Shitstorms: Challenging traditional crisis communication theories

Studenteropgave: Kandidatspeciale og HD afgangsprojekt

  • Nicklas Lykke Nielsen
4. semester, Kultur, kommunikation og globalisering, kandidat (Kandidatuddannelse)
This study wants to evaluate on whether or not the traditional theories on crisis communication Image Repair Theory by William Benoit and Situational Crisis Communication Theory by W. Timothy Coombs can be used for handling the phenomenon shitstorm, or if they need further development. This will be done by taking a closer look at the phenomenon that is birthed from the internet and social media, through an analysis of the communicative actions of two cases of organizations who experienced a shitstorm.

This theory-discussing study is built around a case study of Volkswagens emission scandal, and United Airlines so called “re-accommodation” of passenger David Dao, comparing their crisis strategies to those of Coombs’ Situational Crisis Communication Theory and Benoit’s Image Restoration Theory, in order to evaluate if and where the crisis communication strategies failed in countering the shitstorms.

The analysis shows that shitstorms brings on new challenges, that have otherwise not been as relevant during a traditional crisis, as the stakeholders get a bigger influence on the organization. The new demands from stakeholders in the shape of fast responses and open communication, means that failing in acknowledging these demands can lead to a shitstorm, which will make the crisis even worse. Choosing an improper communication strategy will then further strengthen the shitstorm, making it even harder to counter it. Because of social media, the response time should be very quick, as social media has increased the demand for information by stakeholders. Failing to meet this requirement can lead to the crisis being controlled by rumors and misinformation, which will be harder to address. The analysis shows that traditional theories of crisis communication can be used to fight a shitstorm, however it also reveals places where the theories are lacking, because of the new aspects that shitstorms brings along.

The paper therefore argues, that while the traditional theories are usable in countering a shitstorm, there are certain places, such as response times, viewing the crisis from the perspective of the stakeholders, and addressing memes, that a crisis manager must be aware of, and that the theories require further development to fully counter a shitstorm because of their focus on the mechanics of a crisis, rather than focusing on the mechanics of the stakeholders who perceive the shitstorm.
Udgivelsesdato31 maj 2018
Antal sider44
ID: 280128072