In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Webcare

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Receiving Webcare

Communication Webcare
Peter Kerkhof, Corné Dijkmans
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0238


Consumers have made abundant use of social media to share their experiences with and evaluations of products, services, and policies—and with the organizations that produce them. Consumer voices, or electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM), can be heard on social network sites, online review sites, the comments section of news sites, and, in general, in all online spaces that enable an active role for users. Whereas in the early days of the Internet, organizations typically chose not to respond to online consumer reviews or answer online consumer questions, since around 2010 it has become increasingly common for organizations to have an active presence in social media and to directly engage in interactions with consumers. This article defines webcare as the online interactions between organizations and consumers about consumer questions, complaints, and experiences with regard to the organization’s products or services. Webcare interactions are typically (although not exclusively) public, which distinguishes webcare from customer service that takes place in nonpublic one-to-one interactions that organizations have with consumers, such as in call centers. The public character of webcare adds a new dimension to customer service: not only is the consumer in question engaged in interacting with the organization at hand, but bystanders are as well. This involves consumers who witness (and at times engage in) the webcare interaction and whose attitudes toward the organization may be affected by the nature of the interaction. As a result, public interactions between organizations and consumers make webcare an important part of an organization’s online presence. Another distinguishing feature of webcare is that the interactions between organizations and consumers frequently move beyond typical customer service questions (e.g., a failed product, a faulty service delivery). Although customer service still makes up the bulk of webcare interactions of most organizations, webcare teams frequently receive compliments by consumers, questions regarding the organizations’ ethics, or inquiries about the organization’s stand on societal issues. When an organization gets involved in a public crisis, webcare teams need to deal with large groups of citizens and/or consumers expressing their opinions, often accompanied or inspired by pressure groups.

General Overviews

Research on webcare is mainly reported in journal articles, most notably in the academic disciplines of communication and public relations, marketing and business, tourism and hospitality, and information systems. A query for the term webcare reveals only a limited number of journal articles. Yet many other papers deal with the topic of webcare but use a different name, often referring to management responses to reviews or complaints in social media, social media management, or online service recovery responses. Only one general literature overview on webcare, van Noort, et al. 2014, exists. This article describes the goals of webcare and the studies dealing with questions on whether and how organizations should respond to online complaints. Several general articles have been published in Business Horizons that deal with the question how to deal with consumer voices on social media. Stevens, et al. 2018 focuses on three dimensions of successful webcare: it should be timely, it should be public (in order to enhance transparency), and all interactions with consumers should be conducted in a personalized way that humanizes the webcare provider. Grégoire, et al. 2014 distinguishes six types of social media complaints and suggests ways to respond to these complaints.

  • Grégoire, Y., A. Salle, and T. M. Tripp. 2014. Managing social media crises with your customers: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Business Horizons 58:173–182.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.bushor.2014.11.001

    Distinguishes different types of complaints in social media and proposes ways to respond to complaints based on the type of complaint: directness, boasting (positive eWOM after successful service recovery), and badmouthing appear after an initial service failure. After a double deviation (service failure followed by a failed recovery), consumer responses can be characterized as “tatting” (calling in a third party), “spite” (negative eWOM focused on revenge), and “feeding the vultures” (when competitors use the conversations for their benefit).

  • Stevens, J. L., B. I. Spaid, M. Breazeale, and C. L. Esmark-Jones. 2018. Timeliness, transparency, and trust: A framework for managing online customer complaints. Business Horizons 61:375–384.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.bushor.2018.01.007

    Discusses ways to deal with online customer complaints and introduces a 3T framework (timeliness, transparency, and trust). Online customer complaints should be dealt with before the fire spreads (timeliness), complaints and responses should be visible and accessible (transparency), and interactions with consumers should be done in a civil and ethical manner (trust).

  • van Noort, G., L. M. Willemsen, P. Kerkhof, and J. W. M. Verhoeven. 2014. Webcare as an integrative tool for customer care, reputation management, and online marketing. In Integrated Communications in the Postmodern Era. Edited by P. J. Kitchen and E. Uzunoglu, 77–99. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This chapter describes the different goals of webcare: customer service, online reputation management, and marketing. It describes research on the question of whether organizations should respond to complaints in social media, on what and how to respond to such complaints, and on the communication style of webcare responses.

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