Crises communications vary from culture to culture. Most organisations have various methods of managing crises. Crisis communications can build or damage reputations of organisations depending on how crises communication teams handle crises.
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The Asian culture of handling communication varies from country to country. There are those Asian countries that have handled their crises poorly. In fact, they tend to hide information from the public in case of disaster. This is the case of Japan in handling its nuclear crises.
Japanese also tends not to speculate. Instead, they want to give exact information. On the other hand, countries like China and Koreas have advanced crises management to include modern social media. Issues of cultural barriers such as language may hinder communication processes. However, the speaker must maintain consistency with his actions and words.
There are aspects of crises communications that all cultures must take into account. These include operational, ethical, behavioural, and professionalism dimensions of crisis communications. In these cases, managing crisis must be prompt, and the public, stakeholders, or victims must hear the facts. An organisation should not communicate any unclear information to the public. This implies that adequate preparation is mandatory. This calls for regular practice in crises communications.
Crisis is any “situation that threatens or could threaten to cause harm to people, property, seriously interrupt business, damage reputation, and or negatively affect shared values” (Abarquez 2010). Crisis communication deals with what is happening or what has just happened and people are anxiously waiting to hear the outcomes.
These situations can be any kind of “legal disputes, theft, accidents, fire, flood or manmade disasters that we can attribute to an organisation” (Abarquez 2010). It can also be a situation whereby an organisation did not respond to a “situation in appropriate fashion before the media or the general public” (Haddow 2010). Bernstein notes “effective crisis communications are not difficult, but they require advance work in order to minimise damage” (Abarquez 2010). Slow responses lead to a greater extent of damages.
The Operation scope of Crisis Communication
Crisis communication team must work at regaining the lost public confidence after the damage. This decision must aim at reducing the victims and community anguish. The aim should be to restore confidence and rebuild relationship. The move to do what the community expects will reduce media coverage and negative publicity. Organisations can reduce chances of possible lawsuits and negative publicity if they act promptly and appropriately.
The need for crisis communications is growing rapidly due the explosion and use of social networks, which are creating so many communication channels that are threats to risk and reputation of organisations.
Kim notes that Asian organisations that in the past may have been reluctant to admit the extent of a crisis now realise “technology creates such a radical transparency, and it has become pointless to be defensive and try to dismiss issues” (Kim 2007).
Instead, organisations find that it is profitable to be proactive and engage people with facts of the matter. Organisations have realised that Public Relations (PR) is no longer a tool for brand promotion, but also useful in reputation protection (Haddow 2010).
Asian crisis communications landscape has changed significantly due to social media. This has forced PR officers to divert their attention to the use emerging technologies and social media platforms to handle crises.
Most PR firms note that they use social media with assured confidence to handle crises. Most Asian organisations are changing fast to adopt social media for PR. However, there are some which are still in the previous era. Organisations that have progressed have also noticed that the culture of face-to-face communication is essential than using social media platforms to manage crises.
The public expects organisations to act with conscience and reflect ethical standards in their communications. Organisations must provide public and prompt responses regarding the situation. Issues that involve ethical dilemmas and integrity usually involve “moral questions, reasoning, and feedback” (Low 2011).
Some crises may offend public values. Consequently, the organisation that is responsible must swiftly act and provide the needed responses. The organisation crisis communication channel must have the moral courage to give appropriate responses. This implies that an organisation must act on matters of principles so as to lessen the negative consequences of a morally troublesome incidence.
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Asia consists of countries of diversities in languages. As a result, it is challenging and equally necessary to master “the language and tone of crisis communications and management with regard to a highly sensitive crisis issues” (Low 2011). We must note that what may work in French may fail to produce the same result in English.
This means that the communication team must tailor their responses and avoid direct translation for best results. Still, Asian languages are so different from English, which is a subject-centric language. Therefore, crisis communications must take into account the cultural context of languages (Low 2011).
Bob Pickard notes “in East Asia the transcendent importance of ‘face’ is such that companies are reluctant to engage in peer-to-peer communications with their communities online, with fear of losing control and thus face having the effect of dampening the kind of dialogue that might help defuse a crisis situation” (Kim 2007).
In the West, lawyers are proactive in crisis communications, particularly where apologies are necessary. However, in the East, organisations easily apologise with disregard of the possible liability and lawsuit due to admission of guilt (Skoric 2007).
In the recent crises, Japanese government have tended to avoid any alarming speculation. In this context, it is evident that Asians are not likely to speculate in cases of crises. Instead, they want to deal with the actual occurrences and communicate what they observe. This observation means that Asian cultures are more rigid than the Western cultures. In the West, people tend to speculate and communicate possibilities and estimates rather than the actual data. Japan culture tends not to deviate from the data (Skoric 2007).
The Professional scope of Crisis Communication
Asian countries approaches to professional PR differ significantly. There are indications that Chinese government can handle crises in appropriate manners as shown during past incidences such as the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. However, Japanese government has not embraced the idea of PR and crisis communication seriously. China responds with different communication channels such as social media. In addition, Koreans show advanced use of modern technologies for crisis communications.
Under most circumstances, we can only gauge the professional conduct of PR officials with those of the industry standards and practices. This is the basis for establishing the factual claims and extent of damages and the given communications. These pieces of information are usually available in the industry code books for professional communications.
Asian countries have the professional capacity to handle crises communications. However, these opportunities are only available among the global professional firms. It means local firms must update their approaches to PR issues and increase their participations as most of these firms experience challenges related to the development in the industry.
At the same time, the industry critics have observed that there are a number of qualified trainers who offer the best services in PR. However, some of these professionals do not have the skills needed in crises communications especially in the social media.
Behaviour dimension of Crisis Communication
We can only look at the effects of behaviours after the crisis. Any traces of negative publicity show possibilities of unhelpful situations during the crisis. This can work against the industry reputation as well as the involved organisation; thus, it may prove difficult to rebuild credibility and trust, or preserve reputation.
Cases that involve several victims may attract a great deal of negative publicity. This means that the organisation must find opportunities to engage in behaviour building pattern. Therefore, organisations must plan their crisis plans to work against “any anticipated negative publicity and reduce chances of negative behaviour patterns in crisis communication” (Athey and Moody-Williams, 2003).
Some of the negative behaviours an organisation may plan to counteract include arrogance, lack of concerns, minimise victim needs, blame shifting, inappropriate language, inconsistency, inflammatory statements, inadequate preparation, minimise consequences, foregone opportunities to address authorities, the public, and victims, victims’ confusion, and unwillingness to admit responsibility (Athey and Moody-Williams, 2003).
Asians are shifting their crisis communication cultures to full-scale digital communication. There are emerging digital crisis simulation trainings. These programmes present trainees with real-life social media situations.
Majorities agree that the best way to handle a crisis communication is to use speed factor. At the same time, the information presented must be accurate. Transparency and factual information are what define successful crisis communication. Thus, it is necessary for the communication team to verify facts of the matter before any communication occurs.
The field and culture of crisis communication have changed. Skoric observes that crisis communications were “defensive and reactive, with holding statements used like protective shields for keeping critics away” (Skoric 2007). However, today, crisis communications have become proactive and aggressive. In this sense, the process involves all stakeholders with continuous communication from the beginning to the end (Sandoval and Lewis, 2002).
Organisations which have been passive, in their approaches to crisis communications, have noted that remaining passive in a digital age is an outmoded approach that can only worsen the situation. Thus, it is necessary to engage people, listen and provide adequate information based on consultation for continuous improvement. Crisis communications also provide opportunities for organisations to showcase their best behaviours to the victims and the general public.
Victims result in cases where organisations involuntary create enabling severe environments for people or institutions. Victims of a crisis tend to have certain mindsets and perceptions. They may also exhibit unpredictable behaviour patterns. The resulting conditions create victims of a crisis.
The organisation that is a part of the crisis must identify the expectations of the crisis victims and respond promptly and in an appropriate manner (Grabel 2000). If an organisation avoids this, then the subsequent results might not be favourable as the already existing situation. Under some circumstances, victims tend to resist the best available alternatives or reasonable offers, engage the media to communicate emotional tales, or call for high-profile lawsuits. This process may also involve authorities, disgruntled former staff, lawyers, and current staff who may be present to confirm the victims’ claims. These are some of the few incidences an organisation’s crisis communications team must handle (Young 1997).
Trust and Credibility
Lukaszewski emphasises that people “confer credibility to firms based on their past behaviours” (Lukaszewski 1999). Organisations that have bad reputations due to past behaviours can suffer credibility test in the future. This is because people tend to use past experiences to predict future behaviours. Organisations may lose credibility when their current behaviours do not reflect their past good behaviours.
People can only have trust in an organisation when there is a lack of fear. Fear occurs due to causes by once trusted parties. Fear is too a powerful emotion to control. Some crises only require reduction of fear because there is nothing much to do. Thus, parties must attend to fear in order to avoid cases of frustration, anger, and retribution.
Some scholars propose ways to build trust, eliminate fear, and fix credibility in behaviours. These methods include provision of advance information, asking for input, being flexible, staying in touch, speaking plain language, and including victims and participants in the decision-making process.
Managing Crisis Communication
It is necessary for organisations to plan to continue learning during responses and remedial actions to mitigate crises (Fearn-Banks 2010). Most organisations do not prefer borrowing from past experiences because most management teams do not like handling crises, particularly where urgency is necessary. Most cultures now tend to encourage organisations to express and discuss issues and lessons they have learnt from mistakes. This is a strategy of regaining public confidence (Coombs 2007).
Organisations must plan to manage future crises. However, this depends on memories of the PR team. Organisations must learn that they cannot avoid most crises (Harvard Business School Press 2004). Thus, any lesson learned must teach the organisations how to “foresee, control, and reduce or possibly eliminate any future occurring or reoccurring crises” (Seeger, Sellnow and Ulmer, 2010).
Some of the useful information organisations may use in crisis communications include ethics, compliance, or standards of conduct (Fink 2000).
Others include observing events timeline, mastering the lessons learned, promoting open questions systems, considering operations issues, taking into account recovery issues, identifying relevant patterns from similar previous incidences, providing time for responses, mapping strategy gaps or failures, expecting surprises of both negative and positive nature, being ready for unintended outcomes, allowing time for visibility, and expecting to work outside the standard procedures.
Promptly in Crisis Communication
There is constant use of the term “promptly”. In any crisis management and communication, the term denotes “the strategic importance of acting quickly” (Lukaszewski 1999). Observers believe that it acceptable to act promptly and make mistakes than fail to act till it is too late, or attempts to act no longer bear any significant meaning.
Winning and problem-solving skills in crises situations rely on swift decision-making, speed in reaction, action, and collaboration. There is also the idea of victims. James Lukaszewski notes “if there are no victims, there is no crisis, and victims are only people, animals, and living systems” (Lukaszewski 1999).
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