Thanks to Frank Walton of RFBinder for his contributions to this post. He and I had dinner after the IPRRC wrapped up and his take was that it was the research on crisis communications was perhaps the most important of the conference. He summarized his findings for me in an email and I've taken the liberty to borrow heavily from his observations.
- A study by David Remund, a doctoral student at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill entitled "Crisis of Confidence: News Coverage of America's Largest Banks During the 2008 Financial Crisis, " examined the media releases and the media coverage of the major financial services companies three months before and three months after the financial crash (roughly late Sept 2008). Remund did a content analysis of the media releases for the kinds of messages typically recommended for a company in crisis. He then did content analysis of the media coverage. What he found was that the standard crisis messages and "doing the right thing" just doesn't work any more, at least when you're dealing with an industry (as opposed to a company) . The resulting new hypothesis is that there may be a different set of rules for risk mitigation and crisis management in an industry/economic crisis in distinction from a crisis affecting one company (Tylenol).
- A study by Bokyung Kim and Joonghwa Lee from the University of Missouri (graduate students from South Korea) entitled " Blogs vs. Online Newspapers: Analyzing Different Emotions and Perceptions of Crisis Responsibilty Displayed Online in the Samsung Oil Spill. Lee and Kim's study contrasted how online versions of mainstream media covered a corporate crisis (Samsung oil tanker spill) to how bloggers covered the same crisis. Results of the content analysis of the online versions of the MSM newspapers and the independent bloggers shows that the MSM focused on the economic and social impact, was less emotional, and gave at least some attention and coverage to Samsung's apologies (standard crisis communications reactions, etc.). The newspapers' attention to the crisis also diminished after a short period of time.
In contrast, bloggers tended not to report at all on Samsung's apologies (standard crisis communications reactions) and even claimed Samsung denied responsibility and made excuses that, in reality, it had not. Also, the trajectory of intensity of anger and duration of coverage for the bloggers actually increased over time. All this suggests that we need to rethink "the rules" for corporate response to a crisis, given the changing news cycle, the presence of bloggers and other advocates, and proliferation of news outlets.
- A study by Joon Lim of Middle Tennessee University and Sung-Un Yang and Minjeong Kang of Syracuse University (graduate students from China) entitled "Mitigating Negative Publicity with Corporate Social Responsibility Campaigns: A Study of Self-Referencing" looked at how various corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs affect audiences' responses to media coverage of a damaging corporate event/crisis. They argue that audiences are much more likely to go easy on the corporation if its CSR program is one in which the corporation and its stakeholders have a joint stake and participation in the CSR activity. If the corporation's CSR is essentially distributing money (no matter how deserving the recipient or how large the amounts), audiences were much more critical of the corporation during a crisis. But if the corporation' s CSR has engagement / participation of the stakeholders - they do something together (think back to the Glad Bag-a-Thons; think about the new Pepsi initiative) - then the audiences are much less critical of the corporation as it faces a crisis. A corporation is potentially better if it has invested in engagement/relationships/partnerships.
There were several other crisis communications studies that I think are worth noting.
- Of course I was going to pay attention to Tim Coombs
and Sherry Holladay's
latest study, since they've never failed to intrigue me. This year they analyzed Amazon's Kindle crisis, when the company removed certain books from their catalog. People who had purchased the book were outraged and took to the blogosphere to vent their frustrations. However, Koombs and Holladay found that the apology given by Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos was exceptionally effective in diffusing customer anger. In fact, they declared Bezos' apology to be close to perfect, so I'll repeat it here: "This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle," he wrote. "Our 'solution' to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission." While acknowledging that it should have been delivered sooner, it resulted in an amazing level of customer acceptance, according to Koombs and Holloway.
- The second was a study titled "Reactions to professional athletes: An empirical study by Tomasz A Fediuk, Wesley Lind, Benjamin Kotenberg and Timothy Schlosser all of Illinois State University. The surveed 203 people to determine if the impact of an apology and accepting repsonsiblity has any impact on reutation damage, support intents and puncishment expectations when the subject of the crisis is a professional athlete. As it turns out, when athletes accept responsibility and apology they suffer less reputation damage and enjoy higher support from fans than athletes who do not accept responsibility. However, the study also showed that just because an athlete apologies, doesn't mean that he or she should escape punishment. Also interesting was that the researchers separated athletes from non-athletes and found that while athletes viewed ssteroid use as less severe than non-atheletes, the two groups did not differ in other perceptions. The greatest predictor of reputation damage, support intentions and punishexpectionas was the perception of the severity of the officence. Tiger, are you liste