Using social networks can improve the public image of an organisation. In particular using Facebook can apparently prove highly effective in crisis management.

Using Facebook in a company’s crisis management helps restore its public image

Social networks have become extremely popular in recent years. Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ now dominate the daily social lives of millions of users. Taking this as a starting point, Seo Yeon Hong, a doctoral candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, USA, carried out a study to help ascertain the role of social networks in companies’ crisis management procedures. In order to do this, she created two fictional universities which were experiencing organisational crisis. She gave participants in the study a set of news stories on the crises and then measured their attitudes to each university and asked them how severe they thought the crisis was.

Facebook feelgood factor

Seo Yeon Hong then introduced the Facebook factor. She showed the participants posts from the universities’ main Facebook accounts, which provided additional information on the crisis. The researcher then measured the participants’ attitudes a second time and found that, following the Facebook posts, attitudes toward the universities were significantly more positive than before participants had read the posts, and also discovered that participants now felt that the crises were less severe than they had previously thought. Seo Yeon Hong believes these findings clearly demonstrate the positive impact that Facebook can make on an organisation’s crisis management efforts.

Reaching out to social network users

“Facebook is very personal for its users, and crisis management messages can be (…) a powerful way to persuade people to a cause,” underlines Seo Yeon Hong. The doctoral researcher also discovered that the best way to persuade the public is to use a narrative style – i.e. a chronological approach focusing on telling a story – for Facebook posts. The narrative style comes across as more intimate and less austere than a ‘cold’ list of points. “The narrative tone (…) increases perceived conversational human voice, which represents a high level of engagement and best communicates trust, satisfaction, and commitment to the audience,” she explains.  Seo Yeon Hong’s study results were presented at the 2013 International Communication Association conference in London in June.

By Marion Auvray