Social Identity and Crisis Communication: A Case Study at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki. Suvi Järvinen - PDF

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Social Identity and Crisis Communication: A Case Study at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki Suvi Järvinen Thesis Degree Program for Multilingual Management Assistants 2013 Abstract DP for Multilingual Management

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Social Identity and Crisis Communication: A Case Study at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki Suvi Järvinen Thesis Degree Program for Multilingual Management Assistants 2013 Abstract DP for Multilingual Management Assistants Author or authors Suvi Järvinen Title of report Social Identity and Crisis Communication: A Case Study at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki Teacher(s) or supervisor(s) Sirke Lohtaja-Ahonen Group or year of entry 2010 Number of report pages and attachment pages The purpose of this thesis was to research crisis communication and its effect on the social identity of an organization s employees. Social identity is an individual s sense and knowledge of being part of a group. It is a central paradigm in the social psychological theory known as the social identity approach. As crisis communication has never been researched from the viewpoint of social identity, a theory for crisis communication that supports social identity was developed in this thesis. This theory was developed on the basis of previous crisis communication and social identity theories. This new theory was used in analyzing crisis communication. The objective of the thesis was to research how the U.S. Embassy Helsinki internal crisis communication via is used as a tool to create and strengthen the social identity of Embassy employees. The objective was to find out how Embassy employees perceive crisis communication, especially the elements that pursue to strengthen social identity. In addition, the thesis aimed at researching whether such crisis s have an effect on the social identity of Embassy employees. To achieve these objectives, a text analysis and a survey were used as research strategies. The text analysis was used to research U.S. Embassy crisis-related s. The purpose of the text analysis was to research the content of and rhetoric used in the s which might strengthen employees social identity. The survey was used to research employees opinions on crisis communication, as well as their social identity. The results showed that employees social identity is in a clear way attempted to be created and strengthened in crisis s, e.g. by portraying a positive vision of the future and using the rhetoric of we. Some employees perceive such crisis communication as increasing their respect for their working community, as well as their motivation towards work. The perception of crisis communication is connected with the salience of social identity. However, the causality of these two variables cannot be ascertained on the basis of this study. Keywords Crisis communication, social identity, Tiivistelmä Johdon assistenttityön ja kielten koulutusohjelma Tekijä tai tekijät Suvi Järvinen Raportin nimi Sosiaalinen identiteetti ja kriisiviestintä: tutkimus Yhdysvaltain suurlähetystössä Helsingissä Opettajat tai ohjaajat Sirke Lohtaja-Ahonen Ryhmätunnus tai aloitusvuosi 2010 Sivu- ja liitesivumäärä Tämän opinnäytetyön tarkoituksena oli tutkia sähköpostitse tapahtuvaa organisaation sisäistä kriisiviestintää ja sen vaikutusta organisaation työntekijöiden sosiaaliseen identiteettiin. Sosiaalisella identiteetillä tarkoitetaan henkilön käsitystä kuulumisestaan tiettyyn ryhmään. Sosiaalinen identiteetti on keskeinen käsite sosiaalipsykologian tutkimusperinteessä nimeltä sosiaalisen identiteetin lähestymistapa. Koska kriisiviestintää ei ole tutkittu sosiaalisen identiteetin lähestymistavan näkökulmasta aikaisemmin, työssä luotiin teoria sosiaalista identiteettiä tukevalle kriisiviestinnälle. Teoria luotiin kriisiviestinnän aikaisempien teorioiden ja sosiaalisen identiteetin lähestymistavan sovelluksien pohjalta. Työssä luotua teoriaa hyödynnettiin tutkimuksessa kriisiviestinnän analysoimisessa. Työn tavoitteena oli selvittää, millä tavoin Helsingissä sijaitsevan Yhdysvaltain suurlähetystön sisäisellä, sähköpostitse tapahtuvalla kriisiviestinnällä pyritään luomaan ja vahvistamaan yhteisöön kuuluvien henkilöiden sosiaalista identiteettiä. Tavoitteena oli selvittää, millä tavoin lähetystön työntekijät kokevat kriisiviestinnän ja erityisesti ne erityispiirteet, joilla sosiaalista identiteettiä pyritään luomaan. Lisäksi työn tavoitteena oli selvittää, onko kriisiviesteillä vaikutusta työntekijöiden sosiaaliseen identiteettiin. Tutkimusmenetelmiä oli kaksi, tekstianalyysi ja kyselytutkimus. Tekstianalyysissa tutkittiin Yhdysvaltain suurlähetystön sisäisiä, kriiseihin liittyviä sähköpostiviestejä. Analyysi koski viestien sisältöä ja retoriikkaa, jotka mahdollisesti vahvistavat työntekijöiden sosiaalista identiteettiä. Kyselytutkimuksella selvitettiin työntekijöiden suhtautumista kriisiviestintään sekä heidän sosiaalista identiteettiään. Lähetystön kriisiviesteissä pyritään luomaan ja vahvistamaan työntekijöiden sosiaalista identiteettiä muun muassa viestimällä positiivisesta tulevaisuuden visiosta sekä käyttämällä me-retoriikkaa. Osa työntekijöistä kokee tällaisen kriisiviestinnän lisäävän työmotivaatiota sekä arvostusta työyhteisöä kohtaan. Sillä, miten kriisiviestintä koetaan, on yhteys sosiaalisen identiteetin korostuneisuuteen, mutta näiden syy-seuraussuhdetta ei voida tämän tutkimuksen puitteissa päätellä. Asiasanat Kriisiviestintä, sosiaalinen identiteetti, sähköposti Table of Contents 1 Introduction Background Scope and Objectives Research Method Crisis Communication Crisis Management and Crisis Communication Effective Crisis Communication Content Rhetoric Spokesperson Social Identity Approach to Crisis Communication Social Identity Approach to Organizational Behavior Social Identity in Crisis Communication Positive Vision of the Future Rhetoric of We Spokesperson as One of Us In Search of Social Identity in Crisis Communication: U.S. Embassy Helsinki as Part of Crisis Communication in the U.S. Embassy Research Frame Positive Vision of the Future Rhetoric of We Spokesperson: One of Us Planning and Execution of the Survey Compilation of the Survey Transmission of the Survey U.S. Embassy Finnish Staff s Social Identity: Results Reporting and Analyzing the Results Respondent Background Information Crisis Communication at the Embassy Positive Vision of the Future... 52 6.5 Rhetoric of We Spokesperson as One of Us Social Identity Connection between Social Identity and Crisis Communication Discussion Assessment of Objectives and Research Method Research Reliability and Validity Evaluation of Own Learning Conclusion Further Developments References Attachments Attachment 1. Survey cover letter Attachment 2. Questionnaire Attachment 3. Survey results by respondent... 89 1 Introduction The purpose of this thesis is to see how social identity is attempted to be created and strengthened in the U.S. Embassy Helsinki crisis communication. The goal is to find out how the Embassy employees perceive crisis communication, and whether there is any connection between crisis communication and the employees social identity. Social identity is an individual s sense and knowledge of being part of a group, and it is a central concept in a social psychological paradigm known as the social identity approach. In my thesis I will research and discuss U.S. Embassy crisis communication and analyze whether it has an effect on the social identity of U.S. Embassy staff members. I will research U.S. Embassy internal, crisis s and find out whether the way in which crises are informed about has an effect on how U.S. Embassy employees perceive themselves as part of the U.S. State Department community. The commissioning party of this thesis is the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki and the target group of research is the staff of the Embassy. The theoretical framework of this paper consists of two themes; crisis communication and social identity approach. Firstly, crisis communication is discussed in general, followed by discussion about crisis communication and crisis management, as well as effective crisis communication. Secondly, social identity approach is applied to crisis communication by looking into the viewpoints of organizational behavior and communication. The social identity in crisis communication is also discussed. The social identity approach has not been applied to crisis communication before, and there is no ready-made model of crisis communication from the viewpoint of social identity. The social identity approach gives psychological explanations to already existing crisis communication models and adds new aspects to the field. 1.1 Background I began working at the Embassy of the United States of America in Helsinki as an intern in the August of The 5-month internship was part of my degree and I completed it in the Commercial Section of the Embassy. The function of the Commercial Section, or Commercial Service, is to promote American interests and facilitate U.S. 1 company exports by developing relationships with Finland through Finnish government and business (International Trade Administration). During my internship I was part of the Commercial team and assisted in all Commercial Service activities. During my work placement at the Embassy I quickly realized the peculiarity of U.S. State Department communications. As a government, as well as on a national level, the United States are constantly subject to threat and minor and major crises occur seemingly often (U.S. Department of State 2008, 2). Especially political institutions, such as U.S. Embassies can also be considered somewhat threatened. The employees of all U.S. Embassies around the world are updated on these crises, alongside other events, regularly. An important channel of information distribution internally is . As I was a member of the embassy community during my internship, I, too, received informing s on a daily basis. Some of these messages regarded different crises, such as the Sandy storm and the attack to the U.S. Embassy in Libya in autumn What I found interesting about these s was that even though the employees in Finland were not directly affected by these crises, everyone was informed about them nevertheless. A notable observation was also the compassionate but simultaneously professional style of the s, which first got me to consider crisis communications as the topic for my thesis. 1.2 Scope and Objectives In my research I will concentrate only on U.S. government internal communication. I will not look at any information the Embassy or the U.S. State Department has directly given out to the public, as this would broaden the topic too much. However, the content of some of the s sent as internal communication can be public. I will base my research on written material, which consists of s sent to Embassy staff to inform about crises. Even though these s have been sent to other U.S. Embassies around the world as well, I will only do research on how the s have been received in the Embassy in Finland. In this work the emphasis is on researching the Embassy employees sense of belonging to a group. Consequently, I will not discuss the role of individuals as group members or the process of a person joining a group in this work. In this 2 thesis I will concentrate on analyzing communication during the crisis response phase as well as post-crisis communication. The objective of this thesis is to find out how the internal crisis-related s affect U.S. Embassy Helsinki employees. The aim is to find out what kind of language and elements are typical for U.S. government crisis messages and how the social identity is pursued to be created and supported through communication. The social identity approach is applied to crisis communication and discussed how social identity is conveyed in the crisis s. I have set the following three research questions for this thesis: 1. How is the sense of we-ness and belonging to the common group (i.e. social identity) conveyed through U.S. State Department internal, crisis-related s? 2. How do the employees feel about the crisis communication and themselves as belonging into the U.S. State Department community? 3. Is there a connection between how the employees feel about the crisis communication and how they sense their belongingness? The first research question will be answered especially in chapter 4, in which I analyze the Embassy s crisis communication by from the perspective of the social identity approach. The second and third question will be answered in chapter 6. I hope that my research will be of use in assessing and planning communication and crisis management not only in embassies, but in organizations of any kind. 1.3 Research Method This thesis is a research-oriented thesis. The research method is not purely qualitative or quantitative. The research method is mainly qualitative, but some of the results can be analyzed using a quantitative method. Even though the qualitative and the quantitative method can be separated as their own methods, they can both be applied to a sin- 3 gle research. The qualitative and quantitative analysis can also both be used in analyzing the same research data (Alasuutari 1995, 32). As the research strategy for this thesis, a text analysis and a survey is used. The text analysis is done by analysing s regarding crises sent to Embassy staff. The main focus of the text analysis is to study crisis s in order to find possible elements of language which support and strengthen the group members social identity. The survey is used in order to research the Embassy staff s thoughts on the crisis-related s and the way social identity is attempted to be created in them. The survey also pursues to research the Embassy staff members social identity and how it is affected by the crisis-related s. 4 2 Crisis Communication Crisis communication is considered a specialist area of organizational communication (Cornelissen 2011). This is because crises are occasions that stand out from day-to-day contingencies; crises have the potential to damage an organization s reputation, relationships with its stakeholders and threaten the organization s existence altogether. The aim of crisis communication is to exert control. It is common for organizations to have plans for how to communicate in case a crisis occurs. However, some crises, such as natural disasters, cannot be prevented or planned for in advance. All crises require the organization s will to communicate effectively and responsibly in order to limit any negative consequences (Cornelissen 2011, ). A crisis is a turning point in the life cycle of an organization (Ulmer, Sellnow & Seeger 2011, 3). It can be a change for the worse as well as for the better. The way in which crises are communicated and informed about is crucial. Crisis communication thus has a remarkable role in defining the direction an organization takes when it faces a dangerous turning point such as a crisis. The purpose of this chapter is to define crisis, crisis communications and crisis management and to discuss crisis communication practices, including effective crisis communication. In addition, the chapter discusses crisis communication as an opportunity. 2.1 Crisis Management and Crisis Communication In order to define crisis communication we first need to define crisis. The term crisis has various definitions and there is no one, universally accepted definition (Coombs & Holladay 2012, 18). A crisis can be defined as an event that threatens the organization s tangible resources, such as people and property, or intangible resources, such as credibility and reputation (Juholin 2009, 299; Argenti 2007, 213). It is a unpredictable and/or unexpected event that creates uncertainty and can seriously impact an organization (Ulmer et al. 2011, 7; Coombs 2007, 2 3). Traditionally, a crisis has been perceived to have only negative outcomes but recently it has been seen rather as a turning point that presents the organization with both threats and opportunities (Ulmer et al. 2011, 7). One way of classifying crises is dividing them into two 5 categories; intentional crises and unintentional crises. Examples of intentional crises are terrorism, sabotage and poor risk management, whilst unintentional ones can be natural disasters, disease outbreaks or downturns in the economy (Ulmer et al. 2011, 11). Crisis communication can be defined as the measures taken by an organization to communicate with its stakeholders when a crisis occurs. An organization communicates continuously in different ways and through different channels. Every now and then exceptional events and issues emerge, which require special consideration regarding communication. An example of an occasion of this nature is a crisis. Even though crisis communication is classified under the general term of communication, it has emerged as a distinct discipline due to its specialist nature. The purpose of crisis communication is to, through communication, lessen the negative outcomes of a crisis (Lehtonen 2009, 10). It is also important to understand that effective crisis communication does not eliminate the crisis, but rather makes it possible for the organization to continue its operations successfully despite of the crisis. Many times crisis communication is only understood as communicating during a crisis. This does not, however, describe the process very well, as communicating is only a single factor in combatting a crisis. Instead, the broader term crisis management is more often used (Juholin 2009, 299). The purpose of crisis management is to combat crises and lessen the damage induced by preventing the negative outcomes a crisis may generate, and protect the organization (Coombs 2007, 5). The term crisis managament thus describes the process in a better way. Hence, it is not sensible to separate crisis management and communication and neither is communication a separate function. If anything, communication is an essential part of coping with a crisis (Juholin 2009, 299). Coombs and Holladay (2012, 17 18) further underline the importance of the use of correct terms by arguing that the terms crisis, crisis management and crisis communication are inseparably connected. They propose that the terms should be considered in progression from crisis to crisis management to crisis communication. 6 Crisis managament can be seen as three interrelated factors (see e.g. Juholin 2009, 299). They are preparation, response and revision. Communication-wise we talk about preparation as pre-crisis communication, response as crisis communication and revision as post-crisis communication. Millar & Heath (2004, 6) portray a crisis as having two dimensions: technical and communication. By the technical dimension, physical actions taken in order to lessen the damage caused by a crisis is meant. An example of this could be a company withdrawing lethally faulty consumer products from the market. The dimension of communication, on the other hand, shifts the attention to what needs to be said before, during and after the crisis. All of the three stages are important should an organization want to defeat the crisis with honour. Failing to communicate in a certain manner during each of these phases could result in serious damage to the organization. In this work, the focus is on analyzing communication during the crisis and after the crisis has occurred. It is, therefore, appropriate to define these phases in detail. Communication during a crisis, the crisis response phase, is the stage where the crisis has already flared up. In the crisis response phase it is critical for the people in an organization to comprehend that a crisis exists and to respond to the occasion as a crisis (Coombs 2007, 19). The way in which an organization communicates during the crisis response phase has a considerable effect on the outcomes of the crisis (Coombs & Holladay 2012, 28). In fact, effective communication during the crisis can lessen the damage caused to an extent where
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