In order to look at the impact of social media on the process of crisis communications for the professional communications professional, I will first review the traditional approach as outlined in our course textbook, “Corporate Communication, A guide to theory and practice” by Joep Cornelissen. (Cornelissen, 2008). I will then relate some of the unique issues now facing communication professionals who must engage in a social media landscape when addressing a contemporary crisis.
Crisis Management According to Cornelissen
Cornelissen writes “Issues and crisis management involves identifying and analyzing issues and crisis and developing an appropriate communication response so that damage to the organization’s reputation and relationships with its stakeholders is minimized” (Cornelissen, 2008, p. 214). He goes on to define the unique nature of an issue versus a crisis that has to be dealt with
An issue may often be a pre-cursor to a crisis. An issue may exist as a matter of public concern prior to the focus turning to a particular company. It could be argued that general concerns about the constant and pervasive increase of more complex electronics in automobiles has worried consumers for many years and that came into focus with the current attention on Toyota’s “sudden acceleration” problems. Most likely it is the “unsettled” nature of a “matter which is ready for a decision” (Cornelissen, 2008, p. 215) that provides a clear indicator of whether an issue has turned into a crisis or not.
A crisis is an issue which has risen from the realm of debate to one that requires some immediate action from the organization. Issues move through a series of levels that include latent, active, intense to crisis. This evolution is often triggered by media attention. Another factor in identifying a crisis is how serious the issue is to either the core values or existence of an organization, with the seriousness directly proportional to whether it is considered a crisis.
In the early life-cycle of an issue Cornelissen suggest four key steps to manage latent or active issues in an attempt to prevent them from turning into an intense issue or a crisis.
1. Environmental scanning to proactively seek out potential issues that could become active for an organization
2. Issue identification and analysis”which seeks to understand an active issue in terms its intensity and how it may provoke responses from various stakeholder and public groups. Analysis also includes determining which of four lifecycle stages the issue falls into, which include emergence, debate, codification and enforcement. If possible, corporate communicators seek to frame the emerging issue and debate to prevent codification and enforcement if possible.
3. Issue-specific response strategies include buffering (to downplay or ignore), bridging (active engagement of the issue), and advocacy (change the public’s perception of an issue so that it matches that of the organization.)