Many companies are under the impression that opinion about brands on Twitter is mostly negative, but a new survey conducted by Econsultancy (and supported by Toluna) shows evidence to the contrary.
The Twitter for Business Guide, published earlier this week, includes findings from consumer research, which indicates that a higher proportion of consumers have conveyed positive, rather than negative feedback on the social platform.
The survey found that 26% of consumers say they have complained about a brand on Twitter compared to over half (58%) who have praised a brand on the site.
The findings contrast with research from Brandwatch's Customer Service Index, which indicates that the majority of tweets about brands are negative.
Brandwatch surveyed brands that are using Twitter for customer service, and used reputation-monitoring software to look at how customers were expressing their views and how brands responded.
The contrast in results is explained by a difference in the approach to the research and user perception about how they tweet. While the Brandwatch study analysed the volume of existing tweets using reputation monitoring software, Econsultancy's research looks at how consumers observe their experiences of giving feedback.
Consumers may perceive that they give more positive feedback, though the analysis of tweets actually suggests the opposite.
It is also arguable that complaints attract a lot more attention on Twitter than compliments. Dissenting voices on Twitter are amplified because tweets criticising brands are more likely be retweeted over messages expressing approval.
For brands, this often means that more time is needed to resolve complaints to avoid Twitter's network effect. Positive sentiments should be also encouraged and responded to, but in general, such comments will require less of a follow-up by the company involved.
Positive commentary still has wide-reaching consequences for organisations, even though the impact may not immediately be seen on Twitter itself. Compliments about brands may translate into long-term offline benefits, such as the likelihood to recommend, the volume of offline word-of-mouth, and higher customer satisfaction.
Positive feedback is also a means for companies to benchmark the quality of their product or service.
While the Brandwatch and Econsultancy studies may initially appear to be diametrically opposed, the reality is that consumers may be more likely to give positive feedback, although the volume of negative tweets is actually greater due to retweets and distribution through the Twitter network.
Thinking about other customer service channels, customers will usually only phone the call centre or send an email to give try to resolve a complaint (such as a faulty product) or report a customer service issue.
On Twitter, however, sending a message is quick and can be done on the move via mobile devices and tablets, which means it is far easier for customers to praise brands or send them positive feedback directly to the company's Twitter account.
First Direct is an example of a brand that actively encourages its customers to give feedback, whether on Twitter or elsewhere.
First Direct's Labs project (launched earlier this month) effectively outsources digital marketing to its users, allowing customers to test new services (such as the use of QR codes in banking), respond to polls, and suggest ideas for banking products and services (such as feedback on a mortgage comparison smartphone app).
For companies on Twitter, benchmarking the volume of positive to negative tweets can be a good indicator of how the brand is performing, though how useful this is will depend on the nature of the product or service.
Companies need to encourage their followers to give feedback across as many channels as possible. And, of course, context and human interpretation is needed to make sense of the data.