The purpose of this paper is to investigate the evolution of online sentiments toward a company (i.e. Chipotle) during a crisis, and the effects of corporate apology on those sentiments.
Using a very large data set of tweets (i.e. over 2.6m) about Company A’s food poisoning case (2015–2016). This case was selected because it is widely known, drew attention from various stakeholders and had many dynamics (e.g. multiple outbreaks, and across different locations). This study employed a supervised machine learning approach. Its sentiment polarity classification and relevance classification consisted of five steps: sampling, labeling, tokenization, augmentation of semantic representation, and the training of supervised classifiers for relevance and sentiment prediction.
The findings show that: the overall sentiment of tweets specific to the crisis was neutral; promotions and marketing communication may not be effective in converting negative sentiments to positive sentiments; a corporate crisis drew public attention and sparked public discussion on social media; while corporate apologies had a positive effect on sentiments, the effect did not last long, as the apologies did not remove public concerns about food safety; and some Twitter users exerted a significant influence on online sentiments through their popular tweets, which were heavily retweeted among Twitter users.
Even with multiple training sessions and the use of a voting procedure (i.e. when there was a discrepancy in the coding of a tweet), there were some tweets that could not be accurately coded for sentiment. Aspect-based sentiment analysis and deep learning algorithms can be used to address this limitation in future research. This analysis of the impact of Chipotle’s apologies on sentiment did not test for a direct relationship. Future research could use manual coding to include only specific responses to the corporate apology. There was a delay between the time social media users received the news and the time they responded to it. Time delay poses a challenge to the sentiment analysis of Twitter data, as it is difficult to interpret which peak corresponds with which incident/s. This study focused solely on Twitter, which is just one of several social media sites that had content about the crisis.
First, companies should use social media as official corporate news channels and frequently update them with any developments about the crisis, and use them proactively. Second, companies in crisis should refrain from marketing efforts. Instead, they should focus on resolving the issue at hand and not attempt to regain a favorable relationship with stakeholders right away. Third, companies can leverage video, images and humor, as well as individuals with large online social networks to increase the reach and diffusion of their messages.
This study is among the first to empirically investigate the dynamics of corporate reputation as it evolves during a crisis as well as the effects of corporate apology on online sentiments. It is also one of the few studies that employs sentiment analysis using a supervised machine learning method in the area of corporate reputation and communication management. In addition, it offers valuable insights to both researchers and practitioners who wish to utilize big data to understand the online perceptions and behaviors of stakeholders during a corporate crisis.
Chung, S., Chong, M., Chua, J. and Na, J. (2019), "Evolution of corporate reputation during an evolving controversy", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 52-71. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-08-2018-0072Download as .RIS
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