This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center
Among numerous contemporary threats, false information about a crisis has become increasingly detrimental to an organization’s crisis communication efforts. Incorrect information, labeled as fake news, misinformation, or disinformation, threatens an organization’s reputation, business continuity, and publics’ wellbeing. Crisis misinformation, if not contained or neutralized efficiently, can lead to a misinformation crisis. Given these circumstances, debunking, and intervening upon crisis misinformation has emerged as an essential task for communicators. However, given the nature of public relations as managing competition and conflict, by fighting crisis misinformation, organizations may unavoidably add conflicting information to the crisis, resulting in publics being trapped between misinformation and correct information and feeling confused about which one to trust and how to react accordingly. To help combat the effects of misinformation in public relations and organizations, the authors examined 1) the effectiveness of using a corrective communication strategy in lessening reputational damage, and in lowering perceived crisis responsibility; and 2) the supporting role of employee backup during a crisis misinformation battle.
For this study, the authors conducted an online experiment with a total of 817 U.S. adults. Participants were recruited by a professional research firm (Qualtrics). The experiment identified a pet food contamination crisis situation associated with a fictitious pet food company, NatureNutrition, who firmly states they are not responsible for the contamination, and a response from special interest-group Love-Pets, who asserts via Facebook that NatureNutrition is directly responsible. The experiment included four conditions reflecting NatureNutrition’s corrective communication strategy in response to accusations about their crisis responsibility with/without employee backup on social media, respectively: 1) simple rebuttal with employee backup, 2) simple rebuttal without employee backup, 3) factual elaboration with employee backup, and 4) factual elaboration without employee backup.
- Results demonstrated that the reputation of the organization suffered less harm when an elaborate corrective communication strategy is utilized compared to a simpler rebuttal, and when its corrective communication strategy is backed up by an employee.
- When employee backup is present, the accused company’s perceived crisis responsibility was lower, and the perceived quality of their corrective information was higher. The message quality of the accuser, on the other hand, was considered lower quality.
- When the accused company used factual elaboration in their corrective communication message, compared to a briefer form, its message is perceived as of higher quality, which in turn strengthened its reputation, and decreased its perceived crisis responsibility.
Implications for practice
Organizations and managers should (1) utilize elaborated factual information to emphasize corrective communication strategies, (2) leverage the backup of employees among internal and external audiences to boost the effectiveness of corrective communications, and (3) consider first-person voice to help calibrate publics’ crisis attribution, making it clear that the misinformation being spread is incorrect.
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