Breaking the sound of silence: Explication in the use of strategic silence in crisis communication

Abstract: Crises present organizations with the “rhetorical exigency” to enact control (Heath, 2004, p.167). Silence is not an option. This study, as the first empirical examination of Le et al. (2019)’s seminal study on silence in crisis communication, examines, first, if silence can be strategically used as a bona fide strategy; second, under what circumstances should silence be broken; and third, when silence is broken, how it affects a) organizational reputation, b) societal risk perception, and c) the publics’ crisis information sharing intention. An online experiment was conducted using a nationally representative sample in the United States. The stimuli used in this study consisted of two components: 1) an explanation about a fictitious company; and 2) two types of silence breaking (forced vs. planned) embedded in each stimulus accordingly after the same crisis incident. Results show that the effect of silence-breaking type on crisis information sharing intention was mediated by societal risk perception, which is conditioned by participants’ level of perceived organizational reputation.