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The Domino Effect: Refining social media analytics for crisis management

Authors:
Canhoto et al., Cogent Business & Management (2015),
2: 1084978
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23311975.2015.1084978
MARKETING | RESEARCH ARTICLE
Fall and redemption: Monitoring and engaging in
social media conversations during a crisis
Ana Isabel Canhoto
1
*, Dirk vom Lehn
2
, Finola Kerrigan
3
, Cagri Yalkin
4
, Marc Braun
5
and Nicola
Steinmetz
6
Abstract:Social media content can spread quickly, particularly that generated by
users themselves. This is a problem for businesses as user-generated content (UGC)
often portrays brands negatively and, when mishandled, may turn into a crisis. This
paper presents a framework for crisis management that incorporates insights from
research on social media users’ behaviour. It looks beyond specific platforms and
tools, to develop general principles for communicating with social media users. The
framework’s relevance is illustrated via a widely publicised case of detrimental UGC.
The paper proposes that, today, businesses need to identify relevant social media
platforms, to monitor sentiment variances, and to go beyond simplistic metrics with
content analysis. They also need to engage with online communities and the new
influencers, and to respond quickly in a manner that is congruent with said social
media platforms and their users’ expectations. The paper extends the theoretical
understanding of crisis management to consider the role of social media as both a
cause and a solution to those crises. Moreover, it bridges information management
*Corresponding author: Ana Isabel
Canhoto, Faculty of Business,
Department of Marketing, Oxford
Brookes University, Wheatley Campus,
Wheatley, Oxford OX33 1HX, UK
E-mail: adomingos-canhoto@brookes.
ac.uk
Reviewing editor:
Tahir Nisar, University of Southampton,
UK
Additional information is available at
the end of the article
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
The activities of the authors centre on both
research and practice. Their research activity
focuses on the various forms of relationships
between brands and consumers and social media.
This collaboration merges the academic and the
practical aspects of managing social media crises.
Ana Isabel Canhoto researches, writes and
advises organisations on how to identify and
manage dicult customers, and terminate bad
commercial relationships.
Dirk vom Lehn’s research is concerned with
social interaction and the experience of public
places, such as museums and street markets.
Finola Kerrigan researches a range of issues in
marketing, with specific interest in marketing and
consumption of arts and culture, branding and
social media.
Cagri Yalkin researches consumer socialisation,
online and oine consumer resistance, and the
export and consumption of soap operas.
Marc Braun is Brand Services Manager at
GlossyBox.
Nicola Steinmetz works at Nestle Germany in
Frank fur t.
PUBLIC INTEREST STATEMENT
This paper highlights the importance of proactive
rather than reactive approach to managing
crises on social media. It provides insight into
how monitoring and engaging in social media
conversations benefit organisations in instances
of crises.
Received: 03 June 2015
Accepted: 11 August 2015
Published: 14 September 2015
© 2015 The Author(s). This open access article is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution
(CC-BY) 4.0 license.
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theory and practice, providing practical managerial guidance on how to monitor and
respond to social media content, particularly during fast-evolving crises.
Subjects: Consumer Behaviour; Internet / Digital Marketing / e-Marketing; Marketing
Communications
Keywords: social media; crisis management; sentiment analysis; online communities;
user-generated content; social media in management
1. Introduction
Social media have made it possible for one single Internet user to damage an organisation’s reputa-
tion with a simple tweet or video upload. Creating and sharing content online is not only increasingly
easy, but also seen as a source of consumer empowerment (Christodoulides, Jevons, & Bonhomme,
2012). User-generated content (UGC) criticising brands can spread widely and quickly (Kietzmann &
Canhoto, 2013), achieve viral status and threaten those brands (Vanden Bergh, Lee, Quilliam, &
Hove, 2011). In turn, the organisation’s response can amplify the virality of the message (Kietzmann
& Canhoto, 2013) and influence referrals and purchase intentions (Gelbrich & Roschk, 2011).
Despite social media’s popularity, organisations still struggle to handle two-way communication
with customers, particularly during a crisis. Recent examples include problems faced by Findus in the
UK in 2013 following the Horse Meat scandal; by HMV following the firing of 190 sta members; and
by J.P. Morgan when they urged the public to tweet their questions using the hashtag #AskJPM. The
communication dynamics between businesses and customers have changed, and practical guid-
ance is urgently needed on how firms should react to social media conversations (Blackshaw, 2011).
The principles well established in the information management literature do not work well in the
new socio-technical context (Sultan, 2013). There is empirical research on the behavioural drivers of
social media participation and the impact of online conversations on brand perception (e.g. Vanden
Bergh et al., 2011) as well as guidance on how to mine social media data (e.g. He, Zha, & Li, 2013).
However, the research addressing the organisation’s response (e.g. Kietzmann & Canhoto, 2013;
Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2011) tends to be conceptual rather than empirical.
Hence, there is a need for managerial guidance and further theoretical understanding of crisis man-
agement in the social media age. This paper addresses that gap.
This paper highlights shortcomings of the dominant literature, proposing a nuanced approach to
understanding and responding to negative social media conversations. It presents a framework that
incorporates the findings from research on social media users’ behaviour and updates the current
theoretical understanding of crisis management. The framework is operationalised using a classic,
well-known case of social media crisis: when employees of Domino’s Pizza posted a video showing
unhygienic food preparation practices.
Domino’s is a pizza delivery company established in the US state of Michigan in 1960, which has
since opened operations in more than 70 countries. On 13th April, 2009, two employees filmed and
uploaded videos of themselves performing unsanitary and vulgar acts while preparing food in one of
the fast food chain’s kitchens. A video entitled “Domino’s Pizzas Special Ingredients” shows footage
of one of the employees, Michael Setzer, putting cheese up his nose, smearing nasal mucus on food
and passing gas on salami; while the other employee, Kristy Hammonds, can be heard joking and
laughing in the background throughout. Other videos entitled “Poopie Dishes”, “Sneeze Sticks” and
“Dominos Pizza Buger” show Setzer in vivid detail wiping his behind with a sponge prior to cleaning
pizza pans, sneezing on bread and engaging in additional acts of food contamination. Within hours
of the news going public, it was a trending topic on various social media channels, influencing or-
ganic search results and consumers’ purchase intentions.
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This case was chosen because food is the most widely discussed topic on social media (Forsyth,
2011), yet receives little attention in the information systems literature (He et al., 2013). Moreover, the
negative UGC depicted deliberate product contamination; the biggest threat to a food and beverage
company’s reputation (Nickson, 2000). Yet, it is widely acknowledged that Domino’s not only survived
this crisis, but even managed to restore their brand reputation. Using the case of a company that faced
its worst-case scenario and survived allows us to explore the long-term eects of a social media crisis.
The paper proceeds as follows. The next section reviews the dominant thinking in the field of crisis
management and introduces the research questions. Then, findings from research on social media
users and communication are used to develop the research framework. Subsequently, the applica-
tion of the framework is demonstrated through analysis of the Domino’s case study. The purpose of
the empirical study is not to develop generalisable findings about UGC-related crisis, but rather to
bring to life what the proposed framework can oer to information management theory and prac-
tice. The case shows how consumers’ sentiment evolved over time and explores how communica-
tion initiatives influenced the brand’s reputation. The paper concludes with a discussion of the
implications for companies’ use of social media in an era where firm-initiated communication is
“rapidly losing ground” (Blackshaw, 2011, p. 109) to UGC.
2. Detecting and handling crises arising from UGC
It is well established in the crisis management literature (e.g. Ashcroft, 1997) that once a crisis
occurs, rapid and eective communication is crucial to reduce uncertainty and insecurity of consum-
ers. In the contemporary knowledge economy, crisis management is closely related to reputation
risk and, as organisations are subject to higher levels of transparency, their reputation risk increases
(Scott & Walsham, 2005). The management of reputation risks cannot be realised by one-o eorts
or reactive solutions (Scott & Walsham, 2005). Rather, organisations need to proactively monitor the
market environment (Ritchie, 2004), manage information flow (Day, Burnice McKay, Ishman, &
Chung, 2004) and treat customers as key stakeholders (Elliott, Harris, & Baron, 2005).
As perceptions are armed over time, altering a negative reputation is more complex than build-
ing a new one (Mahon & Mitnick, 2010). Hence, it is very important to be able to detect the early
warning signs of a crisis (Stephens Balakrishnan, 2011). The temporal element gains even more
significance in the face of the current media landscape, as the Internet spreads news faster than
ever (Vanden Bergh et al., 2011). Consequently, our first research question focuses on: How can
social media help organisations detect early signs of a negative reputation shift?
There have been cases, such as the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy crisis that caused about
200 human deaths globally, that escalated more due to ineective communication than by the crisis
itself (Ashcroft, 1997). Hence, it is essential that firms communicate in a way that restores confi-
dence in the brand (Stephens Balakrishnan, 2011). Communication should be anchored in the his-
torical context and instances that caused the reputation crisis, and take into account how the
content relates to the brand’s reputation (Mahon & Mitnick, 2010). The response needs to address
the negative perceptions of key stakeholders (Stephens Balakrishnan, 2011) and the public at large
(Tew, Lu, Tolomiczenko, & Gellatly, 2008). Organisations should also seek enlarged media exposure,
as research (e.g. Wartick, 1992) has demonstrated that increased media exposure with a positive
tone stands in direct relation to enhanced corporate reputation. Furthermore, as Dijkmans, Kerkhof,
and Beukeboom (2015) note, engagement in social media is positively related to corporate reputa-
tion, especially among non-users. As such, the second research question is: What is the role of social
media channels and users during crisis communication?
2.1. The role of social media in reputation monitoring
Organisations should implement scanning processes alerting them to important trends (Ritchie,
2004). Social media is a source of rich market insight (Christiansen, 2011) as users often discuss
brands in those platforms (Berno & Li, 2008; Canhoto & Clark, 2013). Hence, organisations need to
add social media channels to their market scanning eorts (He et al., 2013).
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The large number and variety of social media platforms, volume of content available (Nunan & Di
Domenico, 2013) and spreadability of social media content (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013) impede the
task of monitoring social media. However, Kietzmann et al. (2011) note that users favour particular plat-
forms for specific activities—for instance, users may prefer to share content on YouTube rather than
LinkedIn. The preferred platform may also vary by industry and country (Canhoto, Clark, & Fennemore,
2013). Therefore, to eectively monitor UGC, firms must first recognise and understand the social media
landscape (Kietzmann et al., 2011), both the technical aspects such as what type of content may be
shared, and the sociological ones such as users preferences or the mechanics of content dispersion.
Proposition 1: Firms need to monitor UGC on the SM platforms that particularly reflect their core activi-
ties and their users’ preferences, and that are also relevant for their specific socio-technical ecosystem.
Reputation may vary independently of the firm’s actions and, therefore, it is necessary to monitor
how it changes over time (Fombrun, Gardberg, & Sever, 2000). The focus on variance, rather than
absolute measures, is particularly relevant for the social media context, as characterised by a wealth
of information and a poverty of attention (Kietzmann & Canhoto, 2013). The temporal perspective
enables managers to detect dramatic changes resulting from a social media crisis.
The volume of data available and pressure for timely analysis means that, increasingly, data collection
and analysis occurs without human intervention (Nunan & Di Domenico, 2013). Specifically, various spe-
cialist software products are now available to mine documents, identifying words or phrases that denote
sentiments (He et al., 2013; Sterne, 2010). The software generates a “sentiment score” reflecting the per-
centage of posts that express a “positive”, “negative” or “neutral” sentiment (Yi & Niblack, 2005), referred
to as sentiment polarity (Thelwall, Buckley, & Paltoglou, 2011), which can be monitored over time.
Proposition 2: Firms need to monitor changes in consumer sentiment.
In addition to considering sentiment polarity and how it changes, it is important to analyse the
values of the message (Stephens Balakrishnan, 2011). Messages triggering emotional responses to
core reputation elements are particularly damaging for brands (Mahon & Mitnick, 2010). This is a
concern for managers as negative UGC often uses parody, mockery or even oensiveness (Vanden
Bergh et al., 2011), likely to trigger emotional reactions. Thus, managers need to go beyond measur-
ing sentiment in UGC and also monitor the topics being discussed.
Despite their popularity, automated sentiment analysis tools have limited ability to capture the qual-
ity of the argument (Li & Zhan, 2011), detect irony (Canhoto & Clark, 2013), and cope with linguistic and
cultural dierences (Nasukawa & Yi, 2003). They also struggle with subtle elements such as the use of
clauses (Kim & Hovy, 2006) or the choice of words and their placement (Davis & O’Flaherty, 2012). The
analysis of SM data needs to take into account contextual information (Kozinets, 2002, 2010).
Proposition 3: Firms need to qualitatively analyse UGC, including the context in which it emerged.
2.2. The role of social media in crisis management
A firm failing to communicate during a crisis may be deemed struggling (Stephens Balakrishnan, 2011) or
not to care about its customers (Kietzmann & Canhoto, 2013). The issue of when a firm should intervene
in social media conversations is not an exact science (Kietzmann et al., 2011) and depends on issues such
as spreadability (Jenkins et al., 2013), the degree of change in customer sentiment and the reputational
elements attacked by the negative UGC, as discussed previously. In terms of how to intervene during a
crisis, firms should communicate regularly through a variety of media (see Stephens Balakrishnan, 2011).
Some firms have created online communities to engage with consumers (see Gruner, Homburg, &
Lukas, 2014), though these are ineective if users are unaware of their existence (Kietzmann et al., 2011).
To reach customers quickly, firms must use channels where UGC-related conversations are taking place.
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Proposition 4: Respond quickly through the channels that social media users are aware of.
In terms of the message itself, firms are advised to focus on symbolic brand components (Stephens
Balakrishnan, 2011). The response needs to consider the drivers of UGC creation, involvement and
consumer-based brand equity (Christodoulides et al., 2012). Social media users may have specific
expectations about how and when firms should interact with them on a particular platform (Canhoto
& Clark, 2013). So, it is important that the response is congruent with the functionalities of the social
media platform (Kietzmann et al., 2011).
Proposition 5: The response needs to be congruent with the brand’s reputation, users’ motivations
and the functionalities of the SM platform.
Finally, researchers agree that positive referrals from trusted parties are crucial in changing brand
perception during a crisis. Barwise and Meehan (2010) highlight the abundance of options oered by
social media for engagement and collaboration, while Kietzmann et al. (2011) suggest that firms
engage credible social media influencers in their marketing communication strategies. Others
showed the value of online communities for businesses (e.g. Gruner et al., 2014). However, little is
known about motivations and impact of spontaneously produced UGC in response to an event out-
side of what could be conceptualised as an online community, as is likely to be the case with nega-
tive UGC. Here, we are referring to classical definitions of what constitutes an (online) community
from the work of Muniz and O’Guinn (2001), who defined brand communities as bounded “based on
a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand” (p. 142). Such communities can have
clear community leaders, opinion leaders and so on, which can be identified by the brands and their
opinions monitored.
Proposition 6: Engage influencers outside of the established brand community.
Figure 1 brings together the propositions developed above in a framework that summarises how
social media can assist in identifying and handling crisis arising from UGC.
Figure 1. The role of social
media in crisis communication.
SCREEN UGC across the
relevant SM platforms
MONITOR changes in
consumer sentiment
ANALYSE UGC
qualitatively and in
context
DEVELOP congruent
messages
ENGAGE influencers
outside of established
brand community
RESPOND quickly
through channels used by
SM users
MONITOR
REACT
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3. Applying the framework
The framework in Figure 1 will be operationalised through a well-known case study, where a crisis
developed and was successfully handled on social media. The use of case studies is highly recom-
mended in crisis management to obtain “a deeper understanding of the dynamics and nuances of
communicating during a crisis” (Carroll, 2009, p. 67). Using a public case study of an organisation
that faced a serious crisis and survived has two advantages. First, the public nature of the case helps
with familiarity. Second, in this case, the organisation has clearly recovered from the crisis.
The disadvantage of using a case from 2009 is that technology, and social media in particular, has
evolved since then. For instance, whereas YouTube was the main platform for sharing video content
in 2009, many users now share short clips through Instagram. Hence, the illustration below also con-
siders the impact of technical evolution on specific aspects of the framework, both between 2009 and
now, and looking ahead.
Christodoulides et al. (2012) advise that the study of UGC should analyse how social media users
attempt to inform and influence others through shared online content. Accordingly, data collected and
presented here captures online behaviour and communication before, during and after the crisis. In terms
of what data should be used, this study followed Greyser’s (2009) assessment that reputation studies
should draw on multiple sources external to the organisation, rather than internal ones. Accordingly, this
study mimics the actions of consumers engaging with the brand online, collecting publicly available
online data using the search terms “Domino’s Pizza” and “Domino’s”, as well as the Twitter handle “@
dominos”; the most mainstream references to the brand on social media (Li, Sun, Peng, & Li, 2012). The
use of public online materials allows data to be available for collection and analysis over an extended
period of time (O’Reilly, Rahinel, Foster, & Patterson, 2007), which facilitates future replication studies.
Rather than engaging in sampling, the researchers collated the entire data-set of social media men-
tions related to the incident. The goal was to produce an immersive and descriptive account (Kozinets,
2010) of evolving sentiment among social media users. The online search identified mentions to the
incident on blogs and forums, as well as posts on Twitter and Facebook. The resulting data pool con-
sisted of several thousands of entries. The extensive data collection, which will be discussed in the
following sections, enabled us to assess the extent of discussion and dissemination of the crisis, and
perform quantitative as well as qualitative analysis of sentiment towards the brand, as discussed next.
3.1. Monitoring sentiment
The oending videos appeared on YouTube on 13th April, 2009 and, within two days, had been
viewed by over one million users. They have since been removed from YouTube, though the clips and
references to them are still widely available on the Internet (Figure 2).
The distribution of these clips generated a “communication crisis” (Coombs, 2007), with large
numbers of people sharing the videos, and criticising the quality of Domino’s food. On Twitter, for
instance, the topic was trending within hours of the news going public (Cliord, 2009) (Figure 3).
The incident was picked up by a blogs worldwide, including two very popular blogs at the time,
www.GoodAsYou.org and The Consumerist. The volume of content associating the videos with the
brands was such that three days after the clips were published the top search results for “Domino’s”
on Google contained references to the incident (Figure 4).
Because content may spread through formal and informal networks, over many platforms, firms
should monitor both bottom-up and top-down communications (Jenkins et al., 2013). Domino’s was
not doing so at the time of the crisis. So, even though the issue was widely discussed on social media,
Domino’s did not directly notice it. According to Tim McIntyre, VP of Corporate Communications at
Domino’s Pizza, it was the blog www.GoodAsYou.org that had alerted him to the oending videos
(Solis, 2009). As a result of this crisis, currently Domino’s has a team of social media specialists moni-
toring and responding to UGC (He et al., 2013).
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Sentiment analysis tools can measure sentiment towards a brand at a particular point in time, and
how it changes over time. In this case, the UGC was analysed with the tool Sysomos; a popular software
package used by many advertising and PR companies to measure and manage their clients’ online
reputation. The software collects online content, and mines using keywords that denote sentiment.
Furthermore, the content is analysed via language processing to produce a sentiment polarity score.
The analysis of social media content gathered for this case shows a dramatic change in consumer
sentiment towards Domino’s (Figure 5). Up until 12th April (one day before the incident), a relatively
small proportion of social media content (13%) referred to Domino’s in a negative manner. Forty-
eight per cent of mentions at this time were neutral, while 39% were positive. Once the videos were
released, there was a striking shift in consumer sentiment towards Domino’s. Forty per cent of the
posts referred to Domino’s Pizza in a negative manner, while only 12% remained positive.
Figure 2. Five years later, the
negative UGC is still available.
Figure 3. Number of tweets
containing “Domino’s” in the
days following the incident.
Source: Lardinois (2009).
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Whilst sentiment scores illustrate general trends, they cannot provide insight into the reasons
beyond those scores. For that, it is necessary to qualitatively examine the blog posts, tweets and
other social media content. Qualitative, ethnographic methods were used to study the context and
the content of the social media data, as described in Kozinets (2010). One type of qualitative analysis
widely available to companies is the buzz graph which illustrates key terms appearing in social
media mentions related to the topic and illustrates the link between them through the use of dashed
lines, thin or thick lines denoting the strength of the association. The buzz graph (Figure 6) captures
the terms most commonly used in association with the brand once the video was released. These
included “prank” and “YouTube”, which would have immediately directed the company to the ori-
gins of the change in sentiment. In turn, the terms “disgust” and “employee” indicate a case of
tampering with food, particularly when associated with other terms captured by the tool, such as
““nose”, “booger” or “food”. Given that deliberate product contamination is the biggest reputation
threat for a food brand (Nickson, 2000), this analysis would signal to Domino’s that it was facing a
major crisis.
Figure 4. Google search results
for “Domino’s” shortly after the
incident.
Source: Sietsema (2009).
Figure 5. Sentiment towards
Domino’s Pizza.
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
100%
Up to April, 12th
April 13th-16th
Negative
Neutral
Positive
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3.2. Reacting to social media users
Unfamiliar with communication on social media, Domino’s management first tried to brush the clips
aside, then considered the publication of an ocial apology on their website, but McIntyre (VP
Communications) argued that posting an ocial apology would draw even more attention to the inci-
dent: “We knew what was going to happen. As soon as we posted a statement on our website, we were
essentially posting chapter two, and we knew people were [now] going to find chapter one” (Tan, 2010).
However, the corporation soon realised that they would have to break their silence. McIntyre
understood the importance of actively using social media channels for crisis communication: “(M)
any of the comments and questions on Twitter were ‘What is Domino’s doing about it?’ […] well, we
were doing and saying things, but they weren’t being covered in Twitter” (Cliord, 2009). Domino’s
established a Twitter account—@dpzinfo—on 15th April and used it to answer numerous questions
and comments regarding the incident. As McIntyre explained, Domino’s had learned that “if some-
thing happens in this medium, it’s going to automatically jump to the next. So we might as well talk
to everybody at the same time” (Sarno & Semuels, 2009). Domino’s shifted from a defensive to a
proactive approach, having realised that:
(I)n the old days, […] you could handle a situation, put out a fire. […] Now […] if there’s a crisis
happening in the social media realm, […] there’s a segment of the population that […] want
you to describe how you’re putting out the fire. (Jacques, 2009)
Domino’s twitter activity was well received as exemplified by the comments in Figure 7.
Domino’s also issued an ocial apology on their website (Figure 8), directing visitors to a YouTube
video. The company used the same title for the video and the same tags that Hammonds and Setzer
had used for the oending clip. This allowed Domino’s to eectively target viewers of the original video,
Figure 6. Terms most commonly
associated with “Domino’s” in
the days following the incident.
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thereby driving trac to the apology video. In the video, the President of Domino’s USA, Patrick Doyle,
sought to reassure customers of the quality, cleanliness and safety of Domino’s Pizza products:
We sincerely apologise for this incident. […] We are taking this incredibly seriously. This
was an isolated incident in Conover, North Carolina. The two team members have been
dismissed, and there are felony warrants out for their arrests. […] There is nothing more
important or sacred to us than our customers trust. […] We have auditors across the country
in our stores every day of the week, making sure our stores are as clean as they can possibly
be and that we are delivering high-quality food to our customers day in and day out.
Last but not least, McIntyre engaged in an email exchange with the bloggers that had dedicated
prominent posts to the incident—GoodAsYou and The Consumerist. For instance, in response to The
Consumerist’s post about the incident, McIntyre wrote:
I don’t have the words to say how repulsed I am by this (…) The “challenge” that comes with
the freedom of the Internet is that any idiot with a camera and an Internet link can do stu
like this—and ruin the reputation of a brand that’s nearly 50years old, and the reputation
of 125,000 hard-working men and women across the nation and in 60 countries around the
world. (Hames, 2009)
Figure 7. Comments referring
to Domino’s Twitter account
activity.
Source: Twitter.
I
can say first hand that they answered a LOT of questions and responde
d
to
a LOT of people. When I tweeted at them, they twattet [sic!] right back
wi
thin 5 minutes with a great response (by Ryan Jones on dotcult.com,
16
th
April 2009).
Figure 8. Domino’s ocial
website a few days after the
incident.
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In turn, The Consumerist replied: “[Our readers] may seem harsh at times, but they can be equally
impressive when a corporation appears to be doing the right thing. It’s a relatively popular site, so
that may count for something”. And, indeed, readers of The Consumerist identified the franchise
where the videos had been filmed. A reader with the username whyerhead commented on The
Consumerist’s original post about the incident:
I FOUND IT! Dominos Pizza, Conover NC. How did I find it? I used part of your intel. Googled
for lilangel6979, found the myYearbook for that email, looked at the city … There’s a Jack in
the box across from this Dominos. Searched yellowpages.com for it, found it at 509 10th St
NW, Conover NC. […] I’m not sure how to get in contact with the folks at dominos corporate
… but, I’m sure they’re reading our blog by now.
Through engagement of users of The Consumerist’s community, the perpetrators, Setzer and
Hammonds, were identified and charged with delivering prohibited foods (Cliord, 2009). Hammonds
apologised to McIntyre saying:
It was all a prank and me nor Michael expected to have this much attention from the videos
that were uploaded! No food was ever sent out to any customer. […] Michael never would do
that to any customer, EVER!! I AM SO SORRY!
Most importantly, the quick response, use of relevant social media channels, the clever use of tags
and titles for search engine optimisation, the nature of the communications, and the engagement
with the blogger community helped save the brand. By April 16th, Domino’s began to recover con-
sumer confidence (Table 1). While participants’ positive responses after having viewed the apology
video were not quite as high as before they had been aware of the scandal, the results do show an
upwards tendency following Doyle’s apology.
Domino’s approach also impressed the community that had initially mobilised against the brand:
It clearly wasn’t the fault of Domino’s as a whole, [and] it sends a good image that they
came forward and made it clear that they’re just as disgusted as everyone else is. (comment
by tlsgirl on yumsugar.com)
It was important for management to respond. Would have been better to speak o the
cu […] but kudos to Domino’s for communicating via the same social channel its wayward
employees used. (comment by starbux347 on CNET News)
Financially, too, the company has recovered. Following the incident, Domino’s share price suered
(arrow in Figure 9); but just a few months later, it had recovered.
Table 1. Responses at three points in time
Source: Lardinois (2009).
Before viewing prank
video (%)
After viewing prank
video (%)
After viewing apology
video (%)
Total (n=243) Total (n=243) Total (n=243)
Go to a Domino’s 29 10 20
Order Domino’s for
delivery
46 15 24
Visit Domino’s website 25 14 24
Search for information on
Domino’s
14 10 20
Watch an advertisement/
commercial on Domino’s
61 27 42
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4. Discussion
The first research question asked how monitoring UGC could help organisations identify sentiment
change. It was argued that organisations needed to monitor a range of relevant social media chan-
nels. However, it is not possible to be prescriptive regarding specific platforms as the most popular
channels vary by intended function, industry and geography, as discussed previously. Moreover, the
technology landscape is constantly evolving (Sultan, 2013), requiring organisations to adjust their
monitoring focus. Also, monitoring sentiment requires the analysis of content over various plat-
forms, which presents technical challenges. Specifically, while some platforms are open, others, like
individual Facebook accounts, are closed, meaning that it is dicult to automatically extract data.
More challenging than the technology, however, is the changing relationship between humans and
technology (Martini, Massa, & Testa, 2013) and, with it, the changing communication dynamics. For
instance, consumer conversations occur in channels not traditionally associated with corporate
communications. Moreover, users may expect conversations held in such closed platforms to be
private, and oppose their messages being mined.
In terms of identifying sentiment polarity, there are semantic challenges hindering automated
analysis (e.g. colloquial language, abbreviations and emoticons), as well as those associated with
irony and sarcasm (Canhoto & Padmanabhan, 2015; Vanden Bergh et al., 2011). Likewise, while much
content is shared in text format, it is increasingly common for users to publish images (He et al.,
2013), which are dicult to monitor automatically. As exemplified with the Domino’s case study,
complementing sentiment measurement with analysis of the topics discussed and the context sur-
rounding the publication of the content helps overcome those limitations. For instance, the themes
identified in the buzz graph would not only direct the management’s attention to YouTube, but also
give an idea of the video’s topic and the source of customer disgust.
In summary, if the Internet has emerged as a platform for electronic word of mouth with consum-
ers now basing perceptions and decisions on the opinions of others that they may never have met,
and whose reputation is determined by factors not yet thoroughly understood (Marwick, 2013), it is
also true that technology allows firms to detect those changes and their causes.
The second research question asked how social media might assist with crisis management.
Domino’s initially attempted to control the situation, and its initial response to customers’ concerns
was more detrimental to the company’s reputation than helpful (Cliord, 2009). However, at the
time of the crisis (April 2009), sentiment analysis was not widely adopted, and only a handful of
Figure 9. Domino’s share price
between 29th December 2008
and 10th March 2014.
Source: uk.finance.yahoo.com.
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companies had teams in place to monitor social media conversations. Today, the role of social
media in company reputation management in general, and crisis communication in particular, is
more widely acknowledged (Dijkmans et al., 2015; Jones, Temperley, & Lima, 2009).
Analysis of cases of such social media crisis confirms the need for information management meth-
ods and techniques that dier from PR activities in the broadcast media world (Jenkins et al., 2013).
Our case study data confirms Mahon and Mitnick’s (2010) call for an audience-focused approach when
communicating during a crisis and begins to unpack this approach. Specifically, the Domino’s case
shows that an audience-focused approach requires detailed knowledge, about where the conversa-
tion is taking place, and identifying the key themes and language used, and who the audience is.
This study highlighted the role of bottom-up influencers in amplifying UGC reach. Detecting senti-
ment changes towards a brand requires firms to identify the relevant influencers. While the concept
of “influencers” is not new to marketing, social media led to the emergence of a new class of users
with heightened power to shape brand perception in the market, dierent from those with influence
in the oine environment (Kim, Choi, Qualls, & Han, 2010). In this particular case, the two blogs
mentioned had not previously captured the company’s attention. They were a new type of influ-
encer, and it is argued that Domino’s underestimated the influencing power of such blogs on their
customers. The fact that such influencers can change rapidly requires nuanced and adaptable meth-
ods of interpretation, such as those aorded by qualitative approaches.
This paper presents and applies a framework that updates the conceptual understanding of crisis
management as a form of reputation risk management in the contemporary knowledge economy
(Scott & Walsham, 2005), through uniting classical crisis management literature and recent social
media research. The paper illustrated the application of the framework in practice via the social me-
dia crisis faced by Domino’s. Unlike previous research on social media conversations (e.g. He et al.,
2013), the choice of social media platforms for analysis was not dictated by the researchers. Instead,
it followed the conversations, therefore revealing where social media discussions actually occur, and
how they spread over more than one platform.
The first insight derived from this paper concerns the power of social media as a source of infor-
mation and communication among, about and with individuals. Domino’s initially underestimated
the power, reach and speed of social media conversations. By ignoring online discussions, manage-
ment allowed the crisis to grow. Conversely, when they used the same channels through which the
crisis had spread, it caught consumers’ attention. One way of energising fans’ and followers’ interest
in a brand is by posting video clips on social networking sites like YouTube. Video clips may be shared
between networks of fans and friends of fans, leading to large number of views. Furthermore, view-
ers can comment on the clips, and organisations can capture and analyse these comments with
social media monitoring tools. What we can understand is the desire for some very active consum-
ers to act as co-creators with brands, conscious of their social media profile (measured by tools such
as Klout scores), and being recognised by brands as part of the meaning-making involved in corpo-
rate identity. With a focus on producing what Jenkins et al. (2013) referred to as “spreadable” mes-
sages, these consumers or community members increase their social media presence.
The second insight concerns the content of the communications. As previously discussed, analysis
of buzz data reveals specific issues damaging a company’s reputation. This insight can be used to
tailor a company’s messages and improve the eectiveness of its crisis communication. By commu-
nicating with those spreading negative messages as “insiders” in the crisis rather than external
threats, organisations can turn a negative relationship positive.
The third insight concerns the role of social media users themselves in crisis recovery. In the case
of Domino’s, social media users accepted and amplified the company’s apologies. They empathised
with the company’s problem and set out to identify and shame the employees who had caused the
crisis. Thus, UGC should not be seen as a matter of a firm’s communications versus consumers’
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conversations, but rather as ongoing dialogue about the brand’s actions, with all the customer in-
sight and the engagement opportunities that this oers. UGC also has the added benefit of higher
credibility than organisation-generated messages (Blackshaw, 2011). Influencers can help in recov-
ery eorts.
Additionally, our study highlights a number of managerial implications. Firstly, companies’ reputa-
tions are subject to the content of online conversations about their products and services.
Management can influence conversations by taking the participants’ concerns seriously and
responding convincingly. Secondly, in order to appropriately respond to people’s concerns and criti-
cisms, it is necessary to examine in detail the content of online conversations. Thirdly, managers
should use social media networks where bad sentiment has occurred, to disseminate their response
to the UGC. In doing so, they should avoid blaming employees or users for negative sentiment;
rather, they should include a call to action, which treats consumers as allies in co-creating a
solution.
Like any new framework, however, this one needs refinement. Application to a variety of research
settings will provide evidence of its generalisability, while confirming its key contributions and clari-
fying its limitations.
One limitation arises from the specific case analysed. It may be argued that the nature of the videos
posted by Domino’s employees was so outrageous (tampering with food) that they caused an extreme
reaction unlikely to be faced by others and, therefore, that the lessons from this case have limited rel-
evance for other situations. While food hygiene may be a particularly sensitive topic, the lessons
regarding the mechanics by which the crisis spread and was later contained are applicable and rele-
vant regardless of the scale of the crisis.
Another limitation, relates to the type of crisis considered. A crisis may arise because of spill-over
eects from issues with a competitor or about the industry in general, as it happened with the horse
meat scandal in the UK. Further studies should attempt to conceptualise the approach to crisis man-
agement in the case of spill-over eects. Moreover, as the concept of organisational reputation
reflects the organisation’s standing among its counterparts (Deephouse & Carter, 2005), in addition
to the temporal perspective, organisations should develop regular comparisons with other compa-
nies in the industry (Fombrun et al., 2000; He et al., 2013).
A further issue arises from the use of Sysomos for data analysis. As with many other software
packages (see Canhoto & Padmanabhan, 2015), Sysomos does not r eveal the algorithm that in-
forms the analysis of online data. Therefore, researchers cannot assess how the analysis was per-
formed. Further research could model the same social media data-set through alternative software
packages and, possibly, manually. While time-consuming, such research would help to identify dis-
crepancies between the various platforms and, eventually, biases.
This paper has repeatedly noted the role of influencers in amplifying and reversing the crisis. It
was noted that social media influencers are not necessarily the same as those with influence in the
oine environment, and that the factors aecting the reputation of this new breed of influencers
are not yet fully understood. Further research should investigate how and why particular individuals
and organisations emerge as influencers in the social media environment.
UGC is a growing phenomenon, which will be further amplified by the continuous popularisation of
technology and software that enables the production and sharing of content by anyone with an
Internet connection. There is an urgent need for the advancement of guidance to support practition-
ers increasingly requiring information about ongoing online conversations about their brands. This
paper contributes to that discussion, highlighting the value of engaging in a combination of activities
to measure sentiment and the impact of social media conversations on corporate reputation.
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Funding
The authors received no direct funding for this research.
Author details
Ana Isabel Canhoto
1
E-mail: adomingos-canhoto@brookes.ac.uk
Dirk vom Lehn
2
E-mail: dirk.vom_lehn@kcl.ac.uk
Finola Kerrigan
3
E-mail: f.kerrigan@bham.ac.uk
Cagri Yalkin
4
E-mail: cagriyalkin@gmail.com
Marc Braun
5
E-mail: mailmarcbraun@gmail.com
Nicola Steinmetz
6
E-mail: nicola.c.steinmetz@gmail.com
1
Faculty of Business, Department of Marketing, Oxford
Brookes University, Wheatley Campus, Wheatley, Oxford
OX33 1HX, UK.
2
Department of Management, King’s College London, Strand,
London WC2R 2LS, UK.
3
Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham,
University House, Edgbaston Park Road, Birmingham B15
2TY, UK.
4
Brunel Business School, Brunel University, Eastern Gateway
Building, Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH, UK.
5
GlossyBox, London, UK.
6
Nestle, Frankfurt, Germany.
Citation information
Cite this article as: Fall and redemption: Monitoring and
engaging in social media conversations during a crisis,
Ana Isabel Canhoto, Dirk vom Lehn, Finola Kerrigan, Cagri
Yalkin, Marc Braun & Nicola Steinmetz, Cogent Business &
Management(2015), 2: 1084978.
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The following conversation is an edited excerpt from a broader roundtable discussion, organized and moderated by Cinema Journal between June and July 2013. In this section, the conversation focuses on popular culture, fans, and niche cultures. The contributors responded to a series of prompts that asked them to consider the relationship between Spreadable Media and past and current work in fan studies (including Henry Jenkins’s Textual Poachers and Convergence Culture).1 Participants also explore Spreadable Media’s relationship to fan studies scholarship and ask whether Spreadable Media represents a shift in the way we think of fans in relationship to popular culture. The full conversation addresses Spreadable Media’s engagement with questions of transmedia, digital culture, and online social activism more broadly, and it will be published online in an upcoming edition of Transformative Works and Cultures. [End Page 152] Although Spreadable Media is ultimately not a fan studies book, nor does it try to be, it purposefully engages the concept of the fan and thus gets read in conjunction with fan scholarship, including Jenkins’s previous works, Textual Poachers and Convergence Culture. Given that trajectory and the way the book repeatedly deploys specific examples of fan activities within its larger project, it raises the question as to how Spreadable Media uses the fan and how it engages with fan scholarship. Looking at the way Spreadable Media stretches the concept of being a fan to a point of seeming unrecognizability, I would suggest that the book is ultimately not interested in fans, except what they tell us about larger audiences. There are obviously strategic reasons to expand the term fan from the narrow confines that Henry Jenkins’s earlier Textual Poachers set out. In the intervening years, many aspects of fandom have mainstreamed, a move that Henry has both described extensively and partly helped bring about. There are many benefits to conceptualizing active audiences as fans, but I’d like to look at some of the drawbacks. In particular, I’d like to look at what happens when the definition of fan changes from one based on identity to one based on action. I’d like to look at what gets left out when the definition of fan is as broadly conceived as it is in Spreadable Media, when any “like” click on Facebook, any forwarding of a YouTube link, constitutes a fan activity. I am concerned that such a broadening of the concept facilitates a shift from the fans studied in Textual Poachers to general audiences. Such a shift moves the focus away from the marginal media fan, who was mostly commercially nonviable, often resistant, and uncooperative, and whose dedication to a gift economy was often in spite of capitalist alternatives and not because they didn’t exist. In its stead, the fans who take center stage in Spreadable Media are the commercializable audiences, who happily seem to collaborate in their own exploitation, free laborers creating value of which they cannot even assume ownership. What gets excluded and marginalized in Spreadable Media, then, are the very founders of the concept of fan, the unruly and aggressively anticommercial, the queered and sexually explicit, the anticapitalist and anticopyright. What gets excluded are the audiences whose practices may have been adapted and adopted and celebrated but whose presence is ultimately not desired in this brand-new, commercially viable fan universe. Spreadable Media acknowledges this danger: “We all should be vigilant over what gets sacrificed, compromised, or co-opted by media audiences as part of this process of mainstreaming the activities and interests of cult audiences.”2 But when reading through the chapters, I am distressed by observing that very compromise the authors warn against. I fear the actual driving force of...
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