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Crisis Communication and Improvisation in a Digital Age
Örebro University, School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences.
2014 (English)In: The Routledge handbook of strategic communication / [ed] Derina Rhoda Holtzhausen, Ansgar Zerfass, Routledge, 2014, 1Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In the network landscape, ICT and social media have become an increasingly important tool in the strategic crisis communicator’s toolbox. Through the possibilities presented by communication technology, new work methods for and approaches to crisis communication are also being developed (Eriksson 2009, 2011). The modern strategic crisis manager and communicator are told to look to the work models within improvisational theater for the ideal logic (see, e.g., Finch and Welker 2004). Without direction, the theater ensemble often solves a challenging task and then takes the stage with success:

”Improvisation expands participants’ abilities to perceive and reduces the need for intense and specific scripted preparation” (2004:192).  The idea is that the organization’s and the crisis communicator’s ability to improvise and to take action in a crisis can be trained much like the abilities of a theater ensemble – all in the name of finding the best work methods for a particular situation rather than following the rules, directions and plans that characterized the classic crisis communication logic. Here, instead, prevails a greater need to dare to abandon controlling plans and understand the need for a crisis organization and communication that develops in symbiosis with the particular crisis at hand (see e.g. Czarniavska 2009; Gilpin & Murphy 2006, 2008; Holder 2004; McConnell & Drennan 2006).  

 

Due to this development, the significance of the concept of strategy can be expected to undergo certain changes within the field of crisis communication. Perhaps strategy as a tool has even played out its role? Or is the meaning of concept simply changing? Via social media, many organizations today communicate with their surroundings in an undirected, improvisation- and situation-oriented way through which the perception of a crisis is developed in interaction with the user. Watchwords like control and steering have tended to become passé, or are at least changing. The question is how communicators’ attitudes toward previously developed crisis management plans and strategies change in such situations. What happens to the strategy logic – with its roots in the military sphere – that has so long characterized the field of crisis management when the communicator is forced to improvise to an ever-increasing degree?

 

The aim of this chapter is to examine the role of strategy in a digital landscape of crisis communication, where all too rigid plans and guidelines are said to risk tying the hands of the communicator. The concept of strategy and as well as its meaning are discussed (see, e.g., Gilbert et al. 1988; Liddell Hart 1967), followed by a discussion of theories concerning the phenomenon of improvisation within crisis management and communication (e.g., Carniavska 2009; Gilpin & Murphy 2006, 2008; Weick 1988, 1993; Weick & Sutcliff 2007). The study’s empirical material is from qualitative interviews with 12-16 public relations officers, marketing managers and other strategic communicators who have worked with social media in their crisis communication. The study’s main research questions are: (1) How do the fields’ communicators combine today’s possibilities for improvisation (via social media) in relation to drilled strategies, tactics, action patterns and routines? (2) How can we understand the concept of strategy in this crisis communication context?

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Routledge, 2014, 1.
Keywords [en]
Public Relations, Advertising Studies, Public Relations in Media, Public Relations, Advertising, Marketing Communications
National Category
Humanities Communication Studies
Research subject
Media and Communication Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-32244ISBN: 978-0-415-53001-9 (print)ISBN: 978-0-203-09444-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-32244DiVA, id: diva2:662045
Available from: 2013-11-05 Created: 2013-11-05 Last updated: 2017-10-17Bibliographically approved

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