Hy Xu, Jie, & Wu, Yiye. (2016). To tweet or not to tweet? The impact of expressing sympathy through Twitter in crisis management. Public Relations Journal, 10(2).
Based on a 2 (medium: Twitter vs. news release) × 2 (emotional support: yes vs. no) factorial experiment, this study investigated the effects of social media and emotional support on consumers’ crisis appraisal. Results indicate that Twitter, as a social media platform, lessened negative emotions, such as sadness and anger, among respondents, while also influencing the perception of crisis responsibility and organizational reputation among participants.
The study employed a 2 (medium: Twitter vs. news release) × 2 (emotional support: Yes vs. No) between-subject experimental design. A total of 409 participants in the United States recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk system took part in the online experiment and 388 participants completed it. Two hundred and forty-five participants who had registered on Twitter and used coffeemakers before were included in further data analyses. Control and dependent measures included: product involvement, emotional responses, perceived crisis responsibility, and organizational reputation.
- The result demonstrated significant interaction between emotional support and media channel, such that messages with sympathy delivered through Twitter lowered the perceived crisis responsibility and retained positive organizational reputation, compared to such messages conveyed on news releases.
- Using Twitter significantly lessened people’s sadness and anger.
- Respondents reading Twitter pages attributed less crisis responsibility to the company and withheld higher perceptions on organizational reputation and purchase intention.
- Moreover, expressing sympathy significantly alleviated sadness and anger, and respondents reading messages with emotional support reported lower scores on crisis responsibility.
Implications for Practice
First, PR practitioners may consider a combination of traditional PR tactics (e.g., news releases) and social networking sites (e.g., Twitter) to maximize the use of various communication outlets when a crisis breaks. It is important to properly train public relations practitioners who appreciate the two-way communication practice and value implementing these tools in a dialogic fashion with the publics. Second, the results of this study show that compassion messaging in accidental crisis events mitigates stakeholders’ sadness and anger, decreases the attribution to the organization to bear the responsibility, and better protects organizational reputation. Moreover, Twitter, as an interactive social media platform, represents a better platform to implement emotional support strategies compared to traditional news releases.
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