Attributions of Crisis Responsibility—Situational Crisis Communication Theory

Ethical crisis management requires the organization to focus its initial response on using communication to address the physical and psychological concerns of the victims. After this foundation is established, crisis managers could then turn their attentions to reputational assets. Ethical crisis communication practices involve decisions regarding accepting responsibilities and protecting organizational reputation. Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) provides guidance when crisis managers have met their initial obligations and are starting to address reputational assets.

SCCT offers an evidence-based framework for understanding how to maximize the reputational protection afforded by post-crisis communication. This is based on the idea that guidance for decision making in a crisis should be supported by scientific evidence from empirical research, rather than personal preference and unscientific experience. SCCT identifies key facets of the crisis which influence attributions about the crisis and the reputations held by stakeholders. SCCT emphasizes that crisis managers match their reputation repair strategies to the reputational threat of the crisis situation.

According to SCCT, the crisis manager assess the situation by asking the following questions:

  1.  Can the organization be viewed as a victim of the event?
  2.  Does the event occur due to factors that are unintentional or uncontrollable by the organization?
  3. Is the event preventable?

In cases of natural disaster, violent incidents, rumors, and product tampering, the organization can be seen as a victim, and therefore is attributed minimal crisis responsibility. In accident crises, such as industrial accidents or technical errors causing product harm, the organization is attributed low crisis responsibility.

In preventable crises caused by human errors or misdeeds, the organization is attributed strong crisis responsibility. In addition, crisis history is whether or not an organization has had a similar crisis in the past. A history of crises suggests an organization has an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed. Crisis managers should use increasingly accommodative reputation repair strategies as the reputational threat from the crisis intensifies.

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