Negative articles won’t hurt too much, they might even help

You’ve heard it before, but here we go again: “without measuring, you’re just guessing”. Further proof of the veracity of this maxim comes from Onclusive and its new survey of 120,000 earned media articles published digitally on B2B and B2C sites last year.

The study hits several sacred cows of media relations and public relations. Two of the biggest surprises are brand sentiment and website traffic, and media reputation and traffic.

The first surprise, and it is huge, relates to the adage “all press is good press”.

Exclusive found items that portray brands in a bad light actually lead After traffic than positive stories. Even neutral stories got more traffic than positive stories, says Sean O’Neal, Onclusive’s managing director for North America.

The brand sentiment data result was our “biggest surprise,” O’Neal says, admitting he’s wanted to analyze these numbers for some time. Public relations attribution is an important part of Onclusive’s business. Thus, companies ask the company questions such as:

  • ‘How much web traffic does a positive post in a Tier 1 post generate?’
  • ‘What about a negative article?’
  • ‘How about an article that mentions us once or twice, as well as several other companies?’
  • “Is a feature story about our company and our executives better for traffic and shares?”
  • “If my goal is traffic, should I feature highly respected Tier 1 publications and forget about industry (Tier 2) jobs?”
  • ‘Does an article in a level 1 pub generate more actions than the inclusion in a level 2 point of sale?’

Onclusive provided PRNEWS with an advance copy of “How Earned Media Influences Consumer Behaviour: A Quantitative Analysis”. It is available now.

Bad press is better than good press

In addition to “bad press is good press,” this data seems to prove several other editorial aphorisms about negative news. These include “people love to watch a train wreck” and, as Professor Frank Mulhern of Medill says, “if it’s not negative, it’s not news”.

On average, positive sentiment articles generate 50% less website traffic than negative sentiment articles, according to the survey. Neutral sentiment posts drive 49% less traffic than negative posts. And positive sentiment posts get 3% less traffic than neutral posts.

Meanwhile, positive sentiment posts drive 31% less website action than negative sentiment posts.

Additionally, the data seems to illustrate the needs of businesses to keep their websites in shape during negative times, including PR crises. It is clear that this data indicates that the exposure of the website at these times is significant.

Of course, the positive articles have some value on top of building a thing called reputation, right?

Seriously, O’Neil admits that obviously you don’t want to spread negative information about your business. And on the data side, Onclusive finds that positive posts drive 41% more website actions than neutral posts.

Website actions are defined here as registrations, purchases, and page views.

O’Neil’s takeaway here echoes our thoughts above: crisis preparedness remains vital. The world looks at your site during negative times, he says. This is the perfect time to do your best.

Plus, the takeaways are obvious, he says, in that “so many PR practitioners, they’re hunkering down and obscuring their website [during a PR crisis], they’re hiding. When the reality is that there might be an opportunity, you might be able to take advantage of it.”

While you don’t want negative press or a PR crisis, obviously, Onclusive’s data shows that these moments can be “opportunity…be ready for it, you might be able to take advantage of it. I know that sounds crazy,” he admits.

Reputation counts for something, but what?

Analyzing website traffic and media reputation, Onclusive’s analysis found that “publication reputation is a poor predictor of website traffic.” He adds that “high and medium reputation posts” get “about equal website traffic.” Low reputation sites, or Tier 3 outlets, are usually niche content sites and blogs.

On the other hand, Level 1 sites, like the NYT or WSJ, get visitors to take action at significantly higher rates than Level 2 or Level 3 sites. Visitors to Level 1 sites take action 41% more than medium reputation sites and 73% more than low reputation sites.

Takeaways, says Onclusive’s O’Neil, include the importance of launching Tier 1 and -2 posts for traffic reasons. Also, recognize that visits to Tier 1 sites tend to drive more actions.

Another counter-intuitive finding is that a brand can benefit as much from a mention in an article that is “highly relevant” to its industry as from a feature article focusing solely on the brand.

“It’s going to stun a lot of PR practitioners who are obsessed with getting feature stories,” O’Neal says. “‘It has to be a feature, it has to be about me and my business.’ Well, guess what? It can be just as valuable for you to get mentioned once or twice if the article is highly relevant to your industry or category.”

Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS and Crisis Insider. Follow him: @skarenstein

Amanda J. Marsh