From power to punishment: consumer empowerment and online complaining behaviors

Zongchao Li (San José State University, San Jose, California, USA)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Publication date: 6 August 2019



The purpose of this paper is to examine how psychological empowerment affects individuals’ likelihood of publicly punishing a company with whom they had unsatisfactory experiences through online complaining behaviors.


A 3 (intrapersonal empowerment: high/low/control) by 3 (interactional empowerment: high/low/control) online experiment was designed using the priming technique. Following the priming tasks, participants were given a scenario in which a restaurant failed their expectations followed by dependent and control measures.


Results revealed a significant main effect of interactional empowerment: participants in the low interactional empowerment condition reported being less likely to engage in the revenge-motivated online public complaining behaviors than participants in the control condition. The study also found a significant interaction effect between interactional and intrapersonal empowerment.

Practical implications

The study findings yield practical application for crisis management and relationship management. Understanding the linkage between power and online complaining behaviors should help corporate communication professionals to better perform risk assessment, environmental scanning and crisis communication and management.


Limited empirical studies have investigated the linkage between empowerment and online complaining behaviors in the consumer context. The present study fills this gap by conceptualizing online public complaining as a revenge-motivated behavior. The study yields both theoretical and practical implications.



Li, Z. (2019), "From power to punishment: consumer empowerment and online complaining behaviors", Internet Research, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

Please note you might not have access to this content

You may be able to access this content by login via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
If you would like to contact us about accessing this content, click the button and fill out the form.