Digital Communication

Digitalization greatly affects how organizations and their stakeholders communicate and interact. In our research we analyze the challenges organizations face when communicating with empowered consumers who voice their criticism on social media. When this criticism is voiced directly to the company on their social network sites, companies need choose responses to effectively deal with it in order to restore trust and satisfaction. Critical issues that elicit emotional outrage in many can turn into an online firestorm, which has the potential to severely harm the reputation of an organization. Our research also addresses organizations' handling of harmful content on their online platforms. Curbing harmful online communication that threatens the dignity and safety of the attacked target is a social responsibility of organizations that operate online forums and networking sites. Aside these challenges, digitalization also involves many opportunities for corporate communication. Gamification, the use of game principles in non-game contexts, is one of the, which we address in our research.


Online Complaining and Consumer Recovery

Individuals increasingly turn to the internet to share their opinions, thoughts and feelings about positive brand experiences with other consumers. But they also use social media platforms such as Facebook brand pages, online discussion forums and micro-blogs as an alternative complaint channel to inform companies (and others) about perceived corporate misconduct and experienced service failures. In our research, we analyze the effects of negative electronic word-of-mouth (NeWOM) on observers (e.g., potential customers) as well as the effects of companies' online complaint handling on complainants and bystanders. Here, we investigate new ways how different recovery strategies and communicators affect complainants' and others' perceptions of the failure and reactions towards the involved brand. By incorporating research on persuasion, social influence and information processing, we add new academic knowledge to consumer decision making in the digitalized era.

Contact: Wolfgang Weitzl & Sabine Einwiller

Selected Publications:


Online Outrage and Firestorms

The networked information and communication environment has greatly enhanced the capacity of individuals to be active and critical participants in the public sphere. Collective outrage and protest are frequently voiced online and can take the form of an online firestorm, which has been defined as a "sudden discharge of large quantities of messages containing negative word-of-mouth and complaint behavior against a person, company, or group in social media networks" (Pfeffer, Zorbach, & Carley 2014: 118). In our research we have analyzed how online firestorms are covered by journalists, who thereby amplify the outcry by elevating it onto a mainstream communication platform. We have found that journalists mainly address firestorms that address perceived discrimination and moral misconduct aiming at societal change and thus focus on the rectification attempts of an aroused public. Our further research examines the side of those who participate in online firestorms by focusing on the motives of individuals to get involved in such online outrage.

Contact: Sabine Einwiller

Selected Publications:


Harmful Online Communication

In its early days, the internet was envisioned to serve as an electronic forum where a plurality of voices engage in rational argument. Yet, this vision is severely hampered by plenty of emotional and quite often aggressive, hateful and thereby harmful voices disseminated online. Such harmful online communication (HOC) - often debated as online "hate speech" - aims at harming the dignity or safety of the attacked target. Online platform providers, mainly private organizations, play a central role in confining HOC, because as the owner of the space they are the actors who have decisive power of intervention. This research focuses on the measures taken by various types of platform providers in six different national environments. In the first phase of the research, organizations' comments policies are content analyzed. In the second phase, interviews with representatives of the organizations are conducted to assess measures' effectiveness. The research generates in-depth insights into organizations' policies aiming to curb HOC, and unveils good practice examples while considering organization types and national embedding. Based on the findings, best practices and recommendations are derived that will help organizations and policy makers to tackle this issue and to foster the value of "online considerateness".

This project is funded by The Toyota Foundation.

Contact: Sabine Einwiller

Selected Publications and Presentations: