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Fueling and cooling firestorms: how online community members enable and disable online negative e-WOM

Tyler Hancock (Department of Marketing and International Business, The University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA)
Michael Breazeale (Department of Marketing, Quantitative Analysis and Business Law, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA)
Frank G. Adams (Department of Marketing, Quantitative Analysis and Business Law, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA)
Haley Hardman (Department of Marketing, Quantitative Analysis and Business Law, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 27 September 2022

Issue publication date: 31 January 2023

542

Abstract

Purpose

A firestorm is a vast wave of negative information about a brand that disseminates quickly online. Their relative unpredictability represents a particularly challenging problem for brand marketers. This paper aims to show how firestorms are enabled and can be disabled by online community members (OCMs), exploring the dissemination of negative electronic word-of-mouth (e-WOM), the challenges in countering negative brand information and how brands can effectively communicate with OCMs to facilitate offsetting negative e-WOM.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper uses a sequential mixed-method research methodology. Study 1 uses an experimental design and tests serial mediation using PROCESS Model 6. Study 2 extends the findings while introducing a moderator using the PROCESS Model 83. Finally, qualitative findings are used to develop a practitioner-friendly typology of OCMs.

Findings

The perceived authenticity of a message can influence the believability of negative WOM in the presence of a negative availability cascade. Positive cascades are likely to prevent online communities from enabling negative e-WOM when the instigating message is perceived to be inauthentic. Qualitative findings from a post hoc analysis identify a typology of eight OCM types that enable and are also capable of disabling firestorms.

Practical implications

OCMs can both actively fuel and cool a firestorm. Brands should always monitor online communities and closely monitor discussions that are most likely to generate firestorms. More proactively, they should also develop communication strategies for each OCM type to help disable firestorms in the making.

Originality/value

Both negative and positive cascades are explored quantitatively and qualitatively to understand the mechanisms that can drive firestorms and provide both warnings and guidance for brands. An OCM typology guides brands’ mitigation strategies.

Keywords

Citation

Hancock, T., Breazeale, M., Adams, F.G. and Hardman, H. (2023), "Fueling and cooling firestorms: how online community members enable and disable online negative e-WOM", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 286-304. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPBM-12-2021-3756

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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