Sincerity, Transparency, and Technology Are Your Best Options to Manage a Crisis

Given that we’re putting this edition together in the middle of a major crisis, we thought it might be a good idea to add a second installment to one of our most popular posts of all time: “8 Critical Crisis Questions Answered by IPRRC 2016.” Here are more practical lessons on crisis communications from IPRRC 2020.

1. Technology can be really useful in crisis management

We’ve written about how AI can be used to not just alert you to a crisis, but give you guidance on how to manage it and measure your success. But have you thought about using 3D or AR to enable your stakeholders to understand why a crisis happened? That’s what one of the teams from the PAO MA program at San Diego State did.

Military Public Affairs Officers deal with more crises in a week than many of us see in our lifetime, so anything that can help them build support is a huge boon. Lt. Andrew DeGarmo, APR+M, Captain Benn Bar, APR +M for the US Marine Corps, and Naval Lieutenant Commander Sherrie Flippin collaborated to test whether using a 360-degree immersive video might increase the credibility of an organization in an accidental crisis (see “Perceived Presence in Immersive Video and OPR”). Using a dramatic 360-degree video taken from the pilot’s perspective inside the cockpit of an F-15 fighter plane, they conducted an experiment among students at San Diego State.

Since less than 7% of the U.S. population has any experience with the military there is little understanding of the situation when a military accident occurs. The authors hypothesized that a immersive 360-degree video might change that reality and improve an organization’s reputation during and after a crisis.

And it worked. Subjects who watched the video were nearly 10% more likely to score the military’s reputation higher. There was also a positive correlation between those who experienced the video and trust in the organization. The research suggests that the more empathy you generate, the faster your crisis will go away.

The authors used a $7 cardboard viewer that could easily be supplied for free to members of the media, or even members of your target audience, to allow them to experience what it’s like to fly an F-15. (You can get a rough idea from this video.) They suggested it would be useful in any particularly dangerous situation to build empathy for those responsible for an accident. As Capt. Barr explained, “It’s easy to blame a ship’s collision on operator error, but if you had a 360º video of what it is actually like on the bridge going through the Straits of Hormuz, you might see things a little differently,” pointing out how incredibly crowded those Straits are. We don’t have a video but we do have this visual of ship traffic there:

2. Transparency should be Priority #1

Researchers Derrick Holland, Trent Seltzer, and Anna Kochigina examined how the perception of transparency affects attitudes during a crisis (see “Practicing Transparency in a Crisis: Examining the Combined Effects of Crisis Type, Response, and Message Transparency on Organizational Perceptions”). The short answer: without transparency, your crisis communications are toast. Their research shows that when you lack transparency, you’re perceived as less credible and generate less sympathy and more anger. But if your messages convey transparency, your stakeholders will have a more positive view and less anger. It also showed that if you try to diminish the extent of your crisis, it won’t work. You’ll just be perceived as opaque and less credible. And if your crisis is perceived as preventable, you start with a perception that you aren’t transparent.

Another study by Mathew Buchberg of nuclear power accidents came to similar conclusions (see “Exploring the Effectiveness of Transparency as a Crisis Communication Tool in the Nuclear Industry”). The only two crisis communication responses that worked in that industry were cooperation and transparency.

3. Convey sincerity and you might weather the worst

In addition to transparency, few would argue that expressing sincerity wasn’t key to a successful crisis communications strategy. And if there are skeptics in your organization, just point them to the extensive research conducted by Courtney Boman and Erika Schneider of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and Heather Akin of the University of Nebraska (see “Increasing Sincerity and Credibility through CCS to Stabilize Crisis Outcomes”). They asked 623 respondents about their perceptions of an organization’s reputation pre and post crisis. Specifically, they queried participants on perceived sincerity, credibility, and the acceptability of the crisis response. They also asked about the participants likelihood to share negative news about the organization.

Their findings weren’t surprising as much as they were incredibly useful if you’re arguing with your legal team:

  1. The better your reputation going into a crisis, the less likely that people will amplify the negative news. (I know, duh, but it certainly would bolster the argument for a bit of corporate benevolence.)
  2. Higher levels of credibility mean that your publics are more likely to accept your explanation of the crisis.
  3. If your audience perceives you as sincere, they will also believe you to be credible.
  4. In an accidental crisis, if the CEO’s response is perceived as sincere, his or her statements outperformed The New York Times in terms of credibility.

Thanks to Marcin Wichary on flickr for the image up top.

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