Monday, September 8, 2014

Recovering Corporate Consumer Trust: A Study of Crisis Response Strategies and Repairing Damaged Trust

Rick T. Reed, Fielding's School of Psychology

In the past decade, even the most casual observer would agree that there has been a continual stream of corporate crises: product defects and recalls, insider trading, corporate malfeasance, mortgage fraud, and other wrong-doing that has led to global financial crises. There is a corresponding need for corporate crisis managers to develop a set of communication tools that will ensure consumers that a corporation is taking appropriate action in response to crises with the consumers’ best interest in mind. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of post-crisis communication strategies delivered via both “traditional” online news sites and online social media in rebuilding lost brand trust as a result of a corporate product crisis. This research compared the effectiveness of post-crisis communication via traditional online news sources versus online social media sites. This study ultimately aimed to provide practical guidance for crisis managers about which online media channel is most effective at communicating post-crisis messages, and what type of post-crisis strategies most effectively recover lost or damaged consumer brand trust following a corporate product crisis to affect positive social change in the form of increased/recovered trust. To achieve this aim, this study examined the psychological impact of messages developed in the wake of a corporate product crisis delivered through two types of online media. This research measured and described the relationship between, and the positive impact of, post-crisis communication media (both online traditional and online social), and consumer behavior as manifested in levels of trust regained. This study investigated the brand trust levels of 458 consumers in response to a variety of crisis response communications following a hypothetical product crisis presented through two simulated media channels: (a) traditional online media (e.g., website) and (b) online social media (e.g., a post about the crisis viewed on a friend’s Facebook News Feed).

The results of this study are that two of the four hypotheses tested were rejected. The main findings of this study include (a) product crises have a negative impact on consumer brand trust; (b) there is a significant relationship between accommodative and blended crisis response strategies and increased levels of post-crisis recovered brand trust, and (c) there was no significant effect of media channel, age, education, nor gender on the amount of brand trust damaged nor recovered through the current research scenario.

Keywords: social media, traditional media, trust, crisis communication, media psychology, attention, attitude change, persuasion, brand trust, order effects, message sequencing, action, rebuilding trust, corporate crisis management, corporate reputation management, decision making, corporate crisis response strategy, trust response, recovering brand trust

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