by Jennifer Wiggins, Chanho Song, Dharti Trivedi, Stephen B. Preece
The shift towards Web-based communication has fundamentally changed the role of critical reviews in consumers’ decisions concerning attendance at arts events. In addition to professional critics, amateur critics and audience members are now influencing consumer decision-making (Bronner and de Hoog 2010). Consumers are reading and posting reviews before and after attending events (Kerrigan and Yalkin 2009), and the reach of online reviews extends far beyond that of reviews in newspapers or on broadcast media (Chen and Xie 2008; Libai et al. 2010). While critical reviews previously had a brief impact and then disappeared from public view, they are now archived online and are available at any time (Dellarocas et al. 2007). Arts organizations that previously could respond to reviews by quoting only positive aspects in their advertising (Basuroy et al. 2003) now must cope with the full text of mixed and negative reviews being available to potential audience members. Arts organizations must choose how to respond to these reviews in the new environment of critique.
While there has been extensive research on the impact of reviews on consumer behaviour, research on organizations’ strategic responses to reviews has been limited. Researchers have found that some response from the company consistently outperforms no response in minimizing negative emotions, creating positive attitudes towards the company, and increasing purchase intentions and future sales.
Yet this may not be the case for the arts. Negative information is a commonplace, expected outcome of the ongoing critique of artistic work by both professional critics and audience members. In this study the authors examine how consumers react to arts organizations’ strategic responses to mixed or negative online reviews.
They conducted two studies to examine four different strategic responses that reflect the strategies identified in previous studies by Johnson and colleagues (2016): offering no response to the review, quoting only the positive aspects of the review, posting a link to the full text of the review, and inviting consumers to respond to the review and thus attempting to engage them in a dialogue. The studies used two different website designs with the same information and rated each on four seven-point semantic differential items. Participants then read a critic review and responded to three seven-point semantic differential items.
Results of Study
Study 1 found that consumers react differently to strategic responses and that their preferences lean more towards full disclosure of critic reviews. Quoting positive aspects of the critic review led to higher scepticism and lower trust, ultimately leading to more negative attitudes towards the response and the theatre. In contrast, the strategies of posting a link to the full text of the review or inviting consumers to respond to the review led to lower scepticism, higher trust, and ultimately to more positive attitudes towards the response and the theatre. Surprisingly, this did not vary with the genre of the theatre, and it did not appear to have an effect on consumers’ likelihood of attending the play.
Study 2 suggested that consumers viewed responses to critic and consumer reviews differently. For the critic reviews, linking to the full text and inviting consumers to respond were viewed equally positively, while offering no response was viewed only slightly more positively than quoting the positive aspects of the review. For consumer reviews, altering the review by quoting only the positive aspects led to the most negative response, with higher scepticism, lower trust, and more negative attitudes towards both the response and the theatre. Inviting consumers to respond to the review was still generally viewed positively, but also led to an increase in scepticism towards the response. Offering no response did not lead to less trust in the theatre or to a less positive attitude towards the theatre. This suggests that consumers perceive the best response to a consumer review to be to make it available unedited and not offer a response from the theatre or invite responses from other consumers.
These findings suggest that consumers do react differently to different strategies for responding to critique. The modern approach of altering or quoting from reviews generated distrust and scepticism and resulted in more negative attitudes towards the organization, while the postmodern strategy of providing access to the full text of reviews was viewed positively and led to more positive attitudes towards the organization.
While consumers do engage in communication among themselves and respond to each other’s comments on performances, it seems that participation of the organization in this dialogue is viewed as a violation of norms or expectations and not as an attempt to engage the audience.
Finally, in the postmodern environment of ubiquitous critique from multiple sources, consumers do not necessarily expect organizations to respond. Indeed, given the prevalence and availability of critique, particularly online, consumers may not perceive a need for organizations to engage directly with amateur critique or become part of the consumer dialogue.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that none of the response strategies had any impact on consumers’ likelihood of attending the play. Fear of a decrease in purchase intention, and subsequently ticket sales, is what drives the inclination to respond to negative reviews. Our results suggest that this concern may be exaggerated in the current review environment. Interestingly, consumers’ attendance decisions also did not appear to be highly influenced by the review itself, as rates for reported likelihood of attending were relatively high for the general population. Also, as the impact of a single negative review has decreased in the postmodern online environment of critique, there may no longer be a need to craft a strategic response to avoid a decrease in ticket sales.
These findings have clear implications for managers of arts organizations. Consumers are likely to reward arts organizations for providing open, unedited access to reviews and for engaging consumers in a dialogue surrounding a mixed or negative professional review. Organizations are likely best served by providing their most committed attendees with full access to reviews and enabling their audience to come to their defence if necessary.
The most important consideration, given the results of this study, are the long-term reputational advantages of open, transparent, genuine communication versus short-term transactional messages. Consistent and successful execution of this strategy over time will arguably encourage longer-term audience loyalty as well as an inclination towards other beneficial relationship support such as donations and sponsorships.
These results also suggest that audiences ultimately make up their own minds about what they want to attend instead of blindly reacting to reviews. The role of promotional efforts may need to evolve from one of convincing potential attendees that the presentation will be appealing to one of helping them know and understand what is being presented, enabling them to decide whether it will appeal to their tastes. This approach could engender a sense of trust and goodwill among potential attendees, reinforcing the message that audience well-being is the foremost concern over the long term.
The full study data and results can be downloaded from the International Journal of Arts Management, Volume 20, Number 1 – Autumn 2017.
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