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76

STORY TELLER
02/2011 COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR
5
hc 8P oil spill and thc Toy
ota rccall crisis oncc again
documcnt that organisational
criscs posc a major thrcat to
brands. Criscs lrcqucntly lcad
to ncgativc wordolmouth,
which in turn may rcsult in substantial nnancial losscs
lor corporations. An important but challcnging task ol
corporatc communication dcpartmcnts is timcly and adc
quatc rcaction whcn a crisis occurs. icrcnt stakcholdcr
groups such as consumcrs, invcstors, political actors or
thc gcncral public havc dicrcnt intcrcsts in thc corpora
tion, which makcs it hard to rcact in an adcquatc manncr.
!ncrcasingly, organisational criscs and corporatc intcrvcn
tions takc placc in social mcdia such as Twittcr, Faccbook
or wcblogs, lacing brands with ncw choiccs about what to
say, whcrc to say it and how to say it.
WHA7 70 SA: Sl7UA7l0NAL ClSlS C0MMUNl-
CA7l0N Rcscarch on crisis communication has mainly
locuscd on thc qucstion ol what to say during an organi
sational crisis and has typically comparcd thc cccts ol
dicrcnt crisis communication stratcgics on consumcrs
or, morc gcncrally, thc public. c most popular ap
Soc|o| med|o represent 5oth o
coto|,st [or ond weopon ogo|nst
5rond cr|ses. Commun|cotors shou|d
know the r|ght opprooch to toke
5, Peter Kerkho[, lr|eder|ke Schu|tz
ond Sono Utz
HOW TO
CHOOSE
THE RIGHT
WEAPON
STORY TELLER
proach is thc so callcd 'situational
crisis communication thcory', or
SCCT (as lormulatcd by V.T.
Coombs in "Protccting rganisa
tion Rcputation uring a Crisis",
Corporatc Rcputation Rcvicw,
10(3), 2007). SCCT distinguishcs
scvcral catcgorics ol criscs, such as
accidcntal or intcntional criscs, and
argucs that thc succcss ol a crisis
rcsponsc stratcgy (c.g., apologis
ing, showing sympathy, or provid
ing inlormation) dcpcnds on thc
typc ol criscs and pcrccivcd crisis
rcsponsibility. For cxamplc, in casc
ol a crisis lor which thc organisa
tion has littlc rcsponsibility (c.g.
canccllation ol ights duc to thc ash
cloud), inlorming thc public might
bc cnough.
c dangcr ol brands bcing dam
agcd by a crisis has incrcascd with
thc rcccnt risc ol social mcdia. So
cial mcdia posc a scrious challcngc
77
STORY TELLER
02/2011 COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR
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7he donger o[ 5ronds 5e|ng domoged 5, o cr|s|s
hos |ncreosed w|th the recent r|se o[ soc|o| med|o.
writing a prcss rclcasc. Vhcrcas journalists can bc cx
pcctcd to locus on thc substancc ol a crisis rcsponsc,
lor thc largcr audicncc thc way a rcsponsc is lormulatcd
and thc mcdium through which thc mcssagc is dclivcrcd
may acct thcir immcdiatc rcactions. 8clow wc prcscnt
cvidcncc lrom two studics that strongly suggcst that thc
cccts ol 'whcrc' and 'how' to communicatc may bc as
powcrlul as thc ccct ol 'what' companics say as a rc
sponsc to an organisational crisis.
WHLL 70 SA l7: 7HL CH0lCL 0l MLulA
CHANNLL MA77LS !n "!s thc mcdium thc mcssagc:
Pcrccptions ol and rcactions to crisis communication via
twittcr, blogs and traditional mcdia" (Public Rclations
Rcvicw, 37(1), 2011), F. Schultz, S. Utz and A. Gritz
cxamincd whcthcr or not it mattcrs which channcls arc
uscd to sprcad crisis rcsponscs by comparing thc cccts
ol various crisis rcsponsc stratcgics (apology, sympathy,
inlormation) scnt through dicrcnt mcdia channcls (on
linc ncwspapcr, blog, or Twittcr). Using an cxpcrimcntal
dcsign, rcspondcnts rcad a nctitious rcport about a major
crisis ol an automotivc conccrn, and rcccivcd cithcr an on
linc ncwspapcr articlc, an organisational blog or a twcct,
all ol which containcd a crisis rcsponsc. (To dcal with thc
problcm that mcssagcs in twccts arc much shortcr, thc
twcct containcd a link, and participants who clickcd on
thc link wcrc dircctcd to thc blog.)
Altcr bcing cxposcd to onc ol thc thrcc dicrcnt rc
sponscs in onc ol thrcc dicrcnt mcdia channcls, par
ticipants wcrc askcd to rcport thc pcrccivcd organisa
tional rcputation, thcir bchavioural intcntions rcgarding
thc brand (ncgativc wordolmouth, boycott), and thcir
socallcd 'sccondary crisis communication' intcntions:
thc intcntions ol thc rcspondcnts to sharc thc corporatc
mcssagc (lorward, rctwcct, show to othcrs), and to com
municatc in rcsponsc to this mcssagc (rcply, writc a com
mcnt or a lcttcr to thc cditor).
c rcsults showcd that thc mcdium mattcrcd morc
than thc mcssagc: thcrc wcrc almost no dicrcnccs bc
twccn thc crisis rcsponsc stratcgics, but thcrc wcrc clcar
mcdium cccts. Rcspondcnts who rcad thc twcct wcrc
lcss likcly to boycott thc organisation than rcspondcnts
who rcad a blog or a ncwspapcr articlc. For rcspondcnts
to corporatc communication dcpart
mcnts bccausc ol thc high spccd ol
inlormation translcr, and thc intcr
activity and thc public charactcr ol
both thc consumcrs' and corporatc
rcsponscs. At thc samc timc, so
cial mcdia prcscnt opportunitics to
corporations. !n traditional mcdia
cnvironmcnts, corporations nccd to
build mcdia rclations with journal
ists in ordcr to inlorm thc public
and rcspond to critical conccrns. !n
social mcdia cnvironmcnts, organi
sations can communicatc dircctly
with thcir stakcholdcrs. crclorc
communication dcpartmcnts in
crcasingly do not only issuc classic
prcss rclcascs, but usc social mcdia
such as Faccbook, organisational
blogs or Twittcr to communicatc
with thcir stakcholdcrs (as both 8P
and Toyota did rcccntly). Howcvcr,
thc art ol communicating in social
mcdia is dicrcnt lrom thc art ol
78
STORY TELLER
02/2011 COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR
who rcccivcd thc twcct and clickcd on thc includcd link to
thc blog post thc pcrccivcd rcputation ol thc organisation
was highcst. A rcason might bc that Twittcr is associatcd
with opcn and dialogic communication, and thcrcby sig
nals corporatc opcnncss to thc public's conccrns and thc
willingncss to solvc thc problcm at hand.
c communication stratcgy (inlormation, apology,
ctc.) acctcd thc willingncss to participatc in a boycott
and sprcad ncgativc wordolmouth. !n contrast to prc
dictions lrom carlicr crisis communication thcorics, thc
communication stratcgy to inlorm was much morc suc
ccsslul than apologising or showing sympathy with thc
victims. is dicrcncc was most pronounccd in thc
Twittcr cxamplc, probably bccausc thc short twccts clcar
ly summariscd thc main mcssagc.
!ntcrcstingly, thc participants (including lrcqucnt
Twittcr uscrs) wcrc morc likcly to communicatc (sharc,
rcact on) about ncwspapcr articlcs than about blogs and
twccts. vcrall, Twittcr uscrs wcrc morc likcly to sharc a
corporatc rcsponsc with othcrs.
Takcn togcthcr, this study shows that whcrc to rcspond
mattcrs as strongly as what to say. !n that scnsc, social
mcdia rcprcscnt a promising channcl to usc in ordcr
to protcct a brand lrom bcing damagcd. !n particular,
rcaching Twittcr uscrs appcars to bc bcncncial in timcs ol
crisis: gctting Twittcr uscrs on your sidc may, in thc long
run, lcad to morc positivc brand cvaluations in thc social
mcdia landscapc.
H0W 70 SA l7: 7HL lMP07ANCL 0l A HU-
MAN \0lCL Rcccntly, Tom Kcllchcr comparcd thc
cccts ol pcrsonal lorms ol organisational communica
tion, such as blogs, to morc impcrsonal lorms ol com
munication, such as corporatc wcbsitcs ("Convcrsational
voicc, communicatcd commitmcnt, and public rclations
outcomcs in intcractivc onlinc communication", ]ournal
ol Communication, 59, 2009). Rcspondcnts who rcad
mcssagcs on a corporatc blog cxpcricnccd thc company's
communications as morc human comparcd to consumcrs
rcading inlormation on a corporatc wcbsitc. Morcovcr,
thcy pcrccivcd thc company to bc morc committcd to
maintaining good rclationships with its customcrs. 8oth
cxpcricncing an organisation as human and as committcd
to its customcrs hclpcd to build trust in thc organisation.
c work by Kcllchcr shows thc powcrlul cccts ol
using social mcdia such as blogs to communicatc to thc
public. Howcvcr, thc qucstion is whcthcr choosing a so
cial mcdium to communicatc is sucicnt to bc pcrccivcd
as morc human and as committcd to customcrs. Also, thc

! DOUBLEEDGED SWORD
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uo|cat|oo sovos t|o baoo bost
Cott|oz T.|tto usos oo vou s|oo |s a
b|z oos|t|vo |o tos o ooutat|oo
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u|a|v-s|aoo oo|u
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LXLCU7l\L SUMMA
qucstion is whcthcr thc samc kind
ol cccts ol using social mcdia can
bc cstablishcd whcn a brand is ac
cuscd ol producing laulty products
or ol bcing involvcd in moral trans
grcssions.
Togcthcr, wc rcccntly conductcd
an cxpcrimcnt using a rcccnt scan
dal involving Swcdish rctail cloth
ing company H&M as a starting
point ("Crisis PR in social mcdia:
An cxpcrimcntal study ol thc cl
lccts ol organisational crisis rc
sponscs on Faccbook", papcr to bc
prcscntcd at thc 61st Annual !CA
Conlcrcncc, 8oston, May 2011).
!n thc bcginning ol 2010, a ncws
articlc appcarcd in thc Ncw York
Timcs stating that thc H&M storc
in Manhattan discardcd bags ol
unsold and unworn garmcnts. c
garmcnts wcrc dcstroycd by mak
ing holcs in thcm to prcvcnt thcm
lrom bcing sold clscwhcrc. A lcw
hours latcr, popular Amcrican wc
blog thc Hungton Post lollowcd
thc Ncw York Timcs in rcport
ing about thc casc and thc H&M
Faccbook pagc soon ovcrowcd
with rcactions lrom lans. H&M
rcspondcd on its Faccbook pagc
79
STORY TELLER
02/2011 COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR
pcrsonal rcsponsc rcportcd
lcwcr ncgativc thoughts rc
garding thc brand comparcd
to participants who rcad thc
impcrsonal rcsponsc. !ntcr
cstingly, thc cccts ol thc
tonc ol voicc wcrc strongcst
in thc casc ol dcnial: thc most
positivc rcsults lor thc brand
wcrc obtaincd whcn H&M
dcnicd what happcncd using
a pcrsonal tonc ol voicc.
C0NCLUSl0N Vhcn
challcngcd by a crisis, brands
arc incrcasingly laccd with
thc qucstion ol which mcdia
channcls to usc and how to
rcspond givcn thc choicc ol
channcl at hand. Mcdia choicc
mattcrs, as wc saw in thc nrst
study abovc. Using Twittcr
gavc thc brand an advantagc
(in tcrms ol rcputation) ovcr
using a ncwspapcr articlc or
a blog. Still, thc ncwspapcr
articlc was thc mcdium typc
pcoplc wcrc most likcly to
sharc. c rcsults ol thc scc
ond study show that within
social mcdia, brands com
municating in a human voicc
arc morc likcly to succccd in
protccting thc brand lrom
lurthcr damagc. Combining
thc two studics strongly sug
gcsts using a multichanncl
approach to crisis commu
nication around your brand,
using both traditional prcss
rclcascs and morc inlormal
and human social mcdia mcs
sagcs and intcractions. is is
not to say that substancc docs
not mattcr anymorc, it docs
howcvcr strcss thc importancc
ol making additional choiccs
rcgarding whcrc and how to
communicatc.
in a lormal and corporatc man
ncr, stating "H&M is committcd
to takc rcsponsibility lor how our
opcrations acct both pcoplc and
thc cnvironmcnt. ur policy is to
donatc any damagcd usablc gar
mcnts to charity. Vc'rc currcntly
invcstigating an incidcnt in a NY
storc that is not rcprcscntativc ol
our policy (...)".
c aim ol our cxpcrimcnt was
to cstablish thc cccts ol human
ising this rcsponsc on Faccbook.
Vc craltcd lour Faccbook crisis
rcsponscs by combining a pcrsonal
vcrsus an impcrsonal tonc ol voicc
with two dicrcnt crisis commu
nication stratcgics (dcnial vcrsus
apologics). c pcrsonal mcssagc
was dclivcrcd by a spokcspcrson that
mcntioncd hcr namc and uscd hcr
photograph as a pronlc picturc. c
mcssagc was writtcn using thc nrst
pcrson. c impcrsonal mcssagc was
dclivcrcd by H&M, using thc logo
as a pronlc picturc, and was writ
tcn in thc third pcrson. c rcsults
showcd thc doublccdgcd ccct ol
apologising: apologics lcd to highcr
crcdibility and a morc positivc at
titudc towards thc rcsponsc, but in
crcascd thc pcrccivcd rcsponsibility
ol thc organisation. As cxpcctcd,
wc lound that a pcrsonal tonc ol
voicc did indccd makc participants
pcrccivc thc brand as morc human
and morc committcd to its custom
crs. Also, participants who wrotc
down thcir immcdiatc thoughts al
tcr rcading thc ncws articlc and thc |
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When cho||enged 5, o cr|s|s, 5ronds


ore |ncreos|ng|, [oced w|th the ouest|on
o[ wh|ch med|o chonne|s to use ond how
to respond g|ven the cho|ce o[ chonne|s ot
hond.
0ROF 0ETER +ERKHOF
V| |o|vos|tv. /stooa
0ETER +ERKHOF IS ASSOCIATE
PROFESSOR AND CHAIR OF THE DE
PARTMENT OF #OMMUNICATION
3CIENCE AT 65 5NIVERSITY !M
STERDAM AND HOLDS A SPECIAL
CHAIR IN CUSTOMER MEDIA
0ROF &RIEDERIKE 3CHULTZ
V| |o|vos|tv. /stooa
&RIEDERIKE 3CHULTZ IS ASSISTANT
PROFESSOR OF CORPORATE COMMU
NICATION AND NEW MEDIA 3HE
HAS WORKED AS RESEARCHER AS
SISTANT AND LECTURER AT SEVERAL
%UROPEAN UNIVERSITIES
0ROF 3ONJA 5TZ
V| |o|vos|tv. /stooa
3ONJA 5TZ IS AN ASSISTANT PRO
FESSOR AT THE DEPARTMENT OF
COMMUNICATION SCIENCE 65
5NIVERSITY !MSTERDAM 3HE
COEDITED THE BOOK -EDIATED
)NTERPERSONAL #OMMUNICATION