Discursive struggle in online media - Perspectives on organization–consumer interaction

Ella Lillqvist

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


While online media have been perceived to empower consumers to have more influence in relation to organizations, organizations also use these media in manipulative ways. In this dissertation, this dynamic is conceptualized as discursive struggle. The dissertation takes a critical and constructionist perspective and draws on a set of "dialogical"—interactional and contextual—theories of communication (such as Bakhtin's dialogism and symbolic interactionism) to examine organization–consumer interaction in social media. The aim of the dissertation is to understand the discursive processes and cultural and technological affordances involved in the discursive struggle on social media. These issues are examined in four essays. Essay 1 explores how organizations attempt to gain an advantage by discursively managing impressions of themselves and others in online communication. Essay 2 focuses on the presence of divergent voices and the control or silencing of those voices by organizations as a process in the discursive struggle. Essay 3 focuses on how organizations and their promotional communication are (de)legitimated by social media users; attention is therefore shifted to the discursive power that consumers have over organizations. Finally, essay 4 takes a different perspective to both organizations and discursive struggle and illustrates how uniform and insider-oriented groups can be formed through discursive means, which can lead to a suspension of discursive struggle. The main method used is detailed (micro-level) discourse analysis. Textual data were collected from corporate Facebook pages (essays 1 and 2), Reddit (essay 3) and YouTube (essay 4). In addition, netnography (a form of online ethnography) and semi-structured interviews were used to provide contextualizing data. The findings of this dissertation elucidate, on the one hand, manipulative communicative processes employed by organizations; these include preventing or removing unwanted consumer contributions (coercion), diverting attention from uncomfortable topics (diversion), and convincing people to stop voicing criticism (persuasion). Manipulative processes also include concealing either the purpose or the author of promotional communication (misrepresentation) and construction of like-minded "fan" groups (interpellation). On the other hand, consumers use resistant communicative processes such as creative stretching or circumventing unequal affordances of the media, carnivalization and critical evaluation. Within organizational communication, this dissertation contributes to a better understanding, first, of organizations' involvement in discursive struggles as enabled by the current social media environment, and second, of the role of organizational outsiders, such as consumers, in organizational communication.
Translated title of the contributionDiskurssikamppailua verkossa: Näkökulmia organisaatioiden ja kuluttajien väliseen vuorovaikutukseen
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Louhiala-Salminen, Leena, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6745-2
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6746-9
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • organizational communication
  • discourse
  • interaction
  • dialogue
  • social media
  • online media


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