The Handling of Crisis Communication
Another life altering tragedy occurred, March 8, 2014, Malaysian aircraft MH370 disappeared. As social media outlets flood with the breaking news of the disappearance, it had to be painfully agonizing and breathe taking to realize you had sisters, brothers, parents, spouses, family, friends and acquaintances aboard the flight. How did the Malaysia Airlines handle the crisis communication? Did they handle the crisis management in an appropriate manner? What went wrong? What could be done differently in the future to address situations of this nature?
Handling the Crisis
After reading and hearing the updates from the media, many articles state that ‘Malaysia Airlines has demonstrated compassion, honesty, and competence while handling the crisis’ (Melissa Anges). During the first critical hours of the crisis, Malaysia Airlines issued a statement to the public informing everyone that they had lost contact with Flight MH370. They also stated that the airline would provide regular updates on the situation. The airline did post regular updates in an effort to communicate to the stakeholders. By doing so they demonstrated that they were taking responsibility and that they were the source of information for the crisis. They also initially appeared to be very straight forward and forthcoming with the information available.
Days later, as the media continued to flood the airways with information about the missing aircraft, Malaysian authorities began to be ‘criticized for contradictory statements, slow reactions, lack of information, and the inability to communicate effectively during a crisis of such magnitude (Reuters).’ As the search revealed that the flight was taken far from its intended path, Malaysian authorities were criticized even more about the lack of information.
The airline demonstrated one of W.T. Combs four postures relating to crisis response strategies. Malaysian Airlines seemed to take the rebuilding posture which, ‘attempts to improve the organizational reputation through taking some sort of responsibly’. According to articles published by cision.com, ‘Malasia Airlines went ‘dark’ as all promotional activities on its website, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook accounts were replaced with colorless background to reflect the mood and severity of the situation within hours of the news. By definition a dark site is a pre-made, non-visible web-site that is activated by companies when a crisis or emergency occurs (Crisis Communication).’ This was done to prove that the communication and public relation team behind the airline was organized, trained and prepared to handle the situation at hand.
As I reflect back on some the theories that we have covered during this term, I am quickly reminded of how the SCCT divides crisis types into three clusters called Victim, Accidental and Preventable. As I try to apply the theories to the aircraft crisis, I am of the opinion that the Preventable Cluster Theory relates more to the Malaysian aircraft disappearance. According to W.T. Combs, the Preventable Cluster supports the theory that the more organizations are perceived to be largely responsible for the crisis the more negative the impact on the organizational reputation.
What Can Be Done Differently
Perhaps the airline could have been more proactive in disseminating the correction information.
Malaysian authorities issued several statements to the media during the time of disappearance that included details of the search and rescue operations as well as offering support to the families. They published all communication and updates in a timely manner on their website both in English and Chinese. The airline also utilized social medial to keep the public informed in a timely manner.