Simonsen, Daniel Morten2; Jacobsen, Johan Martin Hjorth2
1 Department of Business Communication, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University2 Department of Business Communication, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University
By combining attribution theory with crisis types, Coombs developed a theory of Situational Crisis Communication (SCCT) that recommends which crisis response strategy is appropriate for which crisis (Coombs, 1999; 2007; 2012). The seven response strategies presented in SCCT have been tested empirically; however, there still is a need for empirical contributions on the tactical level where the Crisis Communication Message (CCM) is developed, as argued here: “SCCT tries to answer the question of when to use different crisis responses, but it does not help researchers address the question of how effective or influential is the use of crisis responses to shape, reinforce, or change stakeholders’ perceptions.” (Fediuk et. al., 2010: 238) In order to create knowledge of how an organization can reassure its stakeholders during a crisis, even when the organization is at fault, we have chosen the response strategy named corrective action for our study. According to Coombs, corrective action means giving stakeholders information about a crisis and explaining what is being done to handle it (Coombs, 2012: 150). Corrective action shows stakeholders that their safety is a priority, and thus reduces psychological stress (Sellnow, Ulmer & Snider, 1998). Inspired by sociology and stress research this paper elaborates on the specific content and effects of CCM when using the crisis response strategy corrective action. The Sense of Coherence (SOC) framework developed by the medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky (2000) is essentially a cognitive stress theory that argues that in the internal presence of the three components comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness, individuals can handle stressful situations as well as life-crisis. When converted to communicative components the organization can integrate in CCMs to external stakeholders, the three components are understood as follows: First, the element of comprehensibility describes the individual’s need to be able to place stimuli in a context, that is to have a feeling that things happen in an orderly and a somewhat predictable manner. Thus, this element is about the organization’s ability to explain the cause(s) of the crisis situation. Second, manageability describes the individual’s need to believe that the organization itself—or from legitimate others—have the resources, skills, or abilities to handle a given situation. Third, meaningfulness describes the motivation, that is, why it is important for the organization to handle the crisis situation and make the corrective action (Antonovsky, 2000). This paper argues that, if the organization communicates these three variables to its external stakeholders during a crisis, the communication will have a positive effect on stakeholders’ perceived organizational image by offering the stakeholders the components necessary for creating a sense of the situation, thus, enhancing the perceived controllability that stakeholders ascribe to the organization in relation to handling the crisis situation. Thus, this study tests, whether the three dimensions of SOC can be used to structure the crisis communication message of organizations. The experiment is conducted under the conditions of whether the organization has a history of similar crises or not, and whether the organization communicates the components of SOC or not. This design results in a 2x2 (crisis history x SOC) experimental design, resulting in four different crisis-response scenarios whose effects are tested on graduate students for causal relationships between the communication of SOC and the perceived image of the organization. The crisis type used is a transgression crisis, that is, when the crisis is internal and the misdeed is intentional (Coombs & Holladay, 1996), for example, human-error accidents, product harm, or organizational misdeeds. The appropriate crisis response strategy to this type of crisis is according to the SCCT corrective action (Coombs & Holladay, 1996; Coombs, 2012) The respondents are presented with two types of CCM and respondent’s perception of organizational image is measured by using the 10-item scale developed by McCroskey (1966; Coombs & Holladay, 1996). The experiment is planned to take place in spring 2013. The implication of the study can be threefold: 1) It provides empirical knowledge of how (not) to operationalize “corrective action” as a crisis response strategy. 2) Furthermore, it illustrates how organization's response can be viewed as a persuasion message (Fediuk, et. al., 2010). 3) Finally, it helps theorize whether it is possible to give sense to organizational stakeholders in a way that results in a positive perception of the organization among its stakeholders.
Sense of coherence; tactical; corrective action; crisis
Main Research Area:
Third International Conference on Crisis Communication, 2013