Academic journal article Global Business and Management Research: An International Journal

Best Practices for Crisis Communication: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article Global Business and Management Research: An International Journal

Best Practices for Crisis Communication: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

In this volatile and uncontrollable world, organizations must face the fact that they are not immune to crisis (Coombs 2012). Crises can take the form of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami, or organizational crises, such as an outbreak of E-coli or terrorism. Such crises have the strength to not only disrupt organizational processes and functions, but also carry the risk of severely damaging brand image, decreasing brand life and eventually driving the organization to the ground (Ulmer, Sellnow & Seeger 2011). Organizational crises involve all the stakeholders, especially the public, hence organizations must be able to take quick action to remedy the situation and mitigate the effects of the crises on legitimacy and reputation (Hansson & Vikstrom 2011). In order to cope with crises, organizations need to begin by preparing for the different crises and implementing strategic crisis management and communication (Kash & Darling 1998).

Williams & Treadaway (1992) state that, "a crisis strips an organization of its privacy and leaves it exposed to public scrutiny." One dimension of crisis communication in this day and age is the availability of a wide range of communication mediums. First of all, the media feeds off the story, offering facts laced with drama and conspiracy theories. Thussu (2009) simply published his book titled 'News as Entertainment: The Rise of Global Infotainment', illustrating that the news does not only offer the facts of the crisis, but also entertains the masses by playing detective, exaggerating information, stirring up emotions, and making true the saying 'one man's failure is another man's success'. For airlines facing an aircraft accident crisis, effective and strategic post-crisis communication must be implemented in order to restore airline legitimacy and renew stakeholder trust in the brand (Hansson & Vikstrom 2011).

Crises do not necessarily have to be viewed as negative forces that aim to destroy organizations; instead, organizations can view them as opportunities for learning, improvement and growth (Ulmer, Sellnow & Seeger 2011). It all depends on effective crisis management and communication. Fearn-Banks (2007) advocates that strategic crisis management and communication not only help to minimize the damage done by the crisis, but also boost the reputation and success of the organization. The organization's ability to handle the crisis effectively regains the trust of stakeholders, whose perceptions are rendered favorable due to the redemption of the organization. Stakeholders are defined by Freeman & Reed (1983) as "any identifiable group or individual who can affect the achievement of an organization's objectives or who is affected by the achievement of an organization's objectives" or simple as "any identifiable group or individual on which the organization is dependent for its continued survival". In this paper, 'stakeholders' predominantly refers to the public, i.e. people who make use of airline services.

Pollard & Hotho (2006) highlight the importance of the media in shaping the perceptions of stakeholders and thus influencing stakeholder understanding of the crisis and the organization. The 21st century has given stakeholders easy access to media through radios and televisions and has rendered most of the public members of social networks, giving rise to social media (White 2012). The Internet has accelerated the pace and scope of crisis, but it has also provided a platform by which emergency managers and crisis communication teams can connect and communicate with each other and with stakeholders (Bridgeman 2008). The Web 2.0 has revolutionized communication and can pose a crippling challenge if the organization is not equipped to handle crisis communication effectively. Bridgeman (2008:172-175) states, "The internet--the medium, the information, the power to collaborate and to share real-time information globally--is the perfect platform for creating, feeding and sustaining a crisis. …

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