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.

  • Pingback: Using Web 2.0 to Out Serve Your Competition | Uncategorized | Information about Social Bookmarking Software, Social Bookmarking Tool

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

    I enjoyed your point about negative feedback building authenticity. The more contrived the world seems, the more we all demand what’s real. As reality is qualified, altered, and commercialized, consumers respond to what is engaging, personal, memorable – and above all, authentic.

    Negative feedback is a part of the 'real world'. I agree, marketers sacrifice authenticity when they shelter customers from negative feedback.

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

    I enjoyed your point about negative feedback building authenticity. The more contrived the world seems, the more we all demand what’s real. As reality is qualified, altered, and commercialized, consumers respond to what is engaging, personal, memorable – and above all, authentic.

    Negative feedback is a part of the 'real world'. I agree, marketers sacrifice authenticity when they shelter customers from negative feedback.

  • Pingback: WiFi hacking | Wireless Networking Wifi

  • Pingback: The best ipad case for me? | iPad Guides

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

    Growing up in SF as I did, and working in tech for a bit, I sometimes forget that not everyone is a raving Apple fanboy. In this case, Apple may have forgotten this, too. Their response seems to be improving and helping their image recover, so I'm interested to wait and see.

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

    Right. So, can it be said that “all buzz is good buzz”? Probably not, but you bring up an interesting point about defensive maneuvering by Apple loyalists, which might have a positive net effect overall.

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

    I think you're right, but I wonder how much this type of censorship has really hampered innovation. Apple stills seems to be a leader in that regard.

  • http://www.soapyhollow.com DeAnne

    While your points are valid as to *why* companies should allow honest discourse, I think it's important to note the other side of the coin, which is that what Apple does on it's customer forums is indicative of what Apple does on iTunes and the app store…invisible, underhanded censorship of anything that doesn't meet Politburo Policy.

    Ergo, Apple's policy gave consumers a good view behind the curtain, and if they continue to choose Apple over better priced, better optioned competitors who don't promote censorship; well, that gives the rest of us an idea of how strong their brand really is. (And I tell ya, Apple's been coasting on that 1984 ad for decades…even after Steve Jobs said his goal was to eliminate adult fiction and entertainment from the web, people still see Apple as a beacon of “alternative-ness”. That was possibly one of the greatest advertisements ever from a memetic standpoint.)

    Which is to say: Honesty, Openness, Reviews…all fine and good; but it's all trumped by good advertising.

  • Austen Trimble

    Great insight. I think another thing that exacerbated Apple's problem here is their unwillingness, initially, to acknowledge that the “issues” were even real. This really undercuts confidence in your base of support, bad idea. They need to learn to give their problems a “hug” i.e. embrace them, not the “heisman” -pushing them away out of fear. Both responses will translate to customers, I think we know which is a better message to send.

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

    Good insight. Its interesting how consumers will automatically place a product in their “spectrum of choices” even if they have heard bad things about it. The exposure alone promotes the brand, product, and in-turn, brings out the hard-core supporters of that product. Its even possible that some articles supporting the iPhone 4 will now be written that would not have been written if there wasn't such a buzz about it.

  • Kent White

    Great points. Here's another good reason to avoid censorship of negative comments – it's a reflection of your corporate culture. If you are willing to censor consumer input, you leave the impression that criticism may not be tolerated in your company's culture either. That's a red flag not just for consumers, but for employees and investors as well. When employees feel like they can't say the emperor has no clothes, it can kill innovation, improvement, and even free-flowing communication. A company that admits mistakes and works through them inspires a lot more trust than one that squelches bad news.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Bad Apple: 5 reasons Apple (and all manufacturers) should embrace negative reviews « The Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Blog -- Topsy.com