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Lecture | Sociolinguistics Series

How do we perceive the form and content of Twitter complaints? Combined insights from questionnaires and psychophysiology

Friday 15 October 2021
Sociolinguistics & Discourse Studies Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Social media are frequently used by customers to voice their dissatisfaction with a product or a service. This entails, for companies, a risk of negative emotional contagion in the sense that the negativity of a particular comment can spread to the whole community and damage the company’s reputation and profits. To address this issue, most companies engage in “webcare” and hire customer service agents to respond to consumers’ concerns. These developments have incited scholars in the field of discourse and linguistic pragmatics to investigate companies’ responses to customer complaints. This has been done by comparing different languages and different platforms and/or by exploring complaints from an (im)politeness and rapport management perspective. However, to date, experimental evidence relevant to this topic is scarce. Crucially, we do not know how different expressions of customer dissatisfaction influence other customers’ perception of this feedback. I believe it is necessary to pursue this line of research to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of negative emotional contagion online. In this talk, I report on joint work with Sofie Decock and Ilse Depraetere consisting in 1) the linguistic analysis of a sample of complaints published on the Twitter pages of the French and Belgian railway companies, 2) questionnaire studies probing into face-threat and (im)politeness assessments in Twitter complaints. I also discuss the results of a psychophysiological study where I collected eye movement, heart rate variability, and skin conductance data to document readers’ emotional responses to Twitter complaints.

Sociolinguistcs website

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