Haters gonna hate: antagonist consumers and co-creation

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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Co-creation of value between brands and their loyal consumers has become more and more commonplace in multiple industries, and expectations from practitioners have been high. In the early days of co-creation, views on the phenomenon were overwhelmingly positive, and promised increased brand awareness and loyalty, creating a culture of sustained innovation, and most importantly, helping the bottom line. However, in recent years, dialogue has shifted from an excludingly positive narrative to encompass “the dark side of co-creation”. This dark side manifests in forms such as infighting in online brand communities, consumers turning on marketers and brands, and co-innovation gone wrong. These types of interactions can make the work of an online community manager stressful, difficult, and taxing. This study illuminates the dark side of co-creation by introducing three different types of antagonist consumers. These consumers are in interaction with brands, like co-creation literature suggests, but not in a mutually-beneficial way. They may even harm the mutual co-creation occurring between the brand and other consumers. I name these three types of antagonist consumers The Concerned Citizens’ Brigade, The Lone Wolf Crusader, and The Troll, and provide managerial suggestions for dealing with each of them online. This study is an auto-netnographic inquiry which reflects back on and complements my experiences as a community manager for B2C retail brands faced with antagonist consumers on an almost-daily basis. In this study, there is no “one” field site; instead, my dataset consists of examples of these antagonist consumers and the interactions I had with them over multiple social media accounts over multiple years. I complement these personal experiences with well-known global examples. The literature review of the study outlines the concept of co-creation and discusses recent developments in co-creation literature. I then dive into literature on antagonistic consumption and negative consumer engagement, which has up to now received scant attention within co-creation studies. Following the literature review, I outline the gap in the literature and the purpose of the study, and introduce four research questions. After detailing my methodology, I analyze my findings and group antagonist consumers into three distinct types. Then, I give managerial suggestions for dealing with each type of antagonist consumer, and finally, I reflect on the limitations of the study and indicate potential directions for future research.
Thesis advisor
Weijo, Henri
co-creation, consumer engagement, antagonist consumers, yhteisluominen
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