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.

In: Oxford Bibliographies in Communication (ed. Patricia Moy), https://doi.org/10.1093/OBO/9780199756841-0238