A Case Study of Volkswagens Use of Social Media During the Emissions Crisis

Rebecca Victoria Fatima Sjödin & Katarina Halkinrud

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

Purpose: The importance of social media has arguably been growing at a faster pace than organizations’ ability to use it as a tool to communicate. This was especially evident during Volkswagen’s emissions crisis, where the company faced increased activity levels on Facebook and Twitter. This thesis was based on a single case study approach, with the purpose to gain a holistic picture of how Volkswagen took avail of Facebook and Twitter to communicate the emissions crisis.
Methodology: A mixed methods research was applied to conduct a qualitative content analysis, which was followed up through quantifying the results. The aim of using a mixed methods research was to receive in depth contextual analysis, and further disclose whether the type of content had any effect on audience engagement. Findings: Findings uncovered that Volkswagens social media content can be divided into a number of categories, based on different engagement approaches. It was discovered that Volkswagens content on social media, primarily built excitement in its relationships with its audience prior to the crisis. A change was indicated in the post crisis phase, where Volkswagen used emotional elements to engage its audience, and social media content was perceived as “softer” than prior to the crisis. The findings also matched existing research, revealing that organizations often fail to use a rightful initial crisis response strategy on social media. Additionally, the authors discovered that Volkswagen decreased its activity level on social media in the crisis event phase, while the crisis attracted new followers and increased audience engagement. As a final remark, Volkswagen lacked consistency when communicating the crisis on social media.
Practical Implications: Offering a quick initial response on social media, should be a company’s main focus once a crisis takes place. Organizations should also aim to provide a consistent two-way interaction, by answering to audience’s comments. Originality/Value: The aim was not to generalize findings, since this research was based on an exploratory single case study, of Volkswagens use of social media as a crisis communication tool. However, the findings complement existing theory within crisis communication on social media, and how organizations build engaging online brand communities.

EducationsCand.ling.merc Erhvervssprog og International Erhvervskommunikation (Multikulturel Kommunikation i Organisationer), (Graduate Programme) Final ThesisMSc in International Marketing and Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2016
Number of pages150
SupervisorsSøren Henning Jensen