes the brand, product, and n-turn, brngs out the hard-core supporters of that product. Its even possble that some artcles supportng the Phone 4 wll now be wrtten that would not have been wrtten f there wasn't such a buzz about t.

  • Kent White

    Great ponts. Here's another good reason to avod censorshp of negatve comments – t's a reflecton of your corporate culture. If you are wllng to censor consumer nput, you leave the mpresson that crtcsm may not be tolerated n your company's culture ether. That's a red flag not just for consumers, but for employees and nvestors as well. When employees feel lke they can't say the emperor has no clothes, t can kll nnovaton, mprovement, and even free-flowng communcaton. A company that admts mstakes and works through them nspres a lot more trust than one that squelches bad news.

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