Companies create brand fan pages on social media sites such as Facebook in order to encourage consumer discussions about their brands and product/service offerings. However, aggressive consumer interactions (i.e. consumer conflicts) have started to emerge on these social media brand fan pages. A report by the Pew Research Centre shows that the amount of aggressive online interactions experienced by adults, such as name-calling, embarrassment, physical threats and long-term harassment, has grown steadily in the past years (Pew, 2014).

Why should companies manage consumer conflicts on their social media brand fan pages?

  • Social impact – consumer conflicts negatively impact social well-being, life satisfaction and emotional security.
  • Commercial impact – not managing consumer conflicts leads to reputational loss, consumers leaving the fan page and difficulties in attracting new visitors to the fan page.

What we discovered

We observed corporate practice in six brand fan pages on Facebook over seven months. The fan pages include those of Vodafone, Tesco, Nike, Adidas, Burger King and Costa Coffee.

The results show that all but one company do not intervene with aggressive consumer interactions, despite continuous and severe hostility between its customers.

Figure: Corporate Conflict ManagementThe one company trying to intervene, Costa Coffee, was found to engage in 5 main strategies to respond to consumer conflicts on their Facebook fan page. These are:

  1. non-engaging,
  2. censoring,
  3. informing,
  4. bolstering, and
  5. pacifying.

We further divided these into verbal and non-verbal conflict management strategies, as shown in the figure.

Non-engaging is a strategy where the company does not take any action to moderate a conflict. In contrast, censoring is a more active strategy, which involves permanently removing consumer content. Informing refers to the community host providing product or corporate information to rectify incorrect customer comment causing a conflict. Bolstering involves the community host posting a comment which affirms a consumer who supports the brand. Lastly, pacifying is a more authoritative strategy where the company asks consumers to change their communication behaviours.

What are the key takeaways from this study?

  • We develop and propose a first taxonomy of corporate conflict management strategies in social media. This can help marketing managers decide on which strategy/strategies are most appropriate for their brand fan pages.
  • Non-engaging is the most frequently used strategy by firms for managing consumer conflicts. However, such strategy may be ineffective in the long-run, because it decreases consumers’ trust in the brand and discourages consumers from getting involved in discussions.

Read the original research article:  Dineva, D., Breitsohl, J. & Garrod, B. (2017). Corporate conflict management on social media brand fanpages. Journal of Marketing Management.

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Denitsa Dineva

Denitsa Dineva

Denitsa Dineva is a PhD candidate in Marketing at Aberystwyth Business School, Aberystwyth University (UK). Her research interests include digital marketing, consumer-to-consumer communication and conflict management in online environments.

Jan Breitsohl

Jan Breitsohl

Jan Breitsohl is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Kent Business School, University of Kent (UK). His academic interests focus on online consumer behaviour, and in particular negative communication and corporate response strategies.

Brian Garrod

Brian Garrod

Brian Garrod is a Professor of Tourism Management at Aberystwyth Business School, Aberystwyth University (UK). His research interests span all aspects of tourism but focus particularly on sustainable tourism, ecotourism and heritage tourism.

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this posting are the views of the Author(s), and are not necessarily the views of the JMM Editors, Westburn Publishers Ltd. or Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.