Accusations of wrongdoing, baseless or justified, can severely tarnish a company's reputation. Once disseminated, even baseless accusations can persist and cause considerable damage for a company. This study examines the proactive crisis communication strategy of inoculating individuals against invalid accusations before they go viral. An experiment was conducted in a real world consumer context among members of an online consumer panel using an electronics discounter as the research stimulus. Expanding previous inoculation research on the role of value-relevant involvement for inoculation and the effectiveness of inoculation in the case of different preexisting attitudes, we find that consumers' identification with a company moderates inoculation effectiveness. Consumers strongly opposing or disidentifying with the company under attack reported fewer negative beliefs and attitude change as well as fewer intentions to spread the accusation after being exposed to an inoculation message refuting the claim against the company. Consumers strongly identifying with the company, on the other hand, did not profit from such an inoculation. Their level of identification alone was sufficient to prevent attitude slippage. Implications for public relations research and practice are discussed.
Einwiller, Sabine, and Gita Johar. "Countering accusations with inoculation: The moderating role of consumer-company identification." Public Relations Review 39, no. 3 (September 2013): 198-206.
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