MSN Aims For 'Transparency' With Negative Search Reviews

by , Mar 31, 2005, 7:00 AM
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When MSN officially unveiled its new search engine last month, the company also launched a high-profile nine-figure ad campaign, which included spots on television, in print, and online. But that wasn't the extent of the marketing efforts. Another less-publicized initiative involved putting up a Web page, Inside MSN, which collects user comments on the product and posts them for all to see.

Unfortunately for MSN, many of the comments are less than flattering.

"Search is fast, but the results are not impressive," one user gripes. "I don't feel your search feature is good enough," another writes. "There are certain topics I have put in and your search engine gives me results for everything but what I am looking for."

And users who have positive comments often couple them with complaints. One searcher praises the engine, but carps about being bombarded with ads for MSN Messenger.

The page raises the question of why MSN, which spent an estimated $150 million promoting its new search engine, would publicize negative comments about the feature.

In an e-mailed statement, a MSN spokesperson said:: "MSN has taken steps to becoming more transparent in its communications with our customers and featuring consumer feedback is just one way we are doing so. We want to improve consumers' search experience and customer feedback is key to that happening."

Some marketing experts say that, contrary to appearances, MSN might be on to something. Steve Rubel, public relations expert and author of the popular Web log MicroPersuasion.com, said that user criticisms can actually be good for a marketing campaign. "It's great that the users can have a voice in such a visible way," said Rubel. "They're saying that we want to hear back from you on what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong."

Rubel added that MSN was sending a positive message to its users by including their comments, for good or ill, on their site. The page states that the comments are edited, and that MSN will not provide a personal response to individual comments.

"I think this is very smart marketing, because by inviting negative and positive feedback, they're going to have both evangelists and vigilantes," said Rubel. "They're saying on their site that we want to hear from you; we serve you, the customer."

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