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Crisis communication is the communication between the organization and the public prior to, during and after the crisis, with the aim of minimizing the damage done to the image of the organization as a result of the crisis. Good crisis communication can even improve the situation of the company post-crisis. Hence it is critical that crisis communication is well planned and thought out. Crisis communications must enact an appearance of control in the face of high uncertainty, as well as establishing and maintaining open and accurate communication channels with its audience.
Open and accurate disclosures are necessary, even if they are initially damaging, as these might have a favorable impact on the company. Technologically mediated communication, which is communications that takes place between human beings via the instrumentality of computers, allows for such communication to take place near-instantaneously and efficiently, with different approaches being taken for different sub-groups of its target audience.
There are 3 sub-groups here – employees, victims and the general public.
It is critically important that crisis communication conveys the 5 qualities of credibility, efficacy, commitment, responsibility and resolve. These qualities, if communicated properly, will allow the company to navigate the crisis with the trust and confidence of its audience, and put it in a better position post-crisis. Project Management in Information systems 1. Introduction 1. 1. Objectives and Scope
The purpose of this paper is to explore, analyze and then evaluate the role of cotemporary technologically mediated communication strategies in communicating crisis and the pertinent information to the necessary audience, in an adequately efficient and timely manner.
The paper will first discuss the nature of crisis and define their typology. It will then move on to the role, importance and benefit of proper and efficient means of crisis communication in the management of crisis.
The major strategies of technologically mediated communications will then be outlined and discussed, with relevancy to today’s age of globalization, porous borders and instant communication 2. Crisis and Communication 2. 1. Crisis Fearn-Banks(1996) defines a crisis as: “a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome affecting an organization, company, or industry, as well as its public, products, services or good name. It interrupts normal business transactions and can sometimes threaten the existence of the organization. ” The focus here should be on “a potentially negative outcome affecting an organization…..
good name”. This is the domain of crisis communications, which is the communication between the organization and the public prior to, during and after the crisis. The role of crisis communication is to minimize the damage done to the image of the organization, in other words, mitigating the “potentially negative outcome affecting an organization…. good name”. Furthermore, effective crisis communication has the power to eliminate a crisis or reduce the fallout from it, or even improve the position of the organization after the crisis, turning it into a good thing.
2. 2. Crisis Typologies There are many various crisis typologies that are generally used. The more common and popular ones will be briefly outlined in this section. Firstly, crisis can be classified according to their nature – Meyers (1989) identifies 9 different crisis of different business nature, such as crisis in public perception, sudden market shifts, product failures, finances, industrial regulations, hostile takeovers, adverse international events, regulations and deregulations, and top-management succession.
Crisis can also be differentiated by their underlying structural similarities according to Mitroff (1988) – breakdown or defects in products, equipment or employees; external economic attacks such as extortion or bribery; external information attacks such as counterfeiting and copyright infringements, etc. Crisis might also be classified more generally as being strategic, performance or liquidity related according to Muller (1985).
A strategic crisis can be viewed as a marketplace failure, a performance crisis as when an organization consistently fails to meet its goals, and a liquidity crisis as when a firm can no longer meet its obligations. 2. 3. Crisis Communication What exactly is crisis communications? Heath (1994) defines crisis communication as the enactment of control in the face of high uncertainty in an effort to win external audiences’ confidence, in ways that are ethical. This is essential to maintain or restore the image, reputation and public perception of an organization in the face of a crisis.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill crisis admirably demonstrated how ineffective crisis communication can further exacerbate the damage of a crisis. Influencing public perception of the organization during and after a crisis, especially with respect to maintaining the present positive aspects of an organization’s image, is then the main purpose of crisis communication. (Sturges, 1994) Towards this end, it is critically important that organization establish and maintain open and accurate communication channels with external constituents (Wilcox, Ault and Agee, 1986).
Shrivastava et al (1988) states that insufficient and inaccurate information may give rise to myths, false alarms, and heighten perceptions of harm. Hence open and accurate disclosures are necessary, even if they are initially damaging, as they reduce the risk of rumors, speculations, unintended leaks, extensive media coverage and the perception of dishonesty. In fact, Shrivastava suggests that responses which are candid, prompt, honest and complete may have a favorable impact on the reputation and image of the organization.
2. 4. Crisis Audience The audience of a crisis is wide and diverse – there are many affected parties and victims who crisis communications need to reach to effectively achieve its goals. McQuail (2005) proposes four different models of the audience. First is a unified model where the media output and audience is totally homogenous. Second is a pluralistic model where the audience have more choices but most of the time, choose the same channels (of communication).
Third is a center-periphery model where the audience has segmented itself into several micro-audiences, even if there is a media center where the elitist societal discourse is taking place. Finally there is a totally fragmented model where there is no center, only different micro-audiences with limited relations or contact between them. For the purpose of this paper, the author suggests that the pluralistic model most closely resembles the collective audience that crisis communication should be targeted at.
It is true that in this day and age, the availability and choice of communication medium is diverse and wide, ranging from the traditional media such as the newspaper and television news, to the new and technologically inclined such as various applications of the Internet. The paper will largely focus on 3 major sub-groups of the audience – employees of the organization where the crisis has happened, the victims of the crisis as well as their relation, and the general public.
Each audience sub-group has different needs and provide different goals for crisis communications, which will be discussed later at greater length. 3. Technologically Mediated Communication 3. 1. What is Technologically Mediated Communications? Technologically Mediated Communications, more commonly referred to and known as computer mediated communications, refers to any human communication achieved through, or with the help of, computer technology. Herring (1996) further states that computer mediated communications is communications that takes place between human beings via the instrumentality of computers.
And as Haythornthwaite (2005) describes it, the combined use of computer-mediated communication and information technologies present new challenges in work practice, including adopting new forms of interpersonal interaction, new information exchange practices and new timings of work interaction. Finally, Poster (1995) separates Technologically Mediated Communications into 2 different ages, or epochs – the “broadcasting” age marked by its linear sequence, and the “two-way decentralized communication” marked by its digital interface. 4. Five Points of Communication
The relevant form of technologically mediated communications in our context of crisis communication will be through the use of the Internet to communicate in various forms, from means such as emails to bulletin boards to instant messaging. This is because the Internet offers a quick and potentially effective means to address psychological, social-political and technological-structural issues in managing crisis. (Segars, 2003) An example is how Ford and Firestone both used the Internet to provide information and top management’s view on how the crisis would be addressed, and how it would impact each company.
The use of digital media through the Internet provided the management with a key mechanism for the channeling of information. 4. 1. Effective Strategic Communication Segars (2003) suggests five points of communication that tend to be present in effective crisis communication via the Internet, which are usually present in the most favorably reviewed accounts of corporate crises. These five points of communication can be seen as forming a framework for effective strategic communication through digital media in times of crises.
They are the attributes of credibility, efficacy, responsibility, resolve and commitment, and they can be easily and effectively communicated to all audience sub-groups through the Internet. 4. 2. Credibility Segears (2003) found that articulating corporate strategy can help to enhance the view of key stakeholders regarding the firm’s overall strategy and strategic planning capability, as communications from senior management creates a sense of strategic credibility.
The content of such communication can validate quantitative and qualitative outcomes that might result from an organizational crisis, and can create or enhance the image of senior management as a sincere and accurate interpreter of crisis, which in turn indicates to observers that the company is operationally sound and stable. This is particularly important in crisis communication which takes in adverse situations, where honesty and candor are seen as essential elements of credible information. Observers must perceive the strategic direction as focused and realistic for this credibility to be established as well.
The best situation is when the company is willing to discuss operating problems in realistic terms. All these help to contain rumors and end speculation, which are highly damaging and usually occur when a crisis occurs. Communication that is credible will eliminate such a threat. An example is that of the accounting firm Andersen in the wake of the Enron scandal, whose managers communicated a message that a few renegade managers were responsible for the fiasco. This message did not create the sense of rationality essential to credibility, and the backlash was worse than it could have been if it’s communications were more credible.
(Segears, 2003). 4. 3. Efficacy The appearance of efficacy must be communicated to the audiences of the company, to create an image of control, regardless of its validity. The management has to convince its audience that it not only does direct organization activities, but will also continue to do so. This can be communicated through the association of specific managerial activities to positive outcomes that have occurred, which reinforces the perceived competency of management in understanding factors affecting the organization, as well as it’s responsiveness to changing conditions. (Segears, 2003)
This helps to instill trust in the company’s audience in a crisis that the management will be able to handle the crisis effectively and efficiently, in a timely and positive manner, which will reduce the harm caused by the crisis. For example, throughout Microsoft anti-trust litigation crisis, the management continually communicated messages that characterized the firm and its management as strong and in control. This helped to retain investor and public trust in it’s efficacy. 4. 4. Commitment Adopting and implementing customer commitment strategies, and then communicating this effectively, has two benefits.
Firstly, customers, both existing and prospective, will know that the company has made a verbal commitment to its customers. Secondly, employees can pass on the message that the management is expressing it’s commitment to its customers. This builds both trust and assurance, which contains or even negates the negative fall out that can be the dire consequence of a crisis. (Segears, 2003). Boeing demonstrated the effective communication of commitment in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
It communicated messages based around the concept of connecting people through production of aircrafts and services, which translated into the concept of people as the ultimate customers and beneficiaries of products. (Segears, 2003). 4. 5. Responsibility Corporate responsibility messages, done correctly, can shape a positive image of a company’s integrity, informing it’s audiences about the organization concern for social or environmental issues. This sends signals to observers about the value structure and ethics of the organization.
A failure to do as such properly can create an atmosphere of skepticism and cynicism among its audience due to the implication of lower standards of ethics and values, increasing the chance of litigation in the aftermath of a crisis. (Segears, 2003) 4. 6. Resolve Communicating resolve requires that the management of a company articulates a course of action that is based on sound reasoning, a deep understanding of competitive dynamics and is achievable. Tenacity to stay the course in rebuilding the company to a favorable pre-crisis state, recovering growth and avoiding other similar crises, must also be communicated efficiently.
This is important in order to rally the support of the audience during the crisis. (Segears, 2003) 5. The Internet and Crisis Communication As discussed earlier, crisis communication should convey the five points and attributes outlined, and this can be efficiently and timely done using the Internet. We now look at how these qualities can be communicated through the Internet to the 3 different audience sub-groups defined earlier – employees of the company, victims of the crisis and their relations, and the general public. 5. 1. Employees
These qualities can be communicated most effectively to the employees through the use of email and bulletin boards. Emails are effective as they can be targeted specifically to the employees and hence can contain sensitive information that is relevant to dealing with the crisis but not intended for the eyes of the public. Email is also quick and fast and all employees should have access to it. Furthermore, a private dialogue can be held via email with each individual in question, further strengthening trust between the employee and the company.
A bulletin board that exists on the company Intranet and is accessible only by authorized employees is also an effective means of communicating these qualities to the employees. A bulletin board can be regarded as an asynchronous communication tool allowing users to post messages, files and information in a central area, which can then be accessed and made use of by other members of the bulletin board. As they allow public discussion and debate to be held among the target audience, this helps to boost the image of transparency and honesty among the employees and build credibility.
5. 2. Victims These qualities can be communicated most effectively to the victims through the use of email and a public web blog. Firstly, the rationale behind the use of email is the same as in the case of communicating with employees. It is fast and efficient, it can be used to relay private and potentially harmful information that should not be available to the general public, and private dialogues can be held with each party via email, reinforcing the qualifies of trust, commitment and credibility.
A web blog can be viewed as an asynchronous communication tool that acts as an online space for publishing information of interest to the public. They allow readers to comment on posts and these comments are attached to the related post. One of the great strengths of web logs is the ease of linking. If you comment on an article on the web, it is easy to link directly to it. This makes it much easier for the reader to follow up references and research matters in greater depth. It also allows you to comment on items you disagree with and link to the original so that the reader may make up his or her mind.
This allows the reader to interact with the bibliography, rather than the bibliography merely being something at the end of the article. This makes blogs suitable for sharing crisis information with the victims and updating them promptly in a public medium beside email updates. Furthermore, feedback can be gathered from the victims through the comments to posts on the web blog, and discussions can be held through the comment system on the web blog as well. It is also easily accessible and user friendly. 5. 3. General Public
For the general public, the best option is to create a central web blog and use only that to communicate with them on the Internet. This is because a web blog, by virtue of its existence, is open and readily accessible by all who have access to the Internet. As long as it’s URL address is made widely available and known, it can be a very effective tool of crisis communication to the general public as well as a PR tool as long as the communications on the web blog is carefully managed to reflect and convey the 5 points discussed above.
6. Conclusion The most important part about crisis communication is the message and image that this communication conveys to its audience. Using the Internet only makes it possible for the channel of this communication to be tailored according to the audience need’s and purpose. As most form of Internet communication is also instantaneous, it is also efficient at relaying critical information in a timely manner, which can be important in navigating the stormy waters of a crisis.
Both private and public means of communication like emails or web blogs can be employed to good use, and to hold closed or open dialogues to reassure the audience as well as foster feelings of trust and credibility, responsibility and control. Most importantly, Internet communication allows the five points to be conveyed to the audience in an immediate and forceful manner, so that speculation and rumors cannot take hold and the audience will have ready access to a flow of information, giving the appearance of transparency.
Most critical of all is that the communication should at all times convey the 5 points discussed above. Reference List Fearn-Banks, K. (1996). Crisis Communication: A Casebook Approach. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Haythornthwaite, Caroline. (2005) ‘Introduction: Computer-Mediated Collaborative Practices ‘, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 10 (4). Heath, R. L. (1994). Management of corporate communications: From interpersonal contacts to external affairs. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawerence Erlbaum. Herring, S. C. (1996).
Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Kersten, A. (2005), ‘Crisis as Usual: Organizational Dysfunction and Public Relations’, Public Relations Review, Volume 31, Number 4, pp. 544–549. Meyers, G. C. (1986) When it hits the fan: Managing the nine crises of business. New York: Mentor. Mitroff, I. (1988). ‘Crisis management: cutting through the confusion’. Sloan Management Review, Winter, 15-20. McQuail, D. (2005), McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory (5th edition), Sage,
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