Read the open access Bitter (2016) article Consequences of customer engagement behavior: when negative Facebook posts have positive effects. Briefly address the topics below in a 500-word written assignment. Cite other journal references available in the Reference Article module, or in the PBSC library databases, where appropriate. Use standard APA format, provide proper in-text citations for all references, and place a reference list at the end. Do NOT copy and paste material directly from the articles.
Section I - Use a Level 1 heading: Impact of Social Media Communication on Customer Relations. Discuss how two-way communication on social media channels impacts businesses both positively and negatively. Provide any personal examples from your experience.
Section II - Use a Level 1 heading: Building relationships through positive communication. Based on Bitter’s analysis, demonstrate your skill at building relationships for all customers of an organization. Accomplish this by proposing a strategy that you, an entrepreneur for a new startup, would employ to communicate with customers who post negative comments that harm your business. Explain how your communication efforts would re-engage these customers and encourage their loyalty. Discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges in implementing this effort.
Consequences of customer engagement behavior: when negative Facebook posts have positive effects
Sofie Bitter1 & Sonja Grabner-Kräuter1
Received: 23 March 2015 /Accepted: 11 March 2016 /Published online: 1 April 2016 # The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract Sharing product information has become an inte- gral part of today’s online social networking world. This re- search study addresses the effects of customer engagement behavior in online social networks on other consumers in or- der to understand how online social connections impact deci- sion making. We investigate how different variations of a brand-related Facebook post trigger different response reac- tions. In particular, we analyze under which conditions nega- tive posts can have positive consequences. The results of two online experiments set in a restaurant context suggest a differ- ence when the user knows the restaurant brand. For users who are familiar with the restaurant brand, a positive effect of neg- ative information posted by distant acquaintances is found with regard to the visiting intention of the user. The results of both experiments demonstrate that information posted by a close friend is perceived to be more diagnostic. For users not familiar with the restaurant brand, negative posts from strong ties induce the highest diagnosticity levels.
Keywords Social networking sites . Facebook . Customer engagement behavior . Valence . Tie strength . Diagnosticity
JEL Classification M31 Marketing
Online social networking is more popular than ever before and increasingly impacts consumer purchase decisions. Resulting in a facilitated access to other consumers’ feedback, the prolif- eration of social networking sites offers fundamentally new ways of engagement and interaction among existing as well as potential consumers and brands (e.g., Hess et al. 2011; Kabadayi and Price 2014). Nowadays, it is impossible to imag- ine online life without engaged and active users. Following this, the concept of customer engagement behavior, defined by van Doorn et al. as Bcustomer’s behavioral manifestations that have a brand or firm focus, beyond purchase, resulting from motivational drivers^ (2010, p. 254), has become an issue that is currently the focus of much attention and activity.
For both marketers and academics, it is of interest to understand the consequences of customer engagement in online social networks (OSNs). Nonetheless, there is a pau- city of scholarly research related to a coherent understand- ing of how social connections in OSNs impact decision making (Takac et al. 2011). In other words, little is known about Bthe relationship between customer behavioral en- gagement and other proximal constructs^ (Gummerus et al. 2012, p. 858); for example, to what extent the forma- tion of consumer attitudes is driven by specific consumer Bengagement^ cognitions, emotions and behaviors, or what effects on consumer purchase intentions can be expected (Hollebeek and Chen 2014). This illustrates the need to examine the outcomes that result from customers’ brand- related interactions in OSNs. Besides, the majority of pioneering research has tended to focus on positively valenced customer engagement and thus has largely overlooked potential negatively valenced manifestations of this emerging concept and their implications for (other) con- sumers and business firms (Hollebeek and Chen 2014).
Responsible Editors: Ulrike Baumöl and Linda Hollebeek
Sofie Bitter and Sonja Grabner-Kräuter contributed equally to this work.
1 Universitätsstrasse 65-67, 9020 Klagenfurt, Austria
Electron Markets (2016) 26:219–231 DOI 10.1007/s12525-016-0220-7
This study seeks to address this void by examining poten- tial effects of both positively and negatively valenced behav- ioral manifestations of customer engagement on Facebook. The interest in Facebook is motivated by the undeniable pop- ularity of the platform – Facebook is the largest and most widely used social networking site in the world, connecting over 1.39 billion monthly active users (Facebook 2015) and hosting over 50 million brand pages (Facebook 2013). Naturally, one could argue that positive brand-related Facebook posts trigger positive impressions and negative posts result in negative impressions. Contrary to this intuitive expectation and building on previous research (e.g., Berger et al. 2010; Ein-Gar et al. 2012; Hamilton et al. 2014), we suggest that, under certain conditions, a small piece of nega- tive information, such as a negative Facebook comment, might affect the product evaluation in a positive way.
Previous studies have shown that the consequences of product-related information and recommendations as a behav- ioral expression of customer engagement can differ, depend- ing on whether the information source is a close friend (i.e. a strong tie) or a distant acquaintance (i.e. a weak tie) (e.g., Bansal and Voyer 2000; Sen and Lerman 2007; Steffes and Burgee 2009; Wang and Chang 2013). Drawing on these find- ings, we investigate the moderating role of tie strength on the impact of comment valence on purchase decision making. An experimental design in a restaurant brand context was set up in order to demonstrate the differential impact of different varia- tions of a brand-related Facebook comment as particular be- havioral manifestation of customer engagement. Our investi- gation was guided by the following research questions:
RQ 1: Are conditions observable that induce positive effects from negatively valenced customer engagement be- havior on Facebook?
RQ 2: If so, under which conditions can negatively valenced customer engagement behavior on Facebook have positive consequences for brand evaluation and infor- mation diagnosticity?
RQ 3: What influence on brand evaluation and information diagnosticity can be expected from positively vs. neg- atively valenced customer engagement behavior that is performed by either a close friend or a distant acquaintance?
To address these research questions, we analyze how neg- atively valenced as distinct from positively valenced brand- related information from a close as distinct from a distant Facebook friend influences the consumer’s visiting intention and the Facebook post’s perceived diagnosticity. Referring to the Bblemishing effect^ described by (Ein-Gar et al. 2012) we first examine if a negatively valenced brand-related Facebook comment from a distant friend can induce a positive effect on brand evaluation. We expect a positive effect of such a minor
piece of negative information on visiting intentions only in a situation when users are familiar with the restaurant brand and have a positive attitude towards it, since a positive attitude towards the brand is a precondition for the blemishing effect to occur. We also examine the impact of the different varia- tions of the Facebook post on perceived diagnosticity, which can be described as the degree to which the consumer believes the information they receive is useful in evaluating the brand’s attributes (see e.g. Kempf and Smith 1998). Due to the nega- tivity bias in information diagnosticity (e.g., Herr et al. 1991; Mizerski 1982), negatively valenced posts can be expected to be perceived as more diagnostic and useful for the evaluation of the restaurant brand than positively valenced comments. In a situation when users are unfamiliar with the restaurant brand, the expected Bpositive effect^ of a negative Facebook comment should still manifest itself in its higher perceived diagnosticity, as suggested by the negativity bias. Additionally, the effect should be stronger for negative com- ments from close friends. In the remainder of this paper, we briefly review the literature and suggest a conceptual frame- work for hypothesis development that links Service-Dominant (S-D) logic with the concept of tie strength from social net- work theory. Next, we report on two experimental studies analyzing Facebook users’ reactions to manipulated Facebook posts to test our hypotheses. The paper closes with theoretical and managerial implications, limitations and future research directions.
Literature review and hypotheses development
Customer engagement behavior and its consequences
During the past decade, the concept of customer engagement has received increasing attention from both marketing practi- tioners and researchers. The Marketing Science Institute has identified Bcustomer engagement^ as a key research area con- tributing to an improved understanding of consumer behavior in complex, interactive and/or co-creative environments (Marketing Science Institute 2010). Meanwhile, the theoreti- cal meaning and foundations of the customer engagement concept have been established in the marketing and service literature (Brodie et al. 2011; Hollebeek and Chen 2014; Vivek et al. 2012). However, to date, there is still a relative deficit in empirical studies on customer engagement in general and even fewer exist on customer engagement in social media (e.g., Bitter et al. 2014; Gummerus et al. 2012; Hollebeek and Chen 2014).
Origins of engagement-based concepts such as Bbrand engagement^ or Bcustomer engagement^ can be traced to var- ious academic disciplines including psychology, sociology and organizational behavior (Brodie et al. 2011; Vivek et al. 2012). Brodie et al. (2011) provide a comprehensive conceptual
220 S. Bitter, S. Grabner-Kräuter
analysis of customer engagement in the marketing and service literature and suggest that its conceptual roots can best be ex- plained by drawing on theoretical approaches that address in- teractive experience and value co-creation within marketing relationships. From this perspective, consumers are not viewed primarily as passive recipients of marketing cues but rather as proactive participants in interactive, value-generating co-crea- tion processes (Hollebeek 2013; Sawhney et al. 2005; Vargo and Lusch 2004, 2008). Accordingly, the theoretical founda- tions of the customer engagement concept are established in the expanded domain of relationship marketing, and the S-D logic (Brodie et al. 2011; Vivek et al. 2012). Brodie et al. (2011) point out that specific fundamental propositions under- lying the S-D logic are of particular relevance for substantiat- ing the customer engagement concept. This reflects customers’ interactive, co-creative activities and experiences with other stakeholders in focal, networked service relationships (for a detailed explanation see Brodie et al. 2011).
Several definitions of customer engagement have been pro- posed in the marketing and service literature (see the overview e.g. in Hollebeek 2013). The majority of definitions adopt a multidimensional view of engagement, whereby three- dimensional (i.e., cognitive, emotional and behavioral) cus- tomer engagement concepts have been suggested in the liter- ature most often (Brodie et al. 2011). Obviously, the concept of customer engagement behavior (CEB) refers to the behav- ioral dimension of customer engagement. The specific expres- sions of the cognitive, emotional and behavioral dimension may vary across different engagement-based concepts and contexts (Hollebeek 2013; Vivek et al. 2012). With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies and applications, particularly the number of behavioral engagement options for customers has grown dramatically (van Doorn et al. 2010), requiring specific research efforts. Hence, in this paper, we focus on behavioral manifestations of customer engagement on social networking sites.
From a managerial perspective, B[m]any CEBs such as re- ferral behaviors, [word-of-mouth] WOM behaviors, and ac- tions aimed at generating and disseminating information (e.g., blogging) should affect purchase behavior of focal as well as other customers and consequently customer equity^ (van Doorn et al. 2010, p. 259). Previous empirical studies on the consequences of customer engagement found that, to some extent, growing customer engagement generates greater cus- tomer value increases for hedonic than for utilitarian brands (Hollebeek 2012). Wei et al. (2013) concentrate on one partic- ular type of customer engagement behavior, namely on user- generated hotel reviews and analyze potential customers’ per- ceptions of CEB and hotels’ management responses to CEB. Gummerus et al. (2012) examine the effect of customer en- gagement behaviors on perceived relationship benefits and relationship outcomes. Jahn and Kunz (2012) focus on Facebook fan page participation and its impact on the
customer brand relationship. A study by Pan and Chiou (2011) tests the effects of strong vs. weak social relationships and positive vs. negative messages on perceived trust of online information in a discussion forum. However, empirical studies on the consequences of brand-related comments by Facebook users as a specific manifestation of CEB remain scarce.
As mentioned above, CEB on social networking sites can find its expression through positive (e.g., posting a liking comment on a brand community site) or negative actions (e.g., posting a negative brand message on Facebook) (e.g., Brodie et al. 2011; Hollebeek and Chen 2014; van Doorn et al. 2010). In any case, the importance of negative behavior should not be ignored. Previous research in an electronic word-of-mouth (for a conceptual definition of eWOM and a systematic review of eWOM research see e.g. Cheung and Thadani 2012) and online review context shows that negative comments have stronger effects on purchase decisions, in con- trast to positive electronic word-of-mouth (Chang and Wu 2014; Lee et al. 2008). It is suggested Bthat unfavorable infor- mation is somehow more shocking or surprising, and there- fore has more influence on forming evaluations^. (Mizerski 1982, p. 302). However, as Hollebeek and Chen (2014) point out as a result of a comprehensive literature review, the ma- jority of research has focused on positively valenced expres- sions of customer and/or brand engagement and thus has neglected negatively valenced manifestations of customer en- gagement. Therefore, this research study considers both vari- ations of message valence, positive and negative, to investi- gate how Facebook users’ brand-related comments affect vis- iting intentions with regard to a restaurant.
Intuitively, one would assume that positive brand-related comments lead to higher visiting intentions and negative brand-related comments lead to lower visiting intentions. In contrast to this intuition, research has shown that weak negative information might sometimes enhance the evalua- tion of an object (Ein-Gar et al. 2012). In their seminal study Lord et al. (1979) found that when people already have a positive attitude toward an object or issue and receive con- tradictory arguments this can polarize or intensify their pos- itive attitude, because people discount the contradictory in- formation and reinforce the initial information that lead to the original attitude. Another study on the positive effects of negative publicity (Berger et al. 2010) indicates that not all negative word-of-mouth should be quieted, because in some instances it can actually have positive effects. In a series of elaborate studies, Ein-Gar et al. (2012) found that in situa- tions of low processing effort a small dose of negative in- formation that follows positive information appears to en- hance consumers’ overall evaluations of the product. They refer to this as the positive effect of negative information — weak negative information that merely blemishes a target can actually enhance its impression under specific conditions (blemishing effect) (Ein-Gar et al. 2012).
Consequences of customer engagement behavior on Facebook 221
We suggest that a product- or brand-related comment in an online social network might sometimes represent such a minor piece of conflicting information, which could accentuate rath- er than attenuate an initial positive impression. In a situation when processing effort is low, a negative Facebook post could prompt a reevaluation of the product or brand and trigger bolstering processes (Ein-Gar et al. 2012) that lead to a higher purchase (or visiting) intention than a positive post. However, we assume that the potentially positive effect of negative brand-related information on a social networking site such as Facebook depends on whether or not the user knows the prod- uct in question and on her/his prior (positive) brand attitude. Beyond that, we suggest that this effect might interact with context factors that can have an influence on the information processing effort of the user. Specifically, we expect a moder- ating effect of the type of Facebook friend who posts the comment.
The role of tie strength
Linking S-D logic with concepts from social network theory offers a complementary understanding to better explain pro- cesses of resource access and exchange (Laud et al. 2015). The central premise underlying social network theory is that actors such as business firms and customers are embedded in networks of interconnected social relationships (i.e. Bties^) that provide opportunities for and constraints on behavior (Brass et al. 2004; Burt 1997).
From a social network perspective, OSNs can be viewed as a mix of social connections or ties, through which network members obtain access to the resources of other actors (Tsai and Ghoshal 1998). It is indeed the sociality factor of OSNs, which motivates users to adopt them, ultimately impacting users’ social capital (Chang and Zhu 2012; Grabner-Kräuter and Bitter 2015). In online social networks, users are usually connected by both strong and weak ties (DeAndrea et al. 2012; Wang and Chang 2013). Granovetter (1973, p. 1361) refers to tie strength as the Bcombination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie^. As weak ties usually connect individuals from otherwise diverse groups, they are more likely to provide access to more hetero- geneous, novel and diverse information compared to strong ties (Levin et al. 2002).
In an OSN context, weak ties are considered in a relational way, i.e., they connect acquaintances who do not frequently interact and, therefore, might not strongly influence each an- other. Tie strength also has a considerable impact on informa- tion processing (Chandler and Wieland 2010). The marketing and sociology literature (e.g., Rindfleisch and Moorman 2001; Uzzi 1996) suggests that stronger ties generate a richer infor- mation exchange. Accordingly, it can be assumed that infor- mation provided by a strong tie is processed with higher effort
compared to information from a weak tie. When a Facebook user reads a product- or brand-related comment from a strong tie, her/his information processing effort might be higher and the product evaluation tends to be based on a fuller consider- ation of all relevant information, meaning that a negatively valenced post from a strong tie should result in a more nega- tive product evaluation, compared to a strong tie’s positively valenced post. On the other hand, we expect that information from a weak tie induces a lower processing effort level, which then facilitates the blemishing effect by referring individuals back to their initial attitude (Ein-Gar et al. 2012). In this case, the user’s initial attitude towards the object will be of central concern (Herr et al. 1991) and a minor piece of conflicting information in a Facebook post from a weak tie might poten- tially enhance the overall evaluation of the product or brand and lead to a positive response behavior towards the negative message. Visit or purchase intention is an effectiveness mea- sure that is highly related to product evaluation and frequently used to anticipate a response behavior to advertising messages (Daugherty et al. 2008). Hence, we assume:
H1: Tie strength moderates the impact of information va- lence. More specifically, negatively valenced comments from a weak tie have a positive effect on purchase or visiting intentions, if the reader knows the product and has a positive attitude towards it.
There is sufficient evidence that tie strength influences con- sumers’ decision making processes in different situations. In a word-of-mouth context, information from strong ties has been found to be perceived by receivers as more influential in de- cision making than information from weak ties (Bansal and Voyer 2000; Brown and Reingen 1987; East et al. 2008). De Bruyn and Lilien (2008) observed that tie strength had a pos- itive effect on awareness during the decision making process and triggered the recipients’ interest afterwards. In a more recent study, Wang and Chang (2013) examine the effects of information valence and tie strength on selected mediating constructs and on purchase intentions. They found that prod- uct information and recommendations on Facebook from close friends are seen as more valuable, trusted and useful, and facilitate product evaluation compared to information from distant acquaintances or, to put it another way, that in- formation provided by strong ties is perceived as having a high level of diagnosticity, which further increases purchase intention (Wang and Chang 2013). In this study, we also focus on the concept of perceived diagnosticity, which reflects the degree to which consumers consider particular brand-related comments by other consumers as helpful for evaluating prod- ucts (Mudambi and Schuff 2010; Wang and Chang 2013). Accordingly, we posit that brand-related comments provided by strong-tie sources have a higher perceived diagnosticity than information provided by weak tie sources.
222 S. Bitter, S. Grabner-Kräuter
H2: The perceived diagnosticity of a brand-related comment is higher, if the source of information is a strong tie.
In their study, Wang and Chang (2013) focus only on pos- itive Facebook posts and do not investigate the effects of neg- ative information and recommendations. However, negatively valenced information has been found to be more diagnostic and influential than positively valenced information in the context of product judgments (Chevalier and Mayzlin 2006; Hamilton et al. 2014; Herr et al. 1991; Park and Lee 2009). These findings suggest a negativity bias in processing infor- mation, whereby negative information has a stronger impact on judgment and decision making than objectively equivalent positive information (Sen and Lerman 2007; Skowronski and Carlston 1989). The negativity bias argues that negative infor- mation is more diagnostic and useful for product evaluation, because negative product attributes are considered to be dis- tinctive of low quality products, whereas positive product at- tributes are believed to be characteristic of both low and high quality products (Herr et al. 1991; Willemsen et al. 2011). Willemsen et al. (2011) found that the negativity effect is more pronounced for experience goods such as recreational services and restaurants, because their attributes are intangible. Therefore, performance evaluations can be verified only by experience or consumption and there is a greater chance of making an incorrect decision. In light of these arguments and findings, the following hypothesis is proposed:
H3: Negatively valenced comments about a restaurant brand induce a higher perceived diagnosticity than positively valenced posts.
In a noteworthy study, Ahluwalia (2002) questioned the robustness of the negativity effect in consumer envi- ronments and argued that it is dependent on the type of involvement. Specifically, her findings show that the na- ture of information processing influences the perceived diagnosticity of information (Ahluwalia 2002). Consumers tend to perceive negative brand-related infor- mation as more diagnostic than positive information when the subject’s involvement motivates critical pro- cessing. Again, it can be assumed that brand-related comments from a strong tie elicit more effortful and critical processing than comments from a weak tie. Hence, we assume an interaction effect between tie strength and information valence on perceived diagnosticity:
H4: Tie strength moderates the impact of information va- lence on perceived diagnosticity. More specifically, neg- atively valenced comments have a stronger impact on perceived diagnosticity if the information source is a strong tie.
Figure 1 illustrates the hypothesized linkages among the variables under investigation. In sum, we assume that negative posts by weak ties induce the Bpositive effect of negative information^, but only in cases where the user knows the product and has a prior positive attitude towards it (H1). We have not included the user’s product knowledge or attitude towards the restaurant in the conceptual model, because a prior positive attitude towards the brand is crucial for testing H1 but not for testing H2 to H4. Additionally, we suggest that information posted by a strong tie is perceived as more diag- nostic than information from a weak tie (H2). Further, accord- ing to the negativity bias, we assume that negatively valenced posts are perceived as more diagnostic than positively valenced posts (H3). Finally, we suggest an interaction effect and argue that negative brand-related information is perceived more diagnostic when it is posted by a strong tie (H4). We test the hypothesized effects in two studies. The primary focus of study 1 is on the positive effect of negative information when the previous attitude towards the restaurant brand is highly positive. In study 2, we refocus the perspective and only con- sider Facebook users who do not know the restaurant chain at all.
The purpose of the first online experiment was to test the assumption that, under certain conditions, negative informa- tion can have positive effects on consumers’ response behav- ior to the negative message. In particular, the focus of this experiment was on the hypothesized interaction effect of va- lence and tie strength on visiting intentions, assuming a pos- itive effect of negative posts from weak ties when the reader knows the product and has a positive attitude towards it (H1). Additionally, we test the impact of brand-related information on the perceived diagnosticity of the post. Specifically, we investigate whether negative Facebook posts or posts from strong ties induce higher levels of diagnosticity, addressing H2 and H3, as well as the proposed interaction effect of va- lence and tie strength in this context (H4).
To test the proposed hypotheses, we conducted a 2 valence (positive vs. negative Facebook post) x 2 tie strength (strong vs. weak ties) between-subjects online experiment with 82 Facebook users. With a careful isolation of the variables under consideration, the aim was to obtain an experimental design that allows for estimating the effects of valence and tie strength. A Facebook comment that described a visit to a moderately well known restaurant chain was chosen, as it was deemed to be an appropriate post that might also appear on Facebook in reality. The chosen restaurant brand had
Consequences of customer engagement behavior on Facebook 223
recently opened its first outlet in the region and had invested heavily in regional advertising in advance. As the participants’ positive pre-attitude towards the restaurant is of central impor- tance for the positive effect of negative information to occur, this experiment focuses only on Facebook users who knew the restaurant brand. A scenario was created that revealed either a positive or a negative comment regarding a visit to a restaurant posted by a close friend or distant acquaintance (reflecting the different levels of tie strength). The English translations of the positive and negative Facebook posts are presented below (see Figs. 2 and 3), the originals were in German.
The experiment was conducted online, using EFS Survey from Questback. The participants were recruited via Facebook and the link to the online survey was posted on the Facebook pages of some of the research team members. Participants were also encouraged to actively forward the link to their friends. Additionally, graduate students at a mid-sized Austrian University were invited to participate in the online experiment. After clicking on the link leading to the online questionnaire, the participants were informed that the purpose of the survey was to gain insights into the consequences of customer engagement behavior on Facebook. To make sure that only Facebook users fill in the questionnaire, the partici- pants were first asked if they have a Facebook account, followed by questions on their Facebook usage behavior. In order to evaluate the attitude towards the restaurant chain, we assessed the user’s attitude before the manipulation of the Facebook post. To minimize priming effects, the user was confronted with different restaurant chains and had to indicate, which of the restaurant chains s/he knew and what his/her attitude towards the restaurant was. Afterwards, participants were asked to indicate the first name of three very close friends (strong ties) or the first name of three distant acquain- tances (weak ties) on Facebook. Participants in the strong tie condition were briefed that very close friends are those people they interact most with, and who are very well known and trusted. Similarly, participants in the weak tie condition …
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