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Detecting, Preventing, and Mitigating Online Firestorms in Brand Communities

Detecting, Preventing, and Mitigating Online Firestorms in Brand Communities

Dennis Herhausen, Stephan Ludwig, Dhruv Grewal, Jochen Wulf and Marcus Schoegel

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Teaching Insight:

More than 65 million firms leverage online brand communities to connect with customers and increase online reputation, brand patronage, and customer spending. However, online communities are vulnerable to online firestorms, or negative eWOM, that receives substantial support from other customers in a short period of time. A Journal of Marketing study explores the conditions that make eWOM go viral and how to detect, prevent, and mitigate online firestorms:

  • Different types of emotional arousal, the strength of the senders’ structural ties, and their similarity to the online brand community contribute to the virality of negative eWOM.
  • Using a dictionary-based, straightforward, automatic text-mining approach can help firms detect potential online firestorms.
  • Response strategies should vary by message type. More explanatory responses are best for negative eWOM messages containing above-average negative high arousal emotions; the effectiveness of disengaging approaches varies.

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Related Marketing Courses:
Brand Management; Digital Marketing; Marketing Communications; Services Marketing; Social Media Marketing

Full Citation:
Herhausen, Dennis, Stephan Ludwig, Dhruv Grewal, Jochen Wulf, and Marcus Schoegel, M. (2019), “Detecting, Preventing, and Mitigating Online Firestorms in Brand Communities,” Journal of Marketing, 83 (3), 1–21.

Online firestorms pose severe threats to online brand communities. Any negative electronic word of mouth (eWOM) has the potential to become an online firestorm, yet not every post does, so finding ways to detect and respond to negative eWOM constitutes a critical managerial priority. The authors develop a comprehensive framework that integrates different drivers of negative eWOM and the response approaches that firms use to engage in and disengage from online conversations with complaining customers. A text-mining study of negative eWOM demonstrates distinct impacts of high and low arousal emotions, structural tie strength, and linguistic style match (between sender and brand community) on firestorm potential. The firm’s response must be tailored to the intensity of arousal in the negative eWOM to limit the virality of potential online firestorms. The impact of initiated firestorms can be mitigated by distinct firm responses over time, and the effectiveness of different disengagement approaches also varies with their timing. For managers, these insights provide guidance on how to detect and reduce the virality of online firestorms.


Special thanks to Demi Oba, Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, for support in working with authors on submissions to this program.

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Dennis Herhausen is Associate Professor of Marketing, KEDGE Business School, France.

Stephan Ludwig is Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Dhruv Grewal is Toyota Chair of Commerce and Electronic Business and Professor of Marketing, Babson College, USA.

Jochen Wulf is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute of Information Management, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Marcus Schoegel is Associate Professor of Marketing, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.