The Role of (Dis-)Identification in Crises and Critical Situations

Aligned with our research on handling critical situations in digital communication and the challenges of communicating CSR, we analyze the role of stakeholders’ identification with a company as a moderator variable. Identification, i.e. the degree to which individuals feel a sense of connection to a company and aspects of the perceived organizational identity are self-referential and self-defining for them (Einwiller, Fedorikhin, Johnson, & Kamins, 2006), is a powerful construct during critical situations, as it can serve as a buffer against negative effects; yet there are also boundary conditions to this buffering effect. Closely connected to identification is the construct of disidentification, which implies the opposition of companies and brands. In our research, we address both, the boundary conditions of identification as well as the role of disidentification in times of crisis and crititcal situations.


Effects of Stakeholder Identification

In previous research we showed that stakeholders’ identification with a company serves as a buffer when individuals receive negative information about the firm, but only when the information is not extremely negative (Einwiller et al., 2006). This boundary effect of identification is further explored for the condition when the negative information affects the very attributes and values why an individual identifies with the firm in the first place. In the context of crisis communication, we also analyze the effects of identification with the spokesperson of a company. Preliminary results show that spokesperson identification can reduce harmful effects of a crisis, but only when the identification is based on common group affiliation.

Contact: Sabine Einwiller

Publications and Presentations:

  • Seiffert-Brockmann, J., Ruppel, C., & Einwiller, S. (accepted). Gives you wings. Or not? Exploring the impact of viewer's responsibility attribution and surprise on their attitude, identification and trust. Corporate Communications: An International Journal.
  • Einwiller, S., Lis, B., Ruppel, C., & Sen, S. (2019). When CSR-based identification backfires: Testing the effects of CSR-related negative publicity. Journal of Business Research, 104, 1-13.
  • Einwiller, S., Laufer, D., & Ruppel, C. (2017). Believe me, I am one of you! The role of common group affiliation in crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 43(5), 1007-1015.  


Effects of Stakeholder Disidentification

Disidentification can develop when a company or brand negatively reflects a relevant aspect of a person’s self-concept. This oppositional form of identification can be a strong motivator for consumers to go against a company or brand. In times of crisis and during critical situations the actions of disidentifiers can amplify the already harmful effects. In this research we analyse the emotional and behavioural effects of levels of disidentification and identification with a company in the context of a current crisis case. The research helps to widen the scholarship on consumer disidentification but also contributes to the research body on corporate failures and corporate crises.

Contact: Christopher Ruppel

Publications and Presentations:

  • Ruppel, C. & Einwiller, S. (2017). Identifiers’ and disidentifiers’ reactions to corporate misconduct – The role of emotions as mediators. Paper presented at the 67th annual conference of the International Communication Association (ICA), May 25-29, San Diego, USA.