There is a temptation to think that negative reviews are always a bad thing for a brand. Some of them definitely are, but it’s much more nuanced than that.

Recent stats suggested that between one and three bad reviews would deter 67% of customers from a purchase, but not all negative reviews are bad for businesses. 

As a recent example from a US cinema shows, context is all important. 

In the three days since 3 June, a negative review of an experience at the Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Austin, Texas has been seen on YouTube by almost 1m people.

The video, shown at the foot of this article, is a 90 second diatribe about the way one customer thinks they were badly treated, criticising the cinema, its staff and saying it is not good value for money.

It isn’t a great review of this customer’s experience and the sort of negative review many brands are worried about attracting online. But this review wasn’t posted by the customer. It was made into a video and posted by the Alamo Drafthouse cinema.

On one hand this was a really negative review of one customer’s experience, but the impact has not been negative at all for the brand.

The Alamo Drafthouse cinema doesn’t allow people to use their mobile phones when they are watching a film, the customer who left this review had done just this and had so been thrown out of the cinema.

They were unhappy, but most of the reactions online suggested that this review actually had a positive impact on other people, with many saying that they would rather go to a cinema that ejected customers who used their phones, or one that didn’t allow people to cause a scene during a film.

The negative review had a positive impact. In fact, it can be unhelpful to think about reviews as negative or positive in themselves, they are just pieces of information that will have an impact on the people they read them. It is this impact that we should think of in terms of negative or positive and not the information itself.

Let’s take another example that I often use when talking to clients about reviews. Imagine that I am looking for a hotel in Paris, one hotel that I look at has the following review:

An awful stay at this hotel. The staff at reception only speak French, the bars on the street outside our room were noisy in the early evening and the bathroom was small.

Looking at this we would clearly say that this review was negative. However, let’s think about the impact it might have on me.

I speak French (and would probably rather go somewhere that wasn’t just full of people speaking English), I am more likely to be in the bars in the early evening than being in the hotel room disturbed by the noise; and the size of the bathroom really doesn’t bother me.

So as a piece of information, the impact this would have on me is neutral at worst, it may even help me make a decision about where to stay.

When we think about reviews we should move away from analysing the reviews as being negative or positive based on the language used, and think of them instead as pieces of information that help others to make a decision.

It is only then that brands can start to address what this information is really about. Is it actually a bad customer experience that needs responding to? Is it information that the brand can learn from? Or, as in the case of the customer ejected for texting during a film, is it information that reinforces what the product is about and who it is really for?

It is only when we move on from thinking of reviews as positive or negative that we start to deal with the content that the customer has written, and that we really start to engage with them, their experiences and the impact that has for our brand.

Thinking of reviews as positive or negative is not helpful. It stops us from considering and building on what this information is really about, which is informing and influencing the decisions others will make after reading it.

We should worry more about this. If content has a negative impact on others (and makes them less likely to buy from us) then it is clearly negative; but this will not always be the case.

Reviews are useful not for what they say but for the impact they have; they are not something to be worried about, even when they are expressed in negative terms.