Online Stakeholder Communication in Firestorm Situations

Mikkel Zangenberg

Student thesis: Master thesis


The internet has changed the way companies must approach stakeholder communication. Social media and online forums have changed the need for a presence and availability to stakeholders a company and its employees need to contribute with. This leads to challenges in the form of “firestorm” situations in which companies can find themselves in crisis situations without warning. These “firestorm” situations can be self-inflicted or come from outside sources, but online communications have changed both the speed and potential degree of crisis with which a “firestorm” situation can be brought about.
This thesis proposes that current literature on stakeholder communication does not take into account the way social media has changed the nature of stakeholder communication both in times of crisis and in non-crisis times. The thesis offers a new lens on stakeholder communication by way of additions to existing literature, utilizing literature from neighboring fields of communication as well as from social psychology. Additionally, the thesis hypothesizes that social media and public citizenship arenas, though owned or controlled by companies, is seen as communal property – and that access to these platforms are seen as a right, rather than a privilege.
To support the hypothesis that current literature does not prepare companies for the reality of stakeholder communication in an online environment, the thesis makes use of a case study on the British software developer Chucklefish, and their video game software “Starbound”. In the case study, communicative actions taken by the company are viewed through the new lens. These include the communicative efforts by Chucklefish and their attempts at moderating an unruly vocal minority of the stakeholder community instead of leveraging the larger stakeholder community to reign in the unruly vocal minority.
The thesis contributes to the existing literature on stakeholder communication by introducing a new way to view the actions of stakeholders, and suggests further research on the nature of trolls, how to distinguish trolls and stakeholders who communicate in bad faith, the efficacy of the Spiral of Silence in an online environment and how it affects clustering. Finally, the thesis proposes further quantitative research on the expectations of stakeholders with regards to availability of communication with companies as well as stakeholder expectations of their sense of entitlement to access to public citizenship arenas, social media and online forums and to what degree they believe they should be held accountable for their own counterproductive communicative actions.

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages69
SupervisorsDennis Schoeneborn