You've heard the news story many times: Employee fired for posting negative comments about employer on Facebook. It's happened over and over again, even though the National Labor Relations Board says employees have the right to exercise their freedom of speech on social media without being punished.
As it turns out, all that negativity might actually be good for business. That's the finding of new research that discovered consumers like the candid nature of employee blogs, especially negative ones, and are more likely to do business with the company if company blog posts contain moderate criticism of corporate policy, service or even products.
The research, conducted by Rohit Aggarwal, an assistant professor at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, suggests that negative posts act as a catalyst and can exponentially increase the readership of employee blogs.
"There is some merit in allowing negative posts by company blogging policy-setters," Aggarwal said.
Aggarwal explains that visitors to corporate websites or employee blogs do not expect to see anything but positive commentary on company products and services. Critical commentary is seen as reflecting the integrity of employees and honesty and openness from the company about their products or services, he said.
Companies, however, have to carefully balance how much negativity they allow to seep into their online presence. A few negative posts enhance the perceived legitimacy of corporate or employee blogs, the researchers said. But too many negative blogs can reverse that initial, favorable reaction from readers.
"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."
The researchers said their findings suggest that companies should allow employees more freedom to write and express themselves, but companies should also keep an eye on the ratio of negative-to-positive comments.
This kind of open communication can help companies better manage their employees, too, the research suggests.
"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," Aggarwal said. "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."
The paper was co-authored by Ram Gopal and Ramesh Sankaranarayanan of the University of Connecticut and Param Vir Singh of Carnegie Mellon University.