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September 4, 2013

Facebook Use By Organizations During Crises Helps Public Image, MU Study Finds: PR Pros Can Improve Public Attitudes by Communicating Through Facebook During Times of Crisis

Social networking sites have become incredibly popular in recent years, with Facebook now ranking as the third most popular website in the U.S. With so many people spending so much time on Facebook, public relations professionals are using the site more and more to communicate to the public. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri School of Journalism have found that posting public relations information on Facebook during a time of crisis can improve the overall image of the organization that is experiencing the crisis.

Seoyeon Hong, a doctoral candidate in the MU School of Journalism, along with co-author Bokyung Kim, a professor at Rowan University and former doctoral student at MU, created two fictional universities and gave participants news stories about organizational crises each university was experiencing. After the participants read the news stories, she measured their attitudes about each university and how severe they thought the crisis was.

She then showed the participants Facebook posts from the universities’ main Facebook accounts, which gave additional information and messages directly from the universities. Hong then measured the participants’ attitudes a second time and found that following the Facebook posts, attitudes toward the universities were significantly more positive than before participants read the posts. She also found that participants felt the crises were less severe following the Facebook posts.  Hong believes these findings show the positive impact Facebook can make in crisis management efforts.

“Many studies have already shown how important crisis management is for organizations,” Hong said. “This study shows that Facebook can be a valuable tool for public relations professionals when working to solve or lessen the severity of a crisis. Because Facebook is very personal for its users, well-thought-out crisis management messages can be effective at reaching users on a personal level, which is a powerful way to persuade people to a cause.”

Hong also found that Facebook posts written in a narrative style were more effective than posts written in a non-narrative format. Narrative style is chronological and focuses more on story-telling rather than fact listing.

“This indicates that the effect of narrative tone in organizational statements during crises increases perceived conversational human voice, which represents a high level of engagement and best communicates trust, satisfaction, and commitment to the audience,” Hong said. “This is an important practice for public relations professionals because perceptions that an organization is sincerely trying to provide timely and accurate information during a crisis can lead to not only more favorable attitudes toward the organization, but also perceptions of less responsibility the organization has for causing the crisis.”

This study was presented at the 2013 International Communication Association conference in London.

Comments

reality check

Kudos to Seoyeon Hong and Bokyung Kim for a creative approach to measuring innovative ways that PR can reach audiences in a crisis. A next step might be to determine how many people social media actually reaches, especially in a crisis. Based on research that we've done, the actual reach of social media is far lower than PR folks may think. The people who buy their ink by the barrel have exponentially larger actual reach, even as readers migrate to their online news sites.

It seems not a day goes by

It seems not a day goes by that someone posts an article or story about how important social media is in during a crisis, and almost every story or study refers to 'Superstorm Sandy'. Enough already! It should not be a surprise to anyone that during a major event, people want information fast, and obviously social media is a prime channel for that. As someone who spent over 24 hours straight on my company's social media channels during Sandy, I can personally attest to this. However, I can also attest to the fact that as soon as the crisis ended, so did about 95% of the interaction. This is unfortunate, as we routinely post important information on Facebook and Twitter. That, in my opinion, is the real challenge - keeping people engaged over the long haul. Once you enter the social media fray, you can't stop. You need to devote resource to constantly monitor and update, whether you have one person reading your post or 1000. It would be nice to know that that time and effort is well spent.

This is what Starbucks

This is what Starbucks Indonesia trying to do regarding their products issue on how the food and beverages contain non-Halal (prohibited) ingredients recently. This is a prevention move that Starbucks do, because honestly I havent heard of this issue until this company stated on their page. But then again, unfortunately the way they addressed it in which wasnt quite narrative didnt catch my attention to feel sorry for them for being accused.

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