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Specyfika zarządzania sytuacją kryzysową w przestrzeni mediów społecznościowych w perspektywie typologii Situational Crisis Communication Theory W.T. Coombsa / The Specificity of Crisis Management in Social Media from the Perspective of W.T. Coombs’ Situational Crisis Communication Theory

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PL / ENG https://studiamedioznawcze.eu/index.php/studiamedioznawcze/article/view/72 Cel/teza: Celem analizy przedstawionej w artykule jest weryfi kacja typologii sytuacji kryzysowych W.T. Coombsa. W artykule zostały poddane analizie wydarzenia, w których organizacja w perspektywie sytuacji kryzysowej: jest [1] ofi arą, [2] doprowadziła do sytuacji kryzysowej w sposób nieświadomy, [3] doprowadziła do sytuacji kryzysowej w sposób świadomy. Niektóre z sytuacji kryzysowych trudno jest przyporządkować do wskazanych typów sytuacji, ponieważ mogą nosić znamiona manipulacji. Celem jest pokazanie takich możliwości. Metody badań: Autorka dokonała analizy czterech sytuacji kryzysowych z uwzględnieniem typologii Coombsa. Analiza nie stanowi badania jakościowego o charakterze reprezentatywnym. Dobór sytuacji kryzysowych poddanych analizie w niniejszym opracowaniu uwzględniał warunki: [1] bliskiej odległości czasowej sytuacji kryzysowej (wszystkie analizowane zdarzenia dotyczą okresu 2017– 2019), [2] znanych i rozpoznawalnych podmiotów (organizacji, marek, osób), [3] znacznego zaangażowania ze strony odbiorców przekazów – użytkowników mediów społecznościowych oraz [4] podnoszenia tematu sytuacji kryzysowych przez branżę komunikacyjną zarówno po stronie naukowców, badaczy, jak i przedstawicieli praktyki rynkowej. Wyniki i wnioski: Analizowane przykłady pokazały niedostatki typologii sytuacji kryzysowych Coombsa. Zauważono pole do nadużyć komunikacyjnych skierowanych ku odbiorcom przekazów – użytkownikom mediów społecznościowych. Nadużycia te w kulminacyjnych formach mogą być manipulacją przez wykorzystanie w strategiach komunikowania sytuacji kryzysowych wygenerowanych na potrzeby realizacji celów organizacji. Celem działań manipulacyjnych mogą być aspekty ekonomiczne, marketingowe i inne. Wartość poznawcza: W dobie możliwości kreowania nieprawdziwych lub wprowadzających w błąd wydarzeń oraz informacji analizowane sytuacje mogą stanowić zagrożenie dla prawdziwości i etyki dyskursu organizacji różnego typu w otoczeniu rynkowym. W efekcie odbiorcy przekazów mogą podejmować decyzje na podstawie wydarzeń generowanych, co może wprowadzać odbiorcę w błąd. Dlatego obserwacje oraz analiza problemu będzie kontynuowana, a jej pogłębienie znajdzie swój wyraz w badaniach jakościowych. ABSTRACT Scientific objective: The purpose of the analysis presented in the paper is to verify W. T. Coombs’ typology. The paper analyzes the events in which the organization from the perspective of a crisis situation: is [1] a victim, [2] led to a crisis situation unconsciously, [3] led to a crisis situation consciously. Some of crisis situations are diffi cult to assign to the types of situations indicated because they can be signs of manipulation. The goal is to review such possibilities. Research methods: The author analyzed four crisis situations, including Coombs’ typology. The analysis is not a representative qualitative study. The selection of crisis situations analyzed in this study took into account the conditions: [1] short-term crisis situations (all events analyzed concern the period 2017–2019), [2] known and recognizable entities (organizations, brands, people), [3] signifi cant involvement of messages recipients—users of social media, and [4] raising the topic of crisis situations by the communications industry—scientists, researchers, and representatives of market practice. Results and conclusions: The analyzed examples showed defi ciencies in Coombs’ typology of crisis situations. There was a space for communication abuse directed at message recipients—social media users. These abuses in culminating forms can be manipulative through the use in communication strategies of crisis situations generated for the purposes of achieving the organization’s goals. The purpose of manipulation can be economic, marketing, and other aspects. Cognitive value: In the era of creating false or misleading events and information, the analyzed situations may pose a threat to the truth and ethics of the discourse of various types of organizations in the market environment. As a result, message recipients can make decisions based on generated events, which may mislead the recipient. Therefore, observation and analysis of the problem will be continued, and its deepening will fi nd expression in qualitative research.
Content may be subject to copyright.
2019, Vol. 20, No. 4 (79)
ISSN 2451-1617
The Speci city of Crisis Management
in Social Media from the Perspective
of W.T. Coombs’ Situational Crisis
Communication Theory
Monika Kaczmarek-Śliwińska
University of Warsaw
m.kaczmarek-sl@uw.edu.pl
ORCID: 0000-0002-9096-9338
ABSTRACT
Scienti c objective: The purpose of the analysis presented in the paper is to verify W. T. Coombs’
typology. The paper analyzes the events in which the organization from the perspective of a crisis
situation: is [1] a victim, [2] led to a crisis situation unconsciously, [3] led to a crisis situation
consciously. Some of crisis situations are dif cult to assign to the types of situations indicated
because they can be signs of manipulation. The goal is to review such possibilities. Research
methods: The author analyzed four crisis situations, including Coombs’ typology. The analysis
is not a representative qualitative study. The selection of crisis situations analyzed in this study
took into account the conditions: [1] short-term crisis situations (all events analyzed concern
the period 2017–2019), [2] known and recognizable entities (organizations, brands, people),
[3] signi cant involvement of messages recipients—users of social media, and [4] raising the topic
of crisis situations by the communications industry—scientists, researchers, and representatives
of market practice. Results and conclusions: The analyzed examples showed de ciencies in
Coombs’ typology of crisis situations. There was a space for communication abuse directed at
message recipients—social media users. These abuses in culminating forms can be manipulative
through the use in communication strategies of crisis situations generated for the purposes of
achieving the organization’s goals. The purpose of manipulation can be economic, marketing, and
other aspects. Cognitive value: In the era of creating false or misleading events and information,
the analyzed situations may pose a threat to the truth and ethics of the discourse of various types
of organizations in the market environment. As a result, message recipients can make decisions
based on generated events, which may mislead the recipient. Therefore, observation and analysis
of the problem will be continued, and its deepening will nd expression in qualitative research.
KEYWORDS
crisis, crisis management, media, social media
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Strong market competition and a changed media space mean that organizations are facing new
challenges related to crisis management. In the literature, this crisis time is often referred to
as chaos, attributing to it, among others, uncertainty, threat to the functioning of the subject, and
close observation by the recipients. The traditional media (press, radio, television) has changed
and the Internet, including social media, became one of its element. This process resulted in the
creation of a different environment—and so, a different recipient of a crisis situation appeared, as
well as other media reactions, and a different potential of crisis situations, which often in uences
the organization’s reactions crisis situations.
Persons responsible for crisis management, wanting to effectively implement management
policy, should rede ne the variables of potential crisis situations, which in turn should be re ected
in procedures, guidelines or plans for crisis management. Management in variable conditions is
one of the features of the management process. Already in 1980, Peter F. Drucker wrote:
“Because one thing is certain: managers will have to work and achieve aims in a time of great
change. And in a time of great change, the main task of the board is to ensure the institution’s ability
to survive, to ensure structural strength and health, the ability to bear blows, the ability to adapt
to sudden changes and to take advantage of new opportunities. (...) In a time of great change they
cannot [managers] assume that tomorrow will be an extension of today. On the contrary, they must
manage with change in mind; on change as an opportunity and as a threat.” (Drucker, 1995, p. 9)
Managing a crisis situation treated as an element of organizational change—on the one hand
constituting a threat to its functioning or existence, on the other being an opportunity for
reorganization and a new opening—one of the key elements of the adopted management strategy
is determining the degree of responsibility of the organization and the resulting sequence of
events. Therefore, the analysis of crisis situations in this paper will be based on the typology
proposed by W. Timothy Coombs rejecting the division of crisis situations due to characteristic
factors depending on the internal and external environment of the organization, as is the case
with Ian Mitoff’s typology.
The analysis presented in the paper based on Coombs’ typology is not a representative
qualitative study, but its purpose is to review, despite the more accurate systematics of crisis
situations and their speci city arising from the social media environment than in Mitroffs, the
dif culties, challenges and restrictions associated with the mapping crisis situations showing
features of randomness and crisis situations generated in a conscious and intentional manner.
The selection of crisis situations analyzed in this study took into account the conditions:
[1] short-term crisis situations (all events analyzed concern the period 2017–2019); [2] known
and recognizable entities (organizations, brands, people); [3] signi cant involvement on the
part of message recipients—social media users; [4] raising the topic of crisis situations by the
communications industry— scientists, researchers, and representatives of market practice.
Ultimately, an in-depth and expanded analysis of future crisis situations will form the basis of
a typology taking into account the undisclosed and conscious generation of a crisis situation by the
organization in order to achieve its objectives, but at the same time assigning it the level of responsibility
for occurring events, similar to unintentional and accidental events. The typology developed in this
way will also take into account the activities of the organization in the sphere of crisis management
showing the features of manipulation towards its internal and / or external recipient.
Crisis and Crisis Situation Versus Problem / Incident
Referring to the period when media space was delimited by the boundaries of traditional media
(press, radio, television) of an institutional nature (medium registered in accordance with
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applicable law), it is noted that events in the perception of the organization affecting its image and
reputation much less frequently than today were referred to as crisis. Complementing the media space
with the Internet and the development of social media enabling the current recipients to enter into
the role of their creators increased the risk of threats to the image and reputation of organizations
of various types, as well as, perhaps unintentional and non-re ective, de ning as a crisis and crisis
situation any event of a nature a problem or incident arising from the nature of the business.
On the basis of theory and practice, the crisis situation in the context of public relations
activities are de ned as:
“(...) the period in which, as a result of the event or events, the effective implementation of the
mission and assumed goals of the organization, brand or public gure is exposed, and the crisis
marks the culmination of crisis situation (sudden event; predictable or not).” (Kaczmarek-Śliwińska,
2015, p. 54; Rydzak, 2011, p. 35)
It is also worth noting that the use of the term “crisis” in the eld of public relations often
refers to events that are de ned as a media crisis denoting the moment when the crisis is made
public by the media (institutional, social and own organizations) (Kaczmarek-Śliwińska, 2015,
p. 54). Thus, we have a situation when a crisis is understood as a media crisis caused not always
by the internal or external crisis of the organization, but by a temporary, ephemeral event,
sometimes embedded in the context of social or political events, dependent (e.g. employee error)
or independent (e.g. situation context) from the organization. Often, the consequence of this
type of events is not the cited effects (exposure to the implementation of the mission and the
set goals), but the increased interest of media space participants—both institutional media and
Internet users. Therefore, it is worth considering whether for the events referred to the terms
other than the crisis or crisis situation, which are now widely used, should be used. It is probably
a result of the development of online media, especially social media, which by making it easier
for internet users to create, modify, and distribute content, also allow them to become experts or
to build a sense of “being an expert.” In this way, even people outside the PR industry, without
competence and experience in crisis management, initiate or engage in discourse about speci c
events, sometimes irresponsibly creating everyday events as unique.
When looking for terms that would reliably name events of interest to institutional or social
media, it is worth considering terms such as “an incident” (incident—event, incident, case; from
Latin incidere—“to happen”; see Kopaliński, 1967, p. 227) or “a problem,” with the proviso
that even an incident or problem should be treated with caution from the perspective of the
organization’s communication management (which in practice can be implemented by media
monitoring), because it can be a spark of crisis. For many years in the science and practice of
PR, the term “crisis symptoms” was used, which meant events that could develop into a crisis
situation under appropriate conditions or that could be suppressed in other circumstances.
Differentiating the scale of the event and skillfully determining its stage of development—is
this a problem?; a crisis situation?; or maybe already a crisis? (Rydzak, pp. 30–31)—is important
because its consequence should be the implementation of appropriate preventive or management
measures in a crisis (Fig. 1). It is also worth taking into account the fact that in the current market
situation, with highly competitive markets, problems and incidents (symptoms) are common
events, but they do not always go into the phase of crisis situations and escalate to crises (they
often do not have such “potential”). Sometimes, it is also possible, due to, among others, properly
conducted management activities, not to make the crisis or crisis situation public in various
media. However, there are situations when problems and incidents go into a crisis situation (and
/ or crisis) phase through their media coverage (media crisis), especially in social media.
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Fig. 1. The Relationship Between the Problem / Incident, the Crisis Situation / Crisis of the
Organization and Its Media Crisis
Source: Own study
The Speci city of Crisis Situations in Social Media
When analyzing crises in the social media environment, three variables should be considered,
namely:
1. Features of the new media environment;
2. Characteristics of groups around the organization;
3. Typology of crisis situations in social media.
According to new media researchers, due to the rst variable (the features of the new media
environment) impact on the media space and the risk of potential sparks of crisis situations
may have, among others: anonymity (Kaczmarek-Śliwińska, 2015, p. 67; Pyżalski, 2012,
p. 32–45), digital content and the resulting ease of material modi cation (Pyżalski, 2012,
pp. 20–24), interactivity (Pyżalski, 2012, pp. 20–24), the existence of the so-called network
audience (Kaczmarek-Śliwińska, 2016, p. 67), the phenomenon of inhibition (Pyżalski, 2012,
p. 42), and the “pilot’s cabin effect” (Walrave & Heirman, 2009, pp. 27–46).
These features may be “triggers” which under certain conditions will be able to activate or
promote the development of a crisis. These factors may result from the technical capabilities of
the Internet (indicated: anonymity, digitality, the resulting ease of material modi cation, and
interactivity) and its availability to users. They can also be caused by the behavior of Internet
users (indicated: network audience, uninhibited phenomenon, pilot’s cabin effect) often different
from the attitudes accepted in the real world (of ine).
Taking into account the second variable (the characteristics of the groups surrounding the
organization) it can be seen that the groups de ned in traditional media lose their importance
in social media. In place of typologies that segment the environment of organizations into its
closer (e.g. employees) and further (e.g. clients, local organizations and others) or internal
(e.g. employees), and external (e.g. clients), it seems more adequate to de ne the groups of the
environment as communities with speci c forces of in uence in social media. The change is
a result of the reconstruction of the Internet user paradigm, which from the recipient obtained
the capabilities of the sender-recipient, i.e. an entity using online content, but also having
the technical capabilities and skills to create, process, and distribute them (Hermoso, 2018).
Referring to the competences of new media users, or rather problems arising from their misuse,
Jürgen Habermas described this situation in signi cant words:
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“Since the invention of the printed word, which has transformed every human being into a potential
reader, it took several centuries to master reading skills for all humanity. The Internet, however,
turns us into potential authors, and functions only a few decades.” (Hermoso, 2018, pp. 6–8)
Such segmentation can be done by distinguishing groups in the environment of organization—
and their participation in a crisis situation will determine the actions taken, the degree of
relationships, commitments, responsibilities etc. (Kaczmarek-Śliwińska, 2015, pp. 65; Wojcik,
2015, pp. 356–360):
1. Priority environment, i.e. groups of the environment around the organization that should
be absolutely included in crisis scenarios.
2. Important environment, i.e. groups of the environment of the organization, which in the
event of having suf cient resources (human resources, time, nancial) should be included
in crisis scenarios.
3. A negligible environment, i.e. groups of organizations around the organization whose
absence in crisis scenarios should not cause negative consequences.
Taking into account the third variable (the typology of crisis situations) it is worth departing from
the classical division proposed by Mitroff (typology assuming the grouping of crisis situations
according to the factors that trigger them), instead adopting W.T. Coombs’ typology of the situational
crisis communication theory (SCCT), which binds the organization’s responsibility and the impact
of its activities on its reputation. The difference between Coombs’ typology is the rejection of the
division of crisis situations due to the characteristic factors depending on the internal and external
environment of the organization. While in Mitroff’s, crisis situations were included in eight groups:
1. External problems of an economic nature; 2. Large scale damage; 3. Professional factors;
4. External problems of an informative nature; 5. Breaks at work; 6. Visible damage; 7. Human
resources; 8. Psychopathology conditioned by four variables (1. Technical and economic reasons;
2. Human and social causes; 3. Typical situations; 4. Atypical situations) (Mitroff & Pearson, 1998,
pp. 40–41), Coombs adopted the level of attribution of the organization’s responsibility for the
crisis as a classi cation variable (Coombs, 2007, p. 167) (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Typology of Crisis Situations According to W.T. Coombs
Source: Coombs, W.T. (2007). Protecting Organizational Reputations During a Crisis: The Development
and Application of Situational Crisis Communication Theory. Corporate Reputation Review, 10 (3), 167
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This means that Coombs’ typology of crisis situations according to the situational communication
theory in crisis presents crisis situations depending on the attitude presented by the organization
and the threats to its reputation that are associated with these attitudes (Coombs, 2007, p. 167):
1. Organization as a victim of a crisis: the environment of the organization attributes
a low level of attribution of responsibility for the crisis, which in turn translates into
a mild threat to the reputation of the organization. Examples of such crises are gossips,
slanders, generating events based on fake news or deepfakes, activities to the detriment
of the organization implemented by both external and internal environment or events
independent of the organization, for example natural disasters.
2. An organization that causes crisis situations unknowingly (accidentally, unintentionally):
the environment of the organization is willing to attribute a minimum level of attribution of
responsibility for the crisis situation, which is a moderate threat to the organization’s reputation.
Examples of crisis situations that have been generated by the organization unknowingly may
be various types of product irregularities resulting from technological defects (failure of
the machine resulting in damage to the health of the employee operating it, creation of
a defective product due to technical or technological reasons, accusation of the organization
of operating in an improper manner (violation of accepted social and other rules).
3. An organization that causes crisis situations consciously: the environment of the
organization attributes to it a strong attribute of responsibility for the crisis (situations
related to the deliberate exposure of people to risk, taking inappropriate actions or breaking
the law), which in turn means a serious threat to the reputation of the organization. The
group of such crises includes, for example, consciously taken actions in the production
of defective products (diversion), violation of legal regulations by the organization,
misleading the recipients of the organization (by the organization) and others.
Information about crisis situations that operate in social media can come from two sources:
from the social media environment or from outside the network. In the latter case, they can
be transferred by Internet users from traditional institutional media channels or obtained
outside the media circulation. And while it is not dif cult to identify crises that Coombs has
perpetrated as being a victim, it seems dif cult for an organization that causes crises, consciously
or unconsciously (accidentally). This may result, among others, from organizational values,
the importance of ethics in conducting business, and thus, for example, activities based on
controversial communication strategies, balancing on the border of ethics or exceeding it, and
building relationships that are subject to signi cant risk. The emergence of a crisis situation is
then quite likely, although dependent on internal and external factors. On the other hand, the
quali cation of whether an organization caused a crisis situation unconsciously or consciously
will largely depend on the reliable conduct of the audit within the organization, as well as the
tendencies and possibilities of conducting open and honest communication with recipients
(internal and external). It can be assumed that in many crisis situations, due to long-term thinking
about the image, reputation, and their impact on the nancial or other results, organizations will
be willing to adopt management of communication with the environment, which will be focused
on situating the crisis situation as caused by the organization, but unconsciously. In this way they
will try to avoid at least some negative consequences.
Communication of Organizations, Brands, and People in Practice
Referring to Coombs’ typology, in public space it is possible to indicate crisis situations that
qualify for three typology areas, with the proviso that for some crisis situations there may be
a problem determining whether the organization’s activities were accidental or conscious.
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One such situation, which aroused considerable interest in social media, and in the initial
phase generated many unfavorable opinions, was an event referring to the tragic death of the
climber Tomasz Mackiewicz on Nanga Parbat (January 2018), when he and Elisabeth Revol got
stuck at high altitude during the descent from the summit. In the enormous excitement, interest of
the media and social media users during the weekend (a week earlier the climbers attempted to go
down—eventually Revol was saved, while Mackiewicz remained at the top) on the pro le of one
of the popular YouTubers there was a graphic (meme) showing a photo of Tomasz Mackiewicz
with the Hortex logo and the words “Himalayan Frozen Food.” In addition to the fact that the
graphics violated cultural norms, it also used the brand logo without the knowledge and consent
of its owner in such a context that it could negatively affect its image. Hortex’s reaction was
rm: effective steps were taken to remove the Facebook post and a corresponding statement was
issued. The company was also considering legal action against YouTube.
“We express our condolences to the family of Tomasz Mackiewicz. We express our regret and
absolute opposition to the publication with which we have nothing to do. Yesterday we started
actions to remove the meme, demanding both the author and Facebook to delete this post that
violates moral principles and unlawfully uses the brand logo. Thank you all for intervening and
reporting this outrageous meme to us. This case touched us equally deeply.” (Hortex, 2018)
Without a doubt, this crisis situation according to Coombs’ typology can be classi ed as “the
organization as a victim.” What is characteristic of this quali cation and directly related to the
space of social media are the actions of social media users. The network community (except in
situations where the organization is not immediately identi ed as a victim) is understanding, it
supports the organization, tones emotions, explains the problem in groups of friends gathered
around it. Effective management steps on the part of the organization (e.g. quick statement,
information on the steps taken, etc.) allow getting out of this type of crisis with a strengthened
image.
It is more dif cult to present examples that could be classi ed as crisis situations caused by
the organization in a random and conscious manner. It is worth referring to three events that
on the one hand could be considered as actions undertaken by the organization in a conscious
and purposeful manner, and on the other—if you believe the explanations of the organization—
can be considered accidental, resulting from the employee’s unconscious error. What connects
these events is signi cant emotions, criticism and hatred towards brands, as well as the lack
of preventive measures and pre-established crisis management rules (according to brand
representatives’ declarations).
The rst situation is the crisis of the Tiger Energy Drink (Tiger) brand in August 2017. The
Tiger scandal (Maspex Wadowice) began with an Instagram entry (then the pro le was watched
by about 7,2 thousand Internet users) with graphics showing the raised middle nger (a gesture
considered offensive) and with the words: “Screw what was, what will happen is important.” The
entry was published on August 1, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, and
functioned on Instagram for eight days without causing any negative repercussions. The crisis
began only after eight days, when the post went to another social platform (Twitter). Twitter,
which has users with a pro le different from Instagram, has become a place to start discussions,
but also for further distribution. Maspex responded immediately, apologizing for the entry:
“We are very sorry about the publication of graphics that appeared on August 1 on the brand’s
Instragram pro le. We apologize for this error, which should not have happened. We know that
deleting this publication will not x this error, but the post has already been removed. Once again,
we are very sorry. A similar situation will never happen again.” (Pallus, 2017)
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The brand, the president of the company producing the energy drink, and the external agency
responsible for implementing the brand’s communication strategy apologized, which in such
signi cant crises is a recommended practice because it shows both respect for the recipients and
the awareness of managers about the importance of the crisis. At the same time, the company
undertook to nancially support living insurgents as part of the “Help for Insurgents” collection
(in the amount of PLN 500,000; collection organized by the World Union of Home Army
Soldiers). The company also decided to take action, which surprised some observers from the
industry, because it declared that employees responsible for servicing the brand would not be
dismissed, while the consequences would be drawn in relation to the external agency servicing
the brand (the cooperation agreement was terminated) (Dąbrowska , 2017).
The company took further corrective actions on August 14, placing apologies in selected
press titles, including in DGP, Rzeczpospolita, Do Rzeczy, and Gazeta Wyborcza. The ads were
signed on behalf of the Tiger brand, not the Maspex manufacturer, which was supposed to be
an element that removed the crisis from other manufacturer’s brands. As a consequence of the
crisis, some of the Tiger channels on social media were closed, and the company decided to
restart them more than a year after the events described. In a Tiger crisis, you may wonder that
the company, as its representatives admitted in the media, did not have a crisis management
plan, especially in the part on prevention, even though the crisis management process itself can
be assessed as exemplary.
The second case (Baran, Piotrowska, & Przybylski, 2018) also balances between accidental
action (brand declaration) and a potentially conscious strategy of communicating with recipients
(past activities of the brand). At the beginning of September 2018, Reserved presented the
“I Can Boogie” campaign promoting the fall-winter 2018 collection. There are no objections
with regard to the campaign (dynamic and attractive spot with the Polish actress Joanna Kulig
and the French model Jeanne Damas), contrary to the statement of the marketing director of the
Reserved department stores, which was included in the press release and read:
“In our campaign, the phrase »Yes Sir, I Can Boogie« takes on a new meaning. In it we encourage
all women to irt and seduce, as in the good old days of Marilyn Monroe. The days when a woman
was a woman, she wore skirts, had breasts and a waist.” (Baran, Piotrowska, & Przybylski, 2018)
This statement was discriminated against as women with slim bodies or preferring “a style
that is different from the one presented in the new collection of the brand” (Aries, Piotrowska, &
Przybylski, 2018). Despite a signi cant response in social media, the brand did not respond. Only
after a few days did the Reserved marketing director considered her statement “unfortunate” and
“too short” and put a statement in which she wrote, among others:
“I would like to apologize to everyone who felt affected by this comment and assure you that the
essence of our approach is feminine diversity.” (Baran, Piotrowska, & Przybylski, 2018)
The statement calmed the critics of the rst message and you may wonder why such an
experienced brand did not decide to do so immediately after noticing the rst negative reactions.
On the one hand, a quick retort would probably stop the escalation of negative emotions and
comments around the brand, on the other, it would not negatively affect the campaign itself. One
may wonder, then, whether the period of inactivity of the brand was not a deliberate procedure
to generate interest rst in the message, and as a consequence—in the campaign spot and the
campaign itself. Similarly, one can consider the tone of the rst message, which, by depicting
femininity from a sexual perspective, seemed to be the ideal source of emotions and reactions
from the recipients.
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Presumptions that the brand based its communication on a deliberately generated crisis may
additionally con rm similar events from the past of LPP SA, the owner of the Reserved brand
(Kaczmarek-Śliwińska, 2015, pp. 31–44). You may also wonder about the lack of crisis awareness
in such a large brand as Reserved, which, having a communication department, should ensure
that the message about the campaign is not a message causing a crisis.
The third situation, which in the most visible way can be classi ed according to Coombs’
typology as a crisis situation consciously generated by the organization, are communication
creations of the Devil Energy Drink (Devil) brand.
On the brand’s Facebook fan page (fan page liked by 134,000 Internet users) in January 2019
at around 9:00 pm there was a graphic showing the pro le of a naked boy (child, upper body)
with mouth wide open and the slogan: “Roman already knows what he will have in his mouth
soon.” A can of drink was placed next to the text and a brand logo was placed in the background.
The graphic, like other ones of this brand, aroused a lot of emotions and generated a lot of
negative comments (some of them directly referred to associations with pedophilia). What was
their effect? The picture was removed from the pro le after a few hours (the reasons for deletion
were not given, so either it was the brand’s reaction to negative comments of Internet users, or
the decision of the Facebook administration).
However, the brand continued to communicate with graphics referring to “Roman.” The next
day almost identical graphics appeared on brand’s fanpage as before. The distinctive element was
the gure, no longer a boy (child), but a young man whose age was around the age of majority.
After about three hours, the brand released another graphic. This time the character was
changed again, an even more mature, though still young man. The text was also changed to:
“Roman already knows what he may have in his mouth.” Also the designation “18+” appeared
on the graphic, which could suggest that the message is directed to adults (a Facebook account
can be created, according to the website’s regulations, from the age of thirteen, so this type of
content marking does not guarantee that its viewing limits will be restricted to minors). The
graphics were also provided with an entry saying: “To be continued at 8:00 pm.” Changing
the password, indicating the time and announcement of an event, as well as marking the age of
“18+” could suggest that the brand is starting to provoke. With each of these pictures, comments
were increasingly critical of the brand and the creators of communication messages.
Finally, after 8:00 pm on the fanpage there was a graphic suggesting that it could be an
element of the brand’s social campaign, which is a combination of three graphics discussed
earlier and complemented with two texts: “Check what your child drinks” (in the upper part,
original spelling) and “The Social Campaign: energy drinks should be banned for minors” (in
the bottom, original spelling).
Individual graphics with the boy and men were a provocative reference to another brand
creation. In November 2017, a graphic presenting a young woman’s face raised up and held
up with a male hand was made available on the Devil Energy Drink fanpage. The painting
was complemented with the slogan: “She Already Knows What She Will Have in Her Mouth
in a Moment.” This message provoked many negative comments, ranging from allegations of
lack of taste, to treating a woman only in the context of a sexual object. The message upset the
recipients so much that they complained to the Advertising Ethics Committee (KER), which
in February 2018 stated: “Graphics perpetuated negative stereotypes through the treatment
of women, and the slogan contained the discrimination against women” (tw, 2019). KER’s
critical decision encouraged the Your Case Association to take the case to court. The association
accused the company of violating a provision stating that the act of unfair competition is, inter
alia, advertising contrary to decency and violating human dignity. The association demanded
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the withdrawal of the advertisement, publication of an apology and payment of PLN 60,000,
intended to support students under the care of the “For Polonia” Foundation in Warsaw. In June
2018, the District Court in Legnica complied with the claims, and due to the lack of appeal of the
brand manufacturer, it became nal.
The dif culty of explicitly qualifying a crisis situation according to Coombs’ typology as
induced accidentally or consciously, is that the communication strategies of organizations, brands
or individuals are sometimes based on controversy, causing shock, which is usually associated
with criticism of the environment. Entities based on such communication strategies, if they want
to cause signi cant media response and at the same time on a positive image, will, however,
try to present the events as situations that were generated accidentally or even the organization
as a victim. Then, for example, there may be arguments such as: an unintentional error of an
employee (usually an anonymous trainee), no crisis procedures or competition. There may also
be a situation in which an organization, brand or person will not explain the events (which
usually gives rise to the suspicion of conscious actions in the recipients) or vice versa—they will
additionally strengthen the sense of conscious crossing of borders by subsequent provocative
communication activities.
The Tiger brand crisis, presented on the basis of materials available in the media, could be
classi ed as a situation generated by the organization, but in a random way (manufacturer’s
declaration and quick management actions taken in the crisis), although doubts and the question
whether constructing a strategy based on controversy will still remain, balancing on the verge
of good taste and social values actually allow such an assessment. After all, communication
activities in social media were conducted under the slogan “Do It So That They Will Remember
You,” lasted several months, and most of the graphic creations presented controversial content
(e.g. April 10, on the anniversary of the Smolensk catastrophe, a graphic on the occasion of
“Airman’s Day” was posted). Thus, the adoption of the manufacturer’s version of the explanation
implies a conclusion about insuf cient brand crisis protection.
A similar situation occurred in the event of the Reserved brand crisis. The brand’s activities
(a statement straightening the statement of the marketing director) may suggest that, according to
the Coombs’ typology, the crisis situation was triggered accidentally, although, as in the situation
described above, also in the case of the Reserved brand doubts and questions remain about the
controversial content of the message announcing the promotional campaign, about the reaction
time, and about the brand crisis protection.
While in the last two crisis situations it was dif cult to classify events as accidental or
conscious, in the case of the Devil Energy Drink brand there are symptoms indicating that the
crisis situation was consciously generated and the crisis itself was included as part of the brand’s
communication strategy. This can be evidenced by: lack of crisis management (no explanation, no
credible apologies), lack of prevention in the area of crisis management despite a previous court
judgment and nancial penalty (PLN 60,000) or elements of provocation visible at subsequent
graphics.
An Expiring Crisis and Growing Crisis
It should be additionally noted that crisis situations— especially those taking place in social
media—can take two forms: an expiring crisis and a growing crisis. Piotr Bielawski, in relation
to the concept of a growing crisis, used the concept of a secondary crisis, de ning it as a crisis that
“may be much more serious than the original one and results only from inef cient communication
with the public” (Bielawski, 2011, p. 44; Rydzak, 2011, pp. 98–99). An expiring crisis can be
said when the crisis situation, after going through the appropriate phases, disappears, allowing
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the organization to start a new stage of its activity (Fig. 3). This is possible, among others, when
crisis management is effective and the event itself no longer raises media interest or does not
evoke the emotions of recipients—online users.
Fig. 3. Organization in the Event of an Expiring Crisis
Source: Kaczmarek-Śliwińska, M. (2015). Public relations organizacji w zarządzaniu sytuacjami kryzyso-
wymi organizacji. Sztuka komunikowania się. Warsaw: Di n
Fig. 4. Organization in a Situation of Growing Crisis
Source: Kaczmarek-Śliwińska, M. (2015). Public relations organizacji w zarządzaniu sytuacjami kryzyso-
wymi organizacji. Sztuka komunikowania się. Warsaw: Di n
Events that escalate the primary crisis
(strengthening the crisis) or trigger further crises
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A growing crisis (Fig. 4), however, consists in triggering subsequent negative around the
primary crisis events that keep the organization in crisis. And when it manages to bring it to
a state in which a crisis situation seems to be under control, the organization is already in the
course of another crisis situation. This can be represented as a spiral of crisis that is dif cult to
get out of, because the organization must simultaneously manage many negative events. The
phenomenon of triggering subsequent crises by the crisis is also de ned by the wave effect
(Krzakiewicz, 2018, p. 14). Given that these events can engage different audiences, managing
communication processes and image security require much more commitment and attention.
Sometimes the reason for functioning in such a spiral, that is in a growing crisis, is incorrect
crisis management or lack of management activities.
Summary
The practice of functioning in social media shows that crisis management in social media has
a different speci city than outside the network. The analysis of the typology of crisis situations
according to the situational communication theory in crisis, by Coombs, although it has its
application in online and of ine space, it shows how different the speci city of its application in
relation to social media is.
Depending on the classi cation of the crisis situation by the environment—organization as
a victim or organization as an entity accidentally or intentionally causing a crisis situation—
the response of the online environment to the development of events that in social media are
characterized by signi cant dynamics, higher emotional involvement of recipients, and are
less predictable than crises outside the web. It should also be taken into account that in a social
media environment, in conditions that are unfavorable to organizations, a crisis situation may
be generated on the basis of events that theoretically emerge outside the crisis area.
That is why it becomes so important for the organization to adopt the right perspective of
“what the organization sees versus what happened” and in this context to properly de ne (or
rede ne) “crisis situations” and “problems” that may be involved in the organization (already at
the prevention stage). As a consequence, it becomes justi ed to perceive the features of the new
media environment that may affect the emergence and spread of crisis situations, as well as crisis
management taking into account whether the organization is a “victim” of the crisis or the entity
causing it in an accidental or conscious manner.
At the same time, a wide eld of communication abuse is directed towards the message
recipients—social media users. These abuses at culminating moments can lead to manipulation
by using crisis strategies generated for the needs of the organization in the communication
strategies. Coombs’ typology, which seems to be the most adequate in the analysis of the
discussed events, can be useful until the analysis at the level of the organization’s declaration
regarding the fact of a crisis situation, regardless of the organization’s actions and / or
without the organization’s fault. And because of the circumstances, it allows the organization
to become a victim.
Observations and analyzes of the presented crisis situations may, however, point to de ciencies
in the Coombs’ methodology in the area of external analysis consisting in observing the event
in terms of the organization’s goals, its response, and achieved pro ts or losses. At the level
of Coombs’ crisis typology, according to the situational communication theory in crisis, these
communication abuses at the level of analysis of speci c events can be seen in the impossibility
or in signi cant problems with assigning an event to a speci c type of crisis situation.
In the era of creating untrue or misleading events and information, the analyzed situations
may pose a threat to the truth and ethics of the discourse of various types of organizations in the
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market environment. Therefore, observations and analysis of the issue will be continued, and
their deepening will nd expression in qualitative research.
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Public relations: zarządzanie informacjami
  • P Bielawski
Bielawski, P. (2011). Public relations: zarządzanie informacjami. Poznań-Opole: Wydawnictwo Naukowe SCRIPTORIUM.
Maspex podręcznikowo działał w kryzysie wizerunkowym Tigera, marka odbuduje reputację (opinie) [Blog Post
  • J Dąbrowska
Dąbrowska, J. (2017, August). Maspex podręcznikowo działał w kryzysie wizerunkowym Tigera, marka odbuduje reputację (opinie) [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.wirtualnemedia.pl/artykul/ maspex-kryzys-wizerunkowy-tiger-jakie-dzialania-marka-odbuduje-reputacje
Zarządzanie w czasach burzliwych
  • P F Drucker
Drucker, P.F. (1995). Zarządzanie w czasach burzliwych. Kraków: Akademia Ekonomiczna.
Słownik wyrazów obcych i zwrotów obcojęzycznych, …… XXI. Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo "Wiedza Powszechna
  • W Kopaliński
Kopaliński, W. (1967). Słownik wyrazów obcych i zwrotów obcojęzycznych, …… XXI. Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo "Wiedza Powszechna".