Authors: Matias Lievonen, Vilma Luoma-aho, and Henri Hätönen
Abstract: The online environment has highlighted the role of negative experiences and emotions by enabling fast and widespread publicity. Recent research has introduced both word-of-mouth and engagement as central concepts relating to negative communication online. In the field of public relations, the previous literature has mostly addressed negative engagement through individual topics such as reputation and crisis communication, but there has been little attention to the different forms it takes. By utilizing recent literature on word-of-mouth (WOM), negative word-of-mouth (nWOM), and electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) communication, we propose negative electronic word-of-mouth (neWOM) as a rising phenomenon of urgency for organizations. A form of negative engagement, it potentially spreads faster and further, causing problems for targeted organizations. Building on a previous understanding of the motives driving negative engagement online (e.g., anger, frustration, irritation), we map the different motives often associated with negative engagement. To illustrate these in practice, we use content analysis to sample online customer discussions and customer complaints in social media in the context of three telecommunications service providers in Finland. Our preliminary results show that venting and revenge stand out as the main motives for neWOM. We call for a more strategic approach to tackling customer complaints and highlight the need to monitor negative engagement online. We conclude with five propositions to guide future research on the topic and propose that a central aim of PR in the online environment should be to keep stakeholders from morphing into hateholders by monitoring and participating in online discussions.
Keywords: Negative electronic word-of-mouth; Negative engagement online; Customer emotions; Social media; Telecommunications