by Katie Delahaye Paine
After listening to 108 papers in three days, the fact that I can remember anything at all from the most recent International Public Relations Research Conference is pretty astounding. Which is another way of saying that the research that we highlight here in The Measurement Standard really stood out from the rest. Not necessarily because of the quality of the data, but because it was so relevant to the profession. (See also "Katie Paine's 3 Favorite Social Media Research Papers from IPRRC 2013")
Let's start with crisis management. If you’ve followed our prior IPRRC wrap-ups (see, for instance, "Katie Paine's Favorite Papers From IPRRC 2012"), you’ll know that there are always a plethora of papers on crisis management. What emerged this year, however, were a number of new insights that all communicators should keep in mind. Here are five of them:
#1. Customers who post angry or negative comments about companies are doing it mostly to protect themselves and their friends.
According to research presented by Ming-Yi Wu of Gallup, electronic word-of-mouth complaints are motivated more by a desire to protect others from suffering bad experiences than to get discounts or deals. When asked what kind of response they wanted, 72% of complaining customers said that the most effective response would be to change company policy, while only 38% said that a discount on a future purchase would be a good outcome.
#2. Those who apologize best suffer least.
A study by Erica Johnson at the University of Missouri School of Journalism examined how Victoria's Secret used Facebook to apologize for perceived racist stereotyping in a fashion show. The rapidity and perceived authenticity of its apology, combined with the immediate recall of the ad, lead to greater fan involvement and emotional understanding of the problem. The authors concluded that that this type of apology is an acceptable form of crisis response in social media. Ironically, there were a number of fans who went to Facebook to try to figure out what the company was apologizing for.
#3. People feel betrayed when corporations act out of character.
Shannon Bowen, Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina, and Diana C. Sesson, a PhD student at USC, studied how consumers in the UK responded to the news that Starbucks was a company that hadn’t paid taxes. They found that, after hearing about their failure to be taxed, consumers were more likely to see the coffee giant as inauthentic, dishonest, and lacking in transparency. Other news about the economy and belt tightening contributed to and amplified the negative messages about Starbucks in the UK. However, its global corporate reputation for doing good and benefiting the community helped mitigate the worst of the criticism. Starbucks gained the benefit of the doubt and time to explain itself in part due to the honesty with which it apologized and its reputation for good intent.
#4. Product performance plays a key role in crisis mitigation.
A complex experiment by Weiting Tau and Haishi Cui of the University of Florida showed that product association -- i.e., the degree to which consumers have experience with a product and have experienced the company’s ability to deliver as promised -- had a demonstrable impact on perceptions. When participants in the experiment received a message about the company’s abilities first and then saw information about its CSR efforts they were more likely to purchase a product than if they saw the CSR message alone.
#5. It's best to apologize in the same channel in which a problem arose.
Desideria Cempaka Wijaya Murti, of the University of Atma Jaya Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and Colorado State University, authored a fascinating analysis of FedEx’s response to the highly viewed YouTube video of its delivery man tossing a computer monitor onto a customer’s lawn. Her research found that FedEx's strategy of using YouTube to reply to the incident was highly effective. She also found that FedEx’ use of mortification strategy was effective. The CEO said, “I am upset and embarrassed for our customer. Please accept our apology, we will use this incident to be an even better service provider, this goes against all FedEx values.”
She recommends considering the visual aspect of a crisis when you are deciding upon your response strategy. She also found that creating distance with the employee while at the same time answering all questions about ethical standards was an effective strategy.
Katie Delahaye Paine is Chairman, KDPaine & Partners, (a Salience Insight company), and Chief Marketing Officer of News Group International. KDP&P delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements. Katie and Beth Kanter are authors of the book “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit,” to be published this year by Wiley.
The Measurement Standard is a publication of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine, Chairman of KDPaine & Partners, will be glad to talk with you about measurement for your organization.