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Research Insight | Should You Feed the Trolls? How Toxic Social Media Comments Can Increase Product Usage

What types of content attract toxic comments? Are toxic comments always harmful to a brand? This research explores how marketer-generated content (i.e., posts created by companies) is associated with toxic comments in social media communities. Researchers found that posts about product quality and posts attempting to create a sense of belonging to a community were the most likely to result in toxic comments. The researchers also found that toxic comments are associated with greater product usage. Perhaps counterintuitively, this means that companies might actually be benefiting from toxicity on social media, as consumers who follow the product receiving toxic comments become more engaged. In addition, it’s possible that toxic comments get greater online engagement, which in turn shows the original post to a larger sample of social media users, exposing the product to new potential consumers. Overall, marketers can be open to some toxicity on social media and craft content designed to avoid or promote toxic comments accordingly.

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What You Need to Know

  • Posts about product quality and creation of social community lead to more toxic comments.
  • Toxic comments increase product usage.
  • Toxic comments may lead to more product exposure.


Marketers and researchers recognize the importance and impact on consumer behavior of marketer-generated content (MGC) in social media channels. In this study, the authors present a method to classify MGC using a combination of unsupervised and supervised machine learning. They gather a large data set of posts from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and use a time-series model (panel-data vector autoregression) to demonstrate how MGC can be used to explain average toxicity on the part of users. They contribute to the field by examining what types of MGC lead to toxic comments and how these toxic comments impact product usage. The authors find that MGC that demonstrates the quality of products and MGC that is aimed at creating a sense of belonging to a group are more likely to increase average toxicity. Furthermore, the authors find that higher average toxicity in social media communities leads to an increase in usage of the focal product. Finally, the results contribute to the literature by providing insights on the impact of MGC on product usage.

Marcelo Vinhal Nepomuceno, Hooman Rahemi, Tolga Cenesizoglu, and Laurent Charlin (2023), “Should We Feed the Trolls? Using Marketer-Generated Content to Explain Average Toxicity and Product Usage,” Journal of Interactive Marketing, 58 (4), 440–62.