Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Communication Studies (Communication)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Don W. Stacks

Second Committee Member

Cong Li

Third Committee Member

Weiting Tao

Fourth Committee Member

Michael Beatty


To address the growing demand to understand the impact of consumer advocacy and stakeholder behavior in public relations research and practices, this dissertation examined the impact of electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) on consumer responses. It fills the extant eWOM research gap by addressing consumers’ prior informational and attitudinal base before exposure to eWOM, and anticipated interaction (i.e., lurking and posting behavior) powered by the dynamic, interactive nature of social media. A consolidated Alignment-Social Influence (ASI) model was proposed drawing on interdisciplinary insights from public relations, marketing, consumer behavior, and psychology. Two central research questions were answered through an empirical test of seven hypotheses derived from the ASI model: (1) How do consumers respond to eWOM and adjust their company evaluation when the valence (i.e., positive vs. negative) and corporate associations (i.e., corporate ability [CA] vs. corporate social responsibility [CSR]) in eWOM are aligned (vs. nonaligned) with their prior attitude? And, (2) how does anticipated interaction on social media impact consumers’ company evaluation? A 2 (eWOM associations: aligned vs. nonaligned) x 2 (eWOM valence: aligned vs. nonaligned) x 2 (anticipated interaction: lurker vs. poster) full-factorial quasi-experimental design was conducted online with 226 participants from the United States. Results confirmed the ASI model. Findings from three-way interactions showed that when having positive prior CA associations with the company, lurkers who were exposed to negative eWOM about CA (i.e., aligned associations) had greater downward attitude shift and lower final company evaluation than lurkers who were exposed to negative eWOM about CSR (i.e., nonaligned associations); and such effect was fully mediated by the perceived diagnosticity of eWOM. However, posters who were exposed to negative eWOM about CA (i.e., aligned associations) had less downward attitude shift and less negative final company evaluations than lurkers. Such difference was explained by the selective processing of counter-attitudinal eWOM information and resistance to persuasion from posters when a social threat was perceived. In contrast to the disruptive effect of negative eWOM, positive eWOM helped maintain prior positive attitude but only led to minimal upward attitude shift in company evaluation. The ASI model renders important implications for public relations theory and practices, especially for social media-related measurement and strategies. The model also expands the boundary of public relations through its interdisciplinary theoretical implications.


electronic word-of-mouth; public relations; social media; corporate social responsibility; corporate ability; social influence