Should You Enable Downvoting in Your Community?

3 minute read

September 25, 2019

Should You Enable Downvoting in Your Community?

The following is a screenshot of some of our reactions (14 customizable in all):

vanilla forums reactions


As you can see, we have a variety of options for what we consider “negative” reactions. Anyone building a community using Vanilla for Business can enable them at any time. That being said, here’s why we don’t recommend using the downvote feature.

Downvoting Encourages Negativity 

We’ve seen it time after time: in the hands of the wrong type of community or audience, negative reactions can make people less likely to engage or willing to participate.

For example, lots of our customers choose to use our platform for customer support. Imagine if you will: a brand advocate provides a proper, yet unpopular answer to a query. Rather than voice displeasure at the answer, through discourse, it gets downvoted.

Not only will negative reaction points show up on their profile, but the person feels discouraged from further participation in the community.

Why help or participate if you will be shot for being the messenger??

This is not hypothetical. We’ve worked with countless communities that disabled negative reactions. As a direct consequence, we saw an increase in answers given and overall member participation, which are positive results. People can still disagree and express it by not voting – or more likely, by adding a comment explaining exactly why the response frustrates or doesn’t work for them.

Therefore, while we offer the option, we suggest community owners use it judiciously and only when it makes sense. Downvoting is really a passive and quick way to provide feedback, but it also gives no context to the negative feeling. At its worst, it penalizes those who are contributing content to your community.

Plenty of studies to back this up – an article on behavioural psychology, a Reddit experiment, and finally a Stanford paper

A recent look at downvoting (from Stanford) noted: “The evidence is that a contributor who is down-voted produces lower quality content in future that is valued even less by others on the network. What’s more, people are more likely to down-vote others after they have been down-voted themselves. The result is a vicious spiral of increasingly negative behaviour that is exactly the opposite of the intended effect.”

We highly recommend that you think twice before enabling negative reactions in your community. Certainly there are times when it could be a good idea, but you’ll have to decide if it creates the kind of space you want.

Strategic Guide to Community Gamification


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Adrian Speyer

Written by Adrian Speyer

Adrian Speyer is the Head of Community and Lead Evangelist for Vanilla by Higher Logic. Besides spending many years in digital marketing, Adrian has been building communities of all sizes for over 20 years.

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