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Social Media and Crisis Communication

Essay by   •  April 24, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  1,714 Words (7 Pages)  •  2,065 Views

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1.0 Introduction

The following essay will discuss how the changing media environment including the evolution of the Internet and social media has impacted the management of crisis communication. It defined the terms of crisis communication and social media. It will also look at some organisations have effectively used social media during a crisis, including the Queensland Police Services during the floods in January.

2.0 What is Crisis Communication?

Crisis communication is a specific field of Public Relations dedicated to managing communications before, during and after unusual incidents which could harm the image of a company, a brand, a product or a service. It is different from crisis management in that it focuses solely on the communication aspect of a full crisis. (

The primary purpose of crisis management is about assuring stakeholders that management is in control of the situation. The term crisis management is defined as a process designed to prevent or lessen the damage a crisis can inflict on the organisation and its stakeholders (Coombs, 2007)

2.1 Stages of Crisis Communication

Achieving the goal of minimising damage created by a crisis is handled in stages. Fink (1986) suggested there were four stages to a crisis lifecycle: (1) the prodromal stage, where clues or hints that potential for a crisis begin to emerge; (2) crisis breakout or acute stages, which feature a triggering event with attendant damage; (3) chromic stage, where effects of a crisis lingers as efforts to clean-up the crisis progress; and (4) resolution, where there is some clear signal that the crisis is over. (

The term of "crisis" like many aspects of public relations, there is not one agreed definition, among the definitions of crisis are:

"A crisis is a high impact event that threatens the viability of the organisation and is characterised by ambiguity of cause, effect and means of resolutions as well as by a belief that decisions must be made swiftly (Harrison 2011, p811).

Another definition for the term crisis is:

"A crisis is an incident that had the potential to disrupt organisational operations and potentially destroy the organisation(Harrison 2011,) or had the potential to seriously injure the organisation's employees and reputation."

The main characteristics of a crisis usually are:

* Surprise

* Insufficient information at the outset

* Escalating flow of events

* Panic

* Short-term focus

* Limited control

(Harrison, 2011 pg811)

2.2 Types of Crisis:

Natural Disaster- physical destruction due to natural disaster- e.g. Christchurch earthquake, Queensland floods

Industrial accident- construction collapse, fire, and toxic release

Product or service failure- communication failure, system failure, machine failure

Capacity- Faulty or dangerous good, health scare related to product of industry

Public Relations- Unwelcome media attention, adverse publicity in media

Legal- Product liability, health scare, employee or other fraud


3.0 Social Media and Crisis Communication

Unlike traditional public relation tools such as press releases and media kits, this only allowed for one way communication. With the rapid evolution of social media, there has been an explosion for a new way to communication and encompasses both the social media components and public communication channels such as Facebook, Twitter etc. The difference between traditional and social media platforms is the interaction of one way, two-way or the integrated exchange of communication between peers and public audiences. The internet can support strategic communication efforts, inform, seek opinion and positions from relevant publics and serve as a crisis communication tool (Taylor & Perry 2005).

3.1 What is Social Media?

Social media is the means for any person to publish digital creative content; provide and obtain real-time feedback via online discussions. In just a short amount of time, social media has made a big splash. Perhaps the most significant indicator of social media's importance is its impact on the traditional media landscape.

Social media has significantly altered the world of media unlike any other medium, with its viral conversational and unedited format, it will continue to grow, change and presents new opportunities for Crisis Management Teams and Public Relation professionals to reach and interact with their audiences.

3.2 The Role of Social Media

The impact of social media- is intensified by mobile technology- is to collect and spread instantaneous information. Social media empowers the public to share what they see within the world. With the increase of technology including camera phones and user-generated websites support new forms of peer-to peer communication.

4.0 Queensland Police and the use of social media

Social media is being leverage in major ways when it comes to communication during a crisis or disaster. The Queensland Police Service (QPS) was one of the first public-facing organisations to widely and effectively to use social media in crisis communication,( This came to the fore at the height of the floods and Cyclone Yasi in January. With Facebook and Twitter, the QPS was able in essence to cut out the middle-man- the journalist- and create a connection directly with the masses. Social media dramatically crunched the time QPS would normally take to get a media statement approved from 5 hours to just a few minutes (

During the worst of the crisis in South-East Queensland, the QPS had 39 million story hits on their Facebook page in 24 hours. (

Kym Charlton, QPS director of Public Media and Public Affairs was quoted saying "that's the benefit of social media, rather than us having to create



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