Effects of Companies’ Responses to Consumer Criticism in Social Media

Lan Xia
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 17, Number 4, Summer 2013, pp. 73-100.

Abstract: Social media is changing the balance of power as well as the dynamics of communication between manufacturers and retailers, their brands, and consumers. In this research we examine the effects of companies’ responses to consumer criticism in social media. Our findings indicate that a vulnerable response leads to more positive behavioral consequences without damaging product quality perceptions than a defensive response, and this effect is mediated by perceived appropriateness of the response. Applying the expectation– disconfirmation framework, we further identify brand personality and existing relationship strength as the moderators of consumer responses. Responding to criticism with a sense of vulnerability leads to higher perceived sincerity for more sophisticated brands than for less sophisticated brands, and responding to criticism defensively leads to higher perceived appropriateness for more perfect brands than for less perfect brands. Consumers with a stronger existing relationship with a brand perceive defensive reactions as less inappropriate than those with a weaker existing relationship. The results provide guidance to brands on how to interact with their customers, especially when a crisis occurs.

Key Words and Phrases: Brand personality, expectation–disconfirmation theory, relationship strength, social media.