Does using Facebook help in a crisis? New study says “yes”

This study was presented at a communications conference in London and purports to demonstrate that Facebook is an effective tool in crisis communications.

I haven’t looked at the study, itself, only Bulldog Reporter’s story on it, but my reaction was first, “well, duh,” and second, was it really Facebook? Now I completely support the use of Facebook in a crisis. Coca Cola, for example, has 72 million likes on its Facebook page with over 1 million talking about it. Other brands sport similar astounding numbers. So, if Coke is in a crisis, why wouldn’t they be talking to those people who have already connected with them in this way?

But, my question is the study and the conclusion they come to. The study involved created two fake universities, showing students news stories about the crisis these universities were in and then judging student reaction. Then the researchers showed the students fake Facebook posts from the fake universities “which gave additional information and messages directly from the universities.”

So, here is there conclusion:

“This study shows that Facebook can be a valuable tool for public relations professionals when working to solve or lessen the severity of a crisis. Because Facebook is very personal for its users, well-thought-out crisis management messages can be effective at reaching users on a personal level, which is a powerful way to persuade people to a cause.”

Seems to me, this study simply shows that when you provide people with direct messages in a personal style about the crisis they are in, they are going to react more positively to the crisis than simply reading about it in a news story. If they did a realistic job of doing a news story about a crisis, it will likely be twinged toward blame, outrage or questions about the actions of leaders–or else it wouldn’t be very realistic. So, of course the Facebook posts are going to present the crisis from the universities perspective. This study doesn’t seem to show much about Facebook, but it does show a lot about direct, personal interaction with your audience. They seem to be confusing message with medium. Certainly they are right that Facebook is an appropriate medium for communicating with college students, and for many other (but not all audiences). Email would do much the same. Even good posts on a university web site would do much the same. Blogs, interactive forums, text messages, Twitter–all would do well when used, as in this study, to provide more in-depth information directly and personally to audiences.

There’s more. The Facebook posts in this study were apparently done in narrative style. The conclusion: “This indicates that the effect of narrative tone in organizational statements during crises increases perceived conversational human voice, which represents a high level of engagement and best communicates trust, satisfaction, and commitment to the audience…”  Again, couldn’t agree more. Facebook lends itself to this approach. But it is the approach that is effective, not necessarily the medium. Emails, letters, web posts, tweets–all those are more effective when presented in a human voice vs a stuffy corporate one. This is about how you write, not the medium used.

The headline should be: “Direct messages sent in a human voice that provide in-depth information are effective in a crisis.” And, if Facebook is important to your audience, use it. But whatever channel you use, do the above.

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