When pushing back is good: the effectiveness of brand responses to social media complaints

  • Marius Johnen
  • Oliver SchnittkaEmail author
Original Empirical Research


Conventional wisdom suggests that brands should respond in an accommodative way to consumer complaints. However, this research shows that observers of the communication between complainants and brands on social media may prefer a defensive response under specific conditions. Thus, this study helps managers to find optimal responses to social media complaints, thereby minimizing negative consequences. We introduce a previously unexamined key moderator that takes account of the observer perspective: the benefits sought in the context of a complainant–brand interaction (e.g., brand presences in social media). Hence, we differentiate hedonic from utilitarian contexts and we note the distinct observer benefits and corresponding preferences. A field study and a series of experiments show that a defensive response can be superior in hedonic contexts but inferior in utilitarian ones. We also show how response strategy indirectly affects observers’ behavioral consequences and identify complaint reasoning and brand communication style as relevant boundary conditions.


Response strategy Social media Brand communication Communication style Consumer complaints Contextual benefits 



The authors would like to thank Annika Greff, Carolin Haiduk, and Henning Rumpsfeld for their support in data collection and Michel Clement, Harald van Heerde, Dominik Papies, and Henrik Sattler for their helpful comments and suggestions.


This work was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG), research unit 1452 (SA 550/3-1).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Academy of Marketing Science 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of MarketingUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Environmental and Business EconomicsUniversity of Southern DenmarkEsbjergDenmark

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