|How do you like this comment? : Persuasive effects of online comments and heuristic cues in crisis communication context
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] The emergence of online communication reflects a shift in public relations (PR) roles, with more emphasis on interactive features in news such as writing online comments and clicking "like" on such comments. As those features directly reflect what people think and perceive, it is important to investigate how they affect the publics' perceptions in a crisis situation. This dissertation aims to investigate how information provided by other people in comments of online news media influences public perception toward a corporation portrayed in a crisis news article. A 2 (consistency: consistent crisis responsibility attribution between online news and online comments vs. inconsistent attribution) x 2 (heuristic cue: high vs. low number of "like" clicked) mixed factorial design with consistency as a between-subjects variable and heuristic cue as a within-subjects variable was employed. The findings of this study showed that participants (N=389) tend to attribute less crisis responsibility and hold an improved regard of reputation toward a corporation when they read online comments defending the corporation. Participants who read online comments accusing the company for what happened attributed more crisis responsibility to the corporation than did those who read online comments supporting the corporation. Also, perceived credibility toward online comments was different depending on the number of "likes." These findings suggest that the success of crisis communication strategies may depend on the ability of PR practitioners to monitor what lay publics, not media, say in online comments.
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