This is a summary blog post based on a paper by Bowen Zheng, Hefu Liu and Robert M. Davidson. The full paper can be found here.

Social media has changed the effects of traditional firm-dominated crisis communication by changing the role of the public from passive receivers to senders that engage more in secondary crisis communication (SCC). This new role can greatly affect corporate crisis management. This study uses a survey after a real crisis in China in order to reveal the way the public takes on the role of decision-makers related to SCC and how they utilize the social network functions of social media as tools. The findings showed that when the public feels morally violated, they are more likely to engage in SCC because they have the perception of having support from social media.

Data was collected through a field survey three days after a real product-harm crisis occurred. The crisis in China involved an international fast food restaurant and reports of it using tainted food material that is harmful to human health. The survey was conducted online with randomly selected Weibo users. Weibo is a popular social media and micro-blogging platform popular in China. 137 completed questionnaires were received, all responding that they knew about the crisis and had resulting concerns.


These are the hypotheses that were supported by the results of the survey:

Perceived morality violation is positively related to secondary crisis communication.
If the public feels as if there is a morality violation that was committed by a company then they will participate in SCC through social media to express and share their views. The media then carries a moderating role by shaping the SCC to be based off of congruent opinions of the public, making it easy for users to perceive a climate of opinion.

High cognitive reputation is significantly and more positively related to perceived violation than low cognitive reputation.
The results of the survey showed that a public that has a high cognitive reputation of a company is going to hold it at higher standards and higher morality violation, which increases the intensity of the public’s SCC. Previous research also supports the idea that the public is more likely to find defects in highly reputed firms than weakly reputed firms. Such high levels of violations result in negative SCC on social media during a crisis.

In contrast, results showed that a public that likes the company through affective reputation wouldn’t necessarily have a high perception of morality violation. In turn, they would be less likely to participate in SCC, and prove their loyalty by remaining silent. Proving that the spiral of silence theory is also applicable to social media, as those who don’t feel their opinion is supported will avoid engaging in SCC. Companies can then benefit from pre-PR strategies in order to gain public loyalty. Responding to a crisis through emotional support and sympathy can then be an effective strategy for crisis recovery. 

Social media opinion climate strengthens the positive relationship between perceived violation and secondary crisis communication.
Suggests that when the public feels as if the opinions being held within the social media platform are congruent and supportive with their perceived moral violation, then there are more people willing to interact and engage in SCC. The more that the public feels that a violation has occurred, the more that SCC is increased. On the other hand, if the public perceives low social media opinion climate of support, possibly occurring in more controversial issues, then they are less likely to engage in SCC even as morality violation increases.

This can be dangerous to a company when the public opinion is centered around negative opinions, those who are interacting are supporting each other further creating a snowball effect of negative comments. Those that feel as if they can forgive the company are less likely to comment positively in a heap of negativity. This showcases that social media does promote diversity in opinions but rather is just a platform for discussion.

Considerations to make:
The survey was taken by users of Weibo in China, meaning that results may differ in other parts of the world due to culture and their relationships to social media. Weibo has been deeply integrated in the lives of the users in China, more so than in other countries, which may promote higher rates of SCC overall. Research of Chinese culture shows that they rely more heavily on personal sources of information than in American culture, resulting in higher responses to the opinions of others.

For the full article, please visit here.

Naomi Cruz is a member of the IPR Street Team and a public relations student at the University of Florida.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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