The Effects of Responding Strategy with Crisis Narratives on Effectiveness of Communicating Ongoing Crisis of Sexual Harassment

Accepted for presentation at the virtual Annual ICA Conference, May 27-31, 2021.

Abstract: Effective response strategies and narratives are crucial for organizations to manage crisis situations. Grounded in SCCT (Coombs, 2007) and narratives of crisis (Seeger & Sellnow, 2016), this study aims to advance crisis communication and narrative research in public relations by looking into publics’ responses to organizational crisis communication in response to sexual harassment accusations under investigation. An online experiment using a U.S. adult sample (N = 697) was conducted to examine the effect of victim’s gender information as reported in the news, narratives used by an employee of the accused organization when discussing the crisis issue on social media, and crisis narratives embedded in the accused organization’s official crisis responses on publics’ perceived crisis responsibility, perceived organizational reputation, and their behavioral intentions toward the organization. Results show: 1) organizational response strategy with the renewal crisis narrative significantly mitigated perceived crisis responsibility; 2) organizational response strategy with the renewal crisis narrative significantly decreased reputational damage and participants’ intention to support the organization; 3) perceived crisis responsibility and perceived organizational reputation functioned as sequential mediators for the relationship between organizational response strategy with the renewal crisis narrative and publics’ supportive behavior intention. This study provides insights into advancing crisis communication theory and crisis narratives as well as offers evidence-based recommendations for effective and ethical public communications when members of an organization are confronted with sexual harassment accusations.

Xuerong Lu  Yan Jin 

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