Crisis Management: Comparing Asia and the West

The Need for Tailored Crisis Solutions

In my previous posting, we spoke about Asia’s Social Media Growth and Asia’s rapid consumption of social media. While social media is a powerful tool that brand advertisers leverage upon, they must be constantly aware that social media presents itself as a double edged sword. Being an effective symmetric model of communication, organizations must understand that their publics have an equal weight in words that could potentially affect the organization’s reputation. Jeremy spoke about How Social Media Transforms Crisis Communications, highlighting the change in how crisis management has evolved since the introduction in social media. He outlines the essential need for a crisis management strategy and tackles the issues that social media contributes towards crisis management. Most articles on crisis management are proven Western Models, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol Crisis in 1982. Can such a similar model be applied in Asia and have similar success? Let’s take a look into the previous crises of 2011 and identify the differences. Chinese Milk Scandal, 2008 (China) In 16 July 2008, sixteen infants were diagnosed with kidney stones after being fed with milk powder manufactured by Sanlu Group. A deeper government-led investigation identified that the same problem existed in products manufactured by 21 other companies. The findings yielded that these products, amongst others, were laced with melamine, which was known to cause renal and urinary problems in humans and animals. Breakdown In view of the Chinese Milk Powder incident, the controlled model of information dissemination by public officials was perceived as selective disclosure.  Public safety concern and issues were not discerned as a priority to the public, causing a gradual shift into the consumption of social media as an alternate source of information. As such, users value advice from consumers in social networks over formally issued announcements. This highlights the significance in identifying key opinion leaders in the social media platform that brands must engage in order to shape users’ sentiment towards the brand.

Source: Burson Marsteller

As mentioned in my previous post on Asia’s Social Media Growth, China has more than 300 million social media users who are active across a variety of platforms. This is accentuated by the fact that 76% of China users are active creators of social media content rather than consumers. The top five re-tweeted users on Weibo, a China-based social media platform, have more than one million retweets per person as opposed to the five thousand top five re-tweeted users on Twitter. This signifies that social news spread faster and at a significant scale than in the U.S. (Source: Fighting a PR Fire in China with Social Media) Bob Pickard (Source: Crisis Communications in Asia) attributes that the reason why Eastern organizations are reluctant to engage in peer to peer communications with their communities is for fear of losing control of the dialogue and risk dampening past efforts to contain the crisis. The transcendent importance of “face” indicates that organizational reputation stands at a priority amongst a crisis. He further identifies that the significant difference between crisis management in the East and the West is the involvement of lawyers in the West; with respect to the making of an apology, which comes more easily in the East which may be less concerned about how saying sorry for making a mistake constitutes an admission of guilt with liability implications. Alternatively, this could be interpreted as the unique cultural diversity present in the East that must be understood in order to develop an appropriate strategy. In the West, English can be used as lingua franca, as a means for communication between two individuals whom do not share a mother tongue. But such a concept does not exist in the East, where direct translations are impossible for interpretations and the need for individually tailored messages become apparent. That being said, the inherent fundamentals of a crisis management strategy still maintains, that information has to be disseminated accurately and responsively.  The publics are aware that mistakes do occur and an organization displaying empathy and effort towards correcting the mistake will speak louder than any constructed message. Have an opinion to share? Engage us on Twitter and LinkedIn!

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