Massage therapists depend on word-of-mouth to generate appointments, and negative word-of-mouth conversations can impact a massage practice negatively. A new study suggests that men and women go about word-of-mouth communication in different ways.

“Negative word-of-mouth advertising is the most persuasive form of marketing communication,” the study’s investigators wrote. “Whether or not you engage in this type of behavior depends on whether you are a male or a female, whether the person you are talking to is a close friend or just an acquaintance, and whether or not you are concerned about impairing your image – that is, admitting you are not a smart consumer.”

The authors conducted a series of experiments to study the behavior of men and women, asking them to recall a dissatisfying retail experience and indicate how likely they were to tell others about it. The researchers manipulated how the message was transmitted and also measured the varying levels of concern around what other people thought of them.

Results from one study showed that men were sensitive to impairing their image, but did not show any preference in whom they complained to. If they had high concern about what other people thought of them, men were less likely to complain at all. In contrast, females showed a remarkably different pattern. Only when they had a high concern about their reputation were they less likely to complain to strangers. Otherwise, women had a higher likelihood for complaining to close friends.

“Prior research has assumed that negative word-of-mouth transmission is largely a function of product performance, and that social factors play a negligible role,” the investigators said. ” Our research, in contrast, shows that social factors – particularly those related to a person’s gender – can crucially affect whether or not people will complain.”

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.