This summary is provided by the IPR Digital Media Research Center.
Crafting a timely response to a crisis is imperative for communicators. The increased use of social media for crisis management has been beneficial in that it has allowed crisis managers to react quickly and directly; however, it has also increased stakeholder expectation for immediate communication. Drawing on image repair theory and situational crisis communication theory, this study addressed what constitutes a “timely response” to a health crisis and the effects of different message appeals on Facebook during a health crisis.
This research demonstrated that crisis responses posted on Facebook one day rather than one week after a health crisis elicited greater trust toward a hospital. Likewise, crisis responses posted on Facebook one day after a health crisis were perceived as more credible, leading to greater perception of trust and reputation of the hospital. Additionally, this study concluded that hospitals should use emotional (subjective, evaluative) message appeals on Facebook during health crises, which elicited greater trust and perceived reputation of the hospital than rational (objective, factual) message appeals.
Amazon Mechanical Turk was used to recruit 502 participants who completed an online experiment using Qualtrics. Participants read a health crisis scenario that described an outbreak of a highly contagious disease at a fictitious hospital that resulted in the deaths of four patients, a nurse, and two doctors (the study was conducted pre-COVID). They were told that the outbreak took place at the hospital one hour, one day, or one week ago depending on their experimental condition. Next, participants were randomly assigned to read a mock Facebook post that the hospital posted “just now.” They were either shown a Facebook post with a rational message appeal regarding the outbreak or an emotional appeal regarding the outbreak. Participants then responded to questions about their trust toward the hospital, perceived reputation of the hospital, behavioral intentions on social media (how likely they would be to like, share, or comment on the Facebook post), cognitive elaboration on the Facebook post (how much time and attention they paid to the post), perceived message credibility of the crisis response, and issue involvement (how important, relevant, meaningful, and worthwhile they believed the issue was).
- The crisis response posted on Facebook one day after the crisis resulted in greater perceptions of trust compared to the crisis response posted on Facebook one week after the crisis.
- Participants perceived faster crisis responses as more credible, which resulted in greater reported trust and perceived reputation of the hospital.
- Participants who read the emotional crisis response message reported greater trust and perceived reputation of the hospital compared to those who read the rational crisis response message.
- Participants were more likely to say they would “like” the emotional Facebook post but were more likely to say they would share or comment on the rational Facebook post. However, it is possible that participants were implying that they would share or comment on the rational Facebook post to express criticism toward the hospital.
Implications for Practice
- Responding to a health crisis on Facebook one day rather than one week after a crisis may lead to greater trust of hospitals.
- Crisis managers in hospital settings may not need to rush to post a crisis response to social media within the hour. One day may be a sufficient response time.
- Hospitals should use emotional rather than rational appeals on Facebook during health crises, which may result in greater perceptions of trust and reputation of the hospital.
- Because comments and shares of a crisis response posted to Facebook may be negative, crisis managers should pay close attention to audience sentiment on social media during health crises.
Huang, Yan, & DiStaso, Marcia. (2020). Responding to a health crisis on Facebook: The effects of response timing and message appeal. Public Relations Review.
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