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Effective Metrics For Crisis Communication Message Strategies

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The modern environment is all about transdisciplinary cooperation; to attack complex problems, effective project teams combine multiple perspectives to create a holistic look at both problem and solution. Our research team combines scholar professionals from public relations, psychology, emergency management, and systems engineering. The resulting hybrid vigor provides a wide variety of approaches to solving complex crisis communication problems, including improving the measurement and implementation of strategies.

In an earlier post about our work, Karen discussed the bridge between practice and research in the area of crisis communications. This post will explore the systems engineering side of this research through a discussion of metrics and measures. For those of you unfamiliar with systems engineering, the field is an interdisciplinary approach that uses various modeling techniques to support decisions throughout the life cycle of a complex system.

Two primary metrics used in our work are the Riverside Situational Q-Sort (RSQ) and value modeling. We will describe each of these briefly in turn.

Riverside Situational Q-Sort (RSQ)

Q-sorting has a long history of use in marketing, public relations, psychology, and management. The technique provides a statistically robust method for quantifying subjective perceptions. Unlike simple Likert scales, where a person can rank all attributes as equally important or unimportant, q-sorting forces the participant to prioritize the importance of an assigned attribute. The RSQ can be used to capture snapshots of audience perceptions of crises like Ebola or domestic violence in the NFL.

Although the crisis literature features other efforts to quantify responses to crises, the resulting instruments tend to be highly specific to a particular situation. In contrast, the RSQ provides more general data that can be compared and contrasted across audiences and situations.

Digging deeper into the analysis of RSQ data, we see how audiences perceive different levels of hazard and outrage. A person might not feel personally threatened by Ray Rice, yet experience high outrage in response to his behavior. People might endorse the threat posed by distracted driving, yet feel insufficient outrage about the behavior to act.

Qualitative and Quantitative Value Modeling

Our second metric, value modeling, combines qualitative and quantitative analyses to compare a “candidate solution” to an ideal solution based on the best practices literature of a specific field. A careful analysis of the scientific literature produces a set of objectives and value measures that can be used to outline an ideal solution. Once that solution is created, real data can be compared to the model to see how they “measure up.” For example, in one of our articles, we compared crisis messages during Hurricane Irene to an ideal model of what “good” crisis messages should be. We then experimented to see if we could predict what aspects of a crisis message ensure that it will be widely disseminated and influential. The answer is yes, using value modeling, we can.

There is a growing need to expand our horizons both as researchers and practitioners when it comes to formulating effective and relevant crisis message strategies. Many crisis methods originating from the communications field have been implemented the same way for decades, but there is a growing need to adapt and evolve these practices based on new challenges, threats, and mediums emerging in society. Audiences are expecting more tailored, real-time, and relevant message strategies based on their needs. Methodologies exist in other fields that provide numerous opportunities for application within crisis management. Given the partnership and teamwork between our team, Hootsuite, and Firestorm Solutions, we believe this transdisciplinary research will be beneficial across various domains for improving crisis communications efforts.

This is the second post in a three-part series on Effective Crisis Messaging. Check back next week to learn about emergency simulation practices on social media. Missed the first post in the series? Read it here.

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