Chewning, Lisa V. (2015). Multiple voices and multiple media: Co-constructing BP’s crisis response. Public Relations Review, 41(1)72-79.

Summary

This article explores the impact of new Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on the field of crisis communication, and argues that the term “crisis response” needs to be re-conceptualized in order to include the polyvocality of crisis response enabled by online media. This article deconstructs the crisis response to the British Petroleum (BP) Oil Spill from organizational, media, and stakeholder perspectives. Using semantic network analysis, linguistic maps of news articles, press releases, BP Facebook posts, and stakeholder Facebook posts were created to detect the core messages of each group and to determine the roles that source and media play in creating crisis response. Findings support the idea that both source and media contribute to the overall crisis narrative, emphasizing the importance of online media in both organizational and stakeholder response. This study offers insight into the emotional contributions of stakeholder response to the overall crisis narrative, as well as, suggests a new element of dialogic communication called inter-media dialog.

Method

BP news releases (25), news articles from the AP newswire (483), BP Facebook posts (18), and stakeholder Facebook posts (135) on the BP Facebook page from the timeframe of April 21, 2010 through May 24, 2010. This timeframe represents the first part of the acute period of the crisis, in which the crisis was actively unfolding. Data were analyzed using semantic network analysis, a methodological approach that considers not only the presence of words, but also the co-presence of words, when deriving meaning from a text. Factor analysis was also used to derive main themes from the corpus.

Key Findings

  • Both source and media contribute to overall crisis response.
  • Organizations can and should use multiple online platforms to create complementary versions of crisis response that capitalize on the nature of the medium used.
  • Facebook offers organizations the potential for creating a “shared” narrative with the traditional media, suggesting a new element of dialogic communication, inter-media dialogue, which considers cross-source dialog as a way to co-opt narrative legitimacy.
  • Stakeholders use social media to engage in dialog with each other, specifically for venting and personal communication, making an emotional contribution to the overall crisis narrative.
  • Both traditional and non-traditional voices contribute semantically to crisis response.

Implications for Practice

Key findings provide several takeaways for the area of crisis communication. First, organizations can and should use various online platforms to create complementary versions of crisis response that capitalize on the nature of the medium used.  Second, Facebook offers organizations the potential for creating a “shared” narrative with the traditional media and creating inter-media dialogue, which considers entering into dialogue, usually via hyperlinks, with online sources outside of the organization’s own media in order to co-opt narrative legitimacy. This can be a useful tool for organizations working to rebuild trust and legitimacy, or to simply align themselves with a credible third-party. Third, stakeholders view social media, even a corporation’s Facebook page, as an appropriate medium for emotional dialogue, be it positive or negative. Care should be taken in monitoring and responding to stakeholder comments as a crisis unfolds.

Article Location

The full article is available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811114001556 

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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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