The idea of negative sentiment helping the subject of on-line discussions is counter-intuitive. Yet, the New York Times article A Bully Finds a Pulpit on the Web explains how the owner of an on-line store annoyed and harassed some of his customers to evoke negative feedback about his website. His goal was to increase the number of links pointing to his store to earn higher PageRank.
Certainly, negative publicity has been known to hurt companies, as I discussed in the Learning to Live with Social Networking presentation. Bad news can also help, as I proposed when discussing whether a data breach could help the affected brand. The New York Times article presents another example:
A website benefits from lots of links pointing to it. Unfortunately, search engines don’t seem to treat negative discussions differently from positive ones. The owner of the on-line store that exploited this weakness clarified, “No matter where they post their negative comments, it helps my return on investment. So I decided, why not use that negativity to my advantage?”
The extent to which this Search Engine Optimization (SEO) technique actually works is unclear. This story highlighted the importance for search engine and social network monitoring tools to pay attention to the sentiment of the discussions. They may need to differentiate between people praising and howling about the product, the company or the individual. Of course, that’s easier said than done.