Narrative persuasion, identification, attitudes, and trustworthiness in crisis communication.

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to test the effects of narratives in crisis communication. This research assesses how organizations benefit from using stories in their media responses, relative to sharing non-narrative information. The theory of crisis response narratives (Heath, 2004) holds that ethical narratives are effective because they enhance trustworthiness, attitudes toward the spokesperson, and identification with the spokesperson. Normative crisis communication theory exhorts disclosing truthful information rather than spinning. In an online experiment, participants (N= 365) watched a news interview in which a scandalized company’s spokesperson responded to a journalist’s questions with (a) ethical narratives, (b) unethical (spin) narratives, or (c) nonnarrative information. Multiple mediator modeling assessed identification with the spokesperson, attitudes toward the spokesperson, and perceived trustworthiness of the spokesperson. Results indicate ethical narratives are more effective than unethical narratives. However, nonnarrative information most effectively enhances trustworthiness and bolsters identification.