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.

Edited by Richard Carufel

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