Corporate social irresponsibility & electronic word of mouth : case Volkswagen emissions crisis
Even though corporations’ interest towards corporate social responsibility (CSR) has significantly increased in the last decades, organizations still commit various acts of corporate social irresponsibility (CSI). At the same time the emergence of social media has offered stakeholders interact in ways formerly unimaginable, and the content of these conversations is slipping further away of organizational control. This research participates the theoretical conversations of CSR, CSI and stakeholder research as well as the active stream of social media and electronic word of mouth (eWOM) research. This thesis is a case study researching eWOM related to Volkswagen emissions crisis in 2015. As the crisis is described to be one of the worst CSR failures of the century, researching its social media consequences can be described as revelatory. The case study is executed as a content analysis researching data collected by social media monitoring. Within the eWOM related to the crisis, 11 different issues, 6 emotional states as well as 4 different levels of judgement towards Volkswagen were recognized. The issue causing the most concern to stakeholders was Volkswagen knowingly cheating, but e.g. previous problems with VW cars, reasonability of discharge limits and repairing the emissions problems were topics of active discussion. 65% of the stakeholders were unemotional, the rest expressed negative feelings like anger, contempt and dissatisfaction but some also empathy. Some faith-holders and hateholders were identified from the discussions, but the majority of the stakeholders were moderate in their judgments. The findings of the study suggest, that social media monitoring offers a new way for corporations to understand the issues its stakeholders are actually worried about in times of a crisis. When this information is used to develop crisis communication strategies, it may help mitigate consequences of crisis. Also the awareness of different stakeholder roles in eWOM and the ability to support faith-holders as well address the concerns of hateholders can help organizations control eWOM. Moreover, organizations should avoid forming a gap between their responsibility communications and actual actions, as this reputation-reality gap can cause even more irritation in stakeholders than the act of irresponsibility itself. ...
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