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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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To address RQ5 we examined the posts for suggestions of additional corrective action (n = 88 posts). Two dominant themes emerged when examining psts that rejected the apologies: (1) failure to provide compensation in the form of free copies of the deleted books (n = 8, 9%) and (2) failure to prevent future remote deletions of books (n = 74, 84%). Although those who rejected the apology 215 were in the minority of those posting, their comments offered insights into what else Amazon.com could be doing or be perceived to be doing to address the crisis.

Discussion This exploratory study examined Kindle Community reactions to Bezos’s online apology and offers unique contributions to the literature in a number of areas. First, it focuses on the online environment and a particular group of constituents who would be especially relevant to the apology and interested in the contents of the apology. Bezos’s apology was posted online to a group that consists of either current Kindle users or Amazon.com customers, a target audience for future Kindle purchases. Their participation in the Kindle Community signals their relevance to the apology.

Thus, the sample includes people who are the target audience for the apology and appropriate to the study of reactions to apologies. However, it is important to note that not all Kindle users, or potential Kindle users, participate in the Kindle Community. Hence, the sample is not truly representative of those who may have been affected by the e-book deletions.

Second, this research method enables us to examine Kindle Community participants’ direct responses to the apology. By studying unsolicited posts we see unfiltered reactions to the apology as well as sponteneous statements of purchase intention and word-of-mouth communication intention.

This provides naturally occuring, rich data. The method did not require researchers to intervene in the data collection process by asking specific questions. Rather, writers posted what was important to them. This study supports the value of this research method. The direct responses provide insights into reactions to the crisis communication, behavioral intentions, and reasons for rejecting the apology.

Third, the research demonstrates the utility of the Janis-Fadner Coefficient of Imbalance for examining online responses to crisis communication. The Janis-Fadner Coefficient of Imbalance provides a way to gauge the favorable-unfavorable nature of responses in a standardized measure that allows for comparison between data sets or sub-sets of one data set. In this case we could compare the reactions of Kindle owners to non-Kindle owners to gain additional insights. This research is important because it demonstrates how data available on the Internet can be used to examine responses to crisis communication, in this case apologies.

The findings suggest that the signficant majority of Kindle Community readers accepted Bezos’s apology—the crisis response was effective. A few endorsed the product and/or organization by claiming they will continue to be loyal customers and say positive things about Amazon.com.

Based on these results, we can determine the apology seems to have been effective for members of this Kindle Community group who posted in response to the apology.

Acceptance of the apology is like account acceptance in the crisis response literature. It signals receivers find the response to be effective. Fuchs-Burnett (2002) notes this generally requires that the apology be accompanied by a course of action that exhibits awareness of the wrongdoing coupled with corrective action (Cohen, 2002; Fuchs-Burnett, 2002; Hearit, 2005, 2006). Herdener’s statement and Bezos’s apology indicates Amazon.com will learn from the incident, make better decisions in the future (although exactly what that will involve is unspecified), and stop the remote deletion practice. However, the dominant theme in the suggestions for additional corrective action was remote deletion. The lack of specific corrective action seems to be a weakness in Amazon.com crisis response. Interestingly, our analysis showed that within two days of posting the apology, Amazon.com should have been aware of that weakness.

The apology was a singular post during the Kindle crisis. While stakeholders publicly responded to the apology, no one from Amazon.com responded to these comments. Granted, the majority of the comments were positive but there is an undercurrent of negativity that warrants attention. Stakeholders raised two concerns that reflect the limited corrective action by Amazon.com. First, some stakeholders felt people should be given free copies of the books that were deleted. Their point was that Amazon.com made the error in allowing the sale of the e-books 216 yet customers were paying the price. In September of 2009, Amazon.com offered customers whose Orwell books had been deleted either a free replacement book or $30 (either a check or Amazon.com credit) (Metz, 2009). This correction occurred nearly two months after the initial incident and over a month after posts had suggested Amazon.com take the action.

Second, many posts indicated they were upset that Amazon.com still had the capability to delete copies. The vast majority of additional correction action suggestions urged Amazon.com to renounce the policy of remote removal and even create software to prevent Amazon.com from having that “power.” The discussion centered more on DRM in general rather than the Orwell deletion situation and were a minority of those posting (74 out of 210). People either did not find the Amazon.com statements about ending remote deletion reassuring or did not realize the statement had been made. Whatever the reason, DRM and remote deletion remained a concern among those posting to the discussion board. Bezos’s apology triggered feedback from stakeholders but Amazon.com was slow to process the feedback. Even if Amazon.com did not want to enter into a public debate over its policies, it could at least posted to the Kindle community that they were aware of the concerns and were considering their options. Bezos’s apology posting provided an opportunity for engagement that was underutilized. Although stakeholders responded to the apology post, Amazon.com did not publicly engage the stakeholders or acknowledge those online comments.

Limitations There are several limitations to this work. First, it was exploratory. Second, Kindle Community members who voluntarily posted in response to Bezos’s apology provided the data.

These results are based only on those who perhaps are enthusiastic enough about the organization and its products to join the Kindle community. Undoubtedly there are Kindle users who do not participate. The study did not include Amazon.com customers who are not members of the Kindle community. Although the group we studied was probably the real target audience, this method does not help us understand how those who were not Kindle Community participants would react to the apology. Kindle Community participants were, and it seems will continue to be, Amazon.com enthusiasts. They will continue their support in spite of this crisis.

Conclusion In one respect, Bezos’s apology was a type of “preaching to the choir.” It was a safe bet that Kindle users would be sympathetic to the situation. The data analysis proves that the response was effective, particularly with Kindle owners. Overall, most posts accepted the apology and indicated positive behavioral intention. An organization must reinforce its loyal stakeholders so the Bezos apology is effective in that regard. While generally effective, we can identify a few problems with the Amazon.com crisis response based upon the postings. There was a small subset of posts, mostly non-Kindle owners, who rejected the apology and were concerned about a perceived failure to end the existence of the remote deletion technology. Amazon.com would have been aware of the concern through a cursory examination of the response postings. We should note DRM and remote deletion is complex and technical issue that would be difficult to address fully through online postings. For whatever reason, this issue of concern to a minority of the stakeholders was ignored.

Perhaps more importantly, we can argue that Amazon.com did not follow through on an engagement opportunity.

Even though Bezos’s apology was posted on a discussion board that promotes interaction, the apology was not interactive. Amazon.com offered no additional messages beyond Bezos’s original apology on the discussion board. The engagement aspect of the apology post was lost. Of course, that lost opportunity may be a function of crisis communication in general. The organization’s reaction to the crisis is the priority rather than using the situation as an opportunity for engagement.

It could be crises are not considered an appropriate time for engagement - but that is a larger issue for future research. While Amazon.com could have done more, it was successful in reassuring its Kindle user base and keeping them happy.

217 Online postings can be useful to organizations trying to gauge stakeholder reactions to crisis communication strategies. Examining online reactions may allow them to assess the effectiveness of the the crisis response, identify potential weaknesses in the response, judge the effects of the response on behavioral intention, and determine if additional crisis responses are needed. Online postings provide real-time, unobtrusive feedback. The results suggest this type of data set holds promise for future investigations. It can help the organization gauge the effectiveness of its crisis response and possible weaknesses in the response by directly monitoring the reactions of target stakeholders.



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