Public Relations Crisis and Social Media: An Investigation into Extant and Prospective Consumers’ Perceptions through the Lens of Attribution Theory
Online social media has shifted the balance of power from businesses to consumers, with consumers now being able to share information almost unrestrictedly in real-time. As a result, an effort to suppress what may be considered as harmful information can easily backfire, causing the information to instantly spread through user ties. However, what is considered important in such occasions is the way extant and prospective customers may interpret such crises. In this paper, we discuss the case of a Greek Apple authorized service provider and the manner in which it responded to a customer’s complaint in a blog post. The company, instead of using social media to reach out to its customers, chose to move legally against the disgruntled customer, aiming to suppress the relevant blog post, which quickly resulted to the company’s viral defamation. Building upon attribution theory and employing a content analysis of user postings in social media, our study explores stakeholders’ perceptions regarding the company’s reaction and response strategy, seeking to investigate attributions of cause and responsibility. Our results show that, in the initial stages of a crisis, hostile behaviour or refraining from comments altogether, can lead to negative outcomes in relation to a company’s reputation.