Social Science of Social Media Research Center

How publics respond to crisis communication strategies: The interplay of information form and source

Liu, Brooke Fisher; Austin, Lucinda; & Jin, Yan (2011). How publics respond to crisis communication strategies: The interplay of information form and source. Public Relations Review, 37(4), 345-353.

Through an experiment with 162 college students this study empirically evaluates an emerging communication model: the social-mediated crisis communication model (SMCC). As part of a series of studies testing the SMCC model, this study focuses on two of the SMCC model’s components: the effects of crisis information form (traditional media, social media, and word-of-mouth) and source (third party and organization) on publics’ acceptance of crisis response strategies and publics’ crisis emotions. The findings clearly indicate the importance of strategically matching crisis information form and source when organizations respond to crises. In addition, the selection of crisis information form and source affects publics’ attribution independent and dependent emotions.

Method

Experimental design with 162 university students in May 2010

Key Findings

1)      These findings support some organizations’ reticence to fully embrace social media when responding to crises given that publics in this study were most likely to accept crisis responses distributed via traditional media, followed by social media, and then word-of-mouth.

2)      Publics were more likely to accept defensive, supportive, and evasive crisis responses via traditional media than via social media and word-of-mouth.

3)      Publics were more likely to accept organization’s defensive and evasive crisis responses when they learn about crisis information from the organization experiencing the crisis.

4)      Publics were most likely to accept organization’s supportive responses when they learn about crisis information from a third party.

5)      When publics first heard about the crisis through traditional media and from the organization, they were least likely to feel external attribution dependent crisis emotions.

6)      It appears social media might play a more important role in later crisis stages.

Implications for Practice

This study shows the importance of using traditional media, social media and word of mouth during a crisis. Based on these findings, an organization should not focus most of their efforts on social media since traditional media was found to lead to greater acceptance of the message and lower emotional responses.

Article Location

The full article is available for purchase at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811111000956

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