Fending off Unverified Accusation with Narratives: The Role of Primary and Secondary Narratives in Organizational Response Effectiveness in an Ongoing Crisis

Yen-I Lee (PhD alum), Xuerong Lu (PhD candidate), Taylor Voges (PhD candidate), and Yan Jin. (forthcoming). “Fending off Unverified Accusation with Narratives: The Role of Primary and Secondary Narratives in Organizational Response Effectiveness in an Ongoing Crisis”. Journal of International Crisis and Risk Communication Research.

Abstract: A challenge confronting crisis communication practice is how to communicate about crisis situations involving unverified accusations of sexual harassment attributed to an organization’s members. The investigation and verification of the original accusation take time, but the organization needs to respond to the concerned publics. This study integrates theories of metanarration (Venette et al., 2003) and crisis narratives (Seeger & Sellnow, 2016) to identify optimal approaches to manage uncertain and high-pressure crisis situations. An online experiment used a U.S. adult sample (N = 697) to examine how 1) the primary narrative in a news story about the victim and 2) the secondary narrative with different crisis narratives used by the accused organization impacted the outcomes of the organization’s public communication about the ongoing crisis situation. The results showed that the secondary narrative, emphasizing renewal, played a significant role in 1) lowering perceived organizational crisis responsibility, 2) lessening organizational reputation damage, and 3) boosting supportive intention toward the organization. In addition, findings revealed that perceived organizational crisis responsibility and perceived organizational reputation functioned as sequential mediators for the relationship between the secondary narrative (using renewal crisis narrative) and participants’ intended support of the crisis-stricken organization. Our findings advance crisis narrative theory and offer prescriptions for effective and ethical organizational responses in managing an ongoing crisis triggered by an unverified sexual harassment accusation against its members.