Detecting, Preventing, and Mitigating Online Firestorms in Brand Communities
Online brand communities engender risks of online firestorms—negative electronic word of mouth (eWOM) that receives substantial support from other customers in a short period of time. Detecting, preventing, and mitigating the virality of negative eWOM constitutes a critical managerial priority, yet most firms lack guidelines. This study not only identifies the sources of such risky firestorms but also details the appropriate sequences that firms should use when they respond.
Specifically, the study reveals (1) how sender and relational aspects aid in the detection of potential firestorms in online brand communities, (2) how firms should tailor their responses to limit the virality of negative eWOM when issuing responses, and (3) how structured sequences of different responses across multiple firm messages mitigate the impact of evolved online firestorms.
For the 65 million firms that leverage online brand communities to connect with customers, the findings suggest ways to detect potential online firestorms by using a dictionary-based, straightforward, automatic text-mining approach. Complaining customers who use strong emotional language, who have strong structural ties, and who closely match the community’s dominant communication style are especially likely to raise a firestorm. Failing to respond is the worst choice for companies; instead, firm responses can be tailored to customers’ messages to prevent potential online firestorms. Finally, some negative eWOM cannot be prevented from “catching fire,” but this study offers insights into how firms should sequence multiple responses to mitigate further virality. Managers should use these insights to detect and reduce the virality of online firestorms.