GMC 2018


Webcare takes place in an open, public environment. The presentation of our reseach entitled 'Susceptibility to social influence: Its effects on online service recovery bystanders' by Wolfgang Weitzl and Clemens Hutzinger at this year's Global Marketing Conference (GMC) in Tokyo provided new insights on the role of social engagement on social media.

Abstract: Following a service failure, dissatisfied customers increasingly turn to brands’ social media outlets (e.g., Facebook brand page) to share their complaint with the involved company and other consumers. The majority of these other consumers (i.e., ‘recovery bystanders’) chooses to remain passive by simply observing the negative comment and the company’s attempt to restore the customer-brand relationship in public by means of ‘webcare’ (i.e., marketers’ communicative responses to online complaints (MIW); van Noort & Willemsen, 2011). For these observers the online service recovery process conveys valuable information for making purchase decisions. On the other hand, some consumers choose to become active, for instance, by making comments on the complaint or the company’s response and/or by ‘liking’ a comment (i.e., positive (brand-supportive) and negative (brand-unsupportive) ‘interactive virtual presence’ (IVP)). Given this interactive environment, recovery bystanders are exposed to strong social influence. Although recent research made some progress (e.g., Weitzl & Hutzinger, 2017), knowledge about the impact of this complex, social environment on recovery bystanders’ brand-related reactions remains scarce. In this study, we suggest that recovery bystanders’ level of susceptibility to normative influence (SNI) moderates the effect of different forms of webcare responses – accompanied by positive/negative IVP – on brand image. In 3 experiments (n = 1,387 consumers) we systematically manipulate response sources (i.e. ‘advocate-initiated webcare’ (AIW) vs. ‘marketer-initiated webcare’ (MIW)) and response types (study 1); interactive virtual presence via comments (positive IVP and negative IVP) (study 2) and Facebook ‘likes’ (positive IVP) (study 3). In explaining bystanders’ post-recovery evaluation of brand image we show that: Low-SNI bystanders, receiving AIW, as compared to MIW, show – regardless of webcare’s content – a significant increase. High-SNI bystanders, receiving AIW in the form of ‘vouching’ (i.e. an advocate counters a complaint with a ‘brand love story’) has the most pronounced effect – adding positive IVP (with additional, positive brand comments) even leads to a further improvement. However, adding negative IVP (with unfavorable brand comments) to marketer’s vouching reduced high-SNI bystanders’ image evaluation. Finally, when high-SNI bystanders receive advocate’s vouching and highly positive IVP (i.e., many ‘likes’), brand image evaluations significantly increase. This research draws scholars’ and practitioners’ attention to the opportunities – and perils – of co-created service recoveries via social media.