Strategic Communication  

Exploring Negative Comments About Brands on Social Media and Its Impact on Organization-Public Relationships

Social media began as a way to connect with friends and family, but in recent years, it has also become a lucrative business tool.

Social media can be a convenient, affordable and interactive way for companies and public relations practitioners to deliver organization-related messages in real time, communicate with their target publics in a communal and conversational manner, and cultivate relationships with their audiences.

However, a brand using social media isn’t always met with open arms. Consumers frequently use social media to comment on the companies they both like and dislike. Studying how people choose to talk about brands online could teach advertising and public relations practitioners how this can affect their relationships with these audiences.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Public Relations Associate Professor Rita Men and doctoral student Yufan Qin wanted to explore if negative peer communication around a certain brand or company would affect the quality of that company’s organization-public relationships online or in person.

Peer communication is a critical tool for companies and consumers that helps them learn about new products and get recommendations. Peer communication is also more influential to consumers than other forms of advertising. If an acquaintance says something positive, then one    might be more likely to go out and purchase that product, but if a friend or family member says something negative about a company or product, then the consumer is more likely to create an aversion, rather than a purchase.

The researchers found that if a company is perceived to have a good reputation, there is less negative peer communication about that company and better quality relationships between the company and the audience all around. Negative peer communication and the amount of interaction with a company on    social media can also influence the quality of relationships, which is why many brands like to respond to the posts that mention them, or give their supporters a shout-out. They’re being proactive and interacting with the public to form positive relationships.

The researchers also found that the peers who had stronger connections on social media were more likely to engage in negative discussion about companies together. Social media users showed that they were more willing to share their emotions and experiences, including negative ones, with closer peers because they see them as reliable and trustworthy.

Trust is a significant factor that leads to peer communication online, which is why it is also important for public relations practitioners to stay up-to-date on what popular and trusted influencers could be saying about a company or product. Their electronic word-of-mouth can be more impactful than in-person peer communication because it can be accessible online long after it was originally shared, and could continue to affect the companies’ future relationships.

The original article, “Exploring Negative Peer Communication of Companies on Social Media and Its Impact on Organization-Public Relationships,” was published in Public Relations Review Volume 45, Issue 4, November 2019. 

Authors: Yufan Qin, Linjuan Rita Men

This summary was written by Isabella Sorresso, a Professional Master’s student at the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

Posted: September 23, 2021
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