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W. Timothy Coombs (Nicholson School of Communication, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA)
Sherry J. Holladay (Nicholson School of Communication, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 27 July 2012




The purpose of this paper is to contribute to understanding of crisis communication application and theory by analyzing online reactions of discussion board participants to assess the effectiveness of an apology issued online.


This paper uses a content analysis of naturally‐occurring online reactions to an apology issued as a crisis response strategy. The Janis‐Fadner Coefficient of Imbalance was used to quantify the magnitude of negative and positive reactions to the apology.


Most posts indicated acceptance of the apology and positive purchase intentions, thus confirming its effectiveness in managing the crisis as prescribed in Situational Crisis Communication Theory. Analysis of rejection reactions provided insights into additional actions crisis managers might take in this situation and how organisations might make their crisis communication more interactive in an online environment.

Research limitations/implications

The study is limited by the focus on people responding to the apology online. It does show the potential value of online responses as a data source for crisis communication research.

Practical implications

The paper demonstrates the utility of the research method for future studies designed to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of crisis communication strategies. Real time monitoring may signal if the response strategy is effective and, if not, reveal stakeholder concerns that should be addressed in follow‐up responses.


The paper provides insight into how online comments can be used to evaluate reactions to apologies used in a crisis. The method can be helpful when crisis managers have access to online reactions to their crisis communication.



Timothy Coombs, W. and Holladay, S.J. (2012), "'s Orwellian nightmare: exploring apology in an online environment", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 280-295.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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