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WPU Professors Share How Organizations Can Best Respond to Crisis on Twitter

New research by William Paterson University communication professors Kyung-Hyan “Angie” Yoo and Jennifer Owlett found that organizations can best respond to a crisis on Twitter by assuming responsibility, putting the emotions of the receiver first, showing support and offering solutions.

Their study, “The Importance of Person-Centered Messages (PCMs) in Crisis Communication on Twitter,” conducted with colleague Soo Kwang Oh of Pepperdine University, was published in the Journal of International Crisis and Risk Communication Research.

Their results found that each response by an organization should consider how the receiver would personally feel. Taking what they call a “person-centered approach” can help the organization’s reputation and reduce the likelihood of recipients to post negative feedback.

“Our research found that crisis communication should operate with a person-centered mindset,” says Yoo. “Strategies such as assuming responsibility, putting the emotions of the receiver first, displaying apologetic gestures, offering support, and providing solutions should be adopted.”

For the study, they designed an experiment to examine how the crisis types and organizations’ responses on Twitter influence people’s perceptions and reactions toward organizations. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two hypothetical crisis types for airlines: a flight cancelation due to a winter storm versus a rude and ignorant employee. Subjects then read three different airlines’ tweets. Afterward, they reported their anger toward the company, evaluated the corporate reputation, and indicated whether they had any negative word-of-mouth intention.

“When the organization responded with more highly person-centered messages showing sympathy to their consumers, people are less likely to be angry and complain,” says Yoo.

While many practitioners acknowledge the importance of crisis communication on social media, little work has been done that examines how crisis message quality can influence post-crisis outcomes within the context of social media, according to Yoo. “Our findings shed light on this underexamined area.”

Owlett is director of the Wayne-based University’s MA in Professional Communication Program and Yoo will serve as director of an upcoming social media applications, research and teaching lab at William Paterson. Many undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Communication are involved in digital and social media-related projects and research.

Research link: 

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