Exploring the consumer perceived veracity of traditional media vs social media reports in an organisational crisis context

Author: Mohammed Akhib

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 28 Sep 2027.

Akhib, Mohammed, 2023 Exploring the consumer perceived veracity of traditional media vs social media reports in an organisational crisis context, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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There has been a significant increase in interest in organisational crisis communication, and the role of media reports is regarded as an important topic for research in this field. Organisations grapple with a lack of understanding about the influence, different media reports have on their consumers, especially when involved in a crisis. Crisis managers attempt to interpret the impact of different news reports to decide on a crisis management strategy. Following the attention from academia and public relations (PR) practitioners about the role of traditional media and social media during a crisis, an extensive review of organisational crisis literature and media studies was conducted. It showed that there was scant research comparing the media in an organisational crisis context, which was identified as a knowledge gap. In addition, while most research concentrates on crisis response, there are few studies on the initial crisis reports. Lastly, the influence of media reports on consumers’ distrust was found to be insufficiently explored and it was a gap in the organisational crisis communication literature.

This study aimed to explore and compare the influence of traditional media reports and social media reports on trust, distrust, attribution of blame, and subsequently on future purchase intentions in an organisational crisis context. This research uses a more detailed methodology comparing and measuring the influence of consumer believability of reports from two media types in different organisational crises.

An exploratory focus groups study was conducted as a preliminary test of the conceptual model developed from the extensive literature review. The data of the semi-structured discussions was explored using thematic concentration analysis, sentiment analysis and narrative analysis. The resultant constructs and relationships were used to build an actantial model which supported the conceptual model developed from the literature. The findings of this initial study also provided the stimuli for the hypothetical scenario design of the quantitative study.

The quantitative investigation used a quasi-experiment design of (2 media types x 2 crisis types). The hypothetical scenarios represented a traditional media news story and a social media report, for a victim crisis and an intentional crisis. These four scenarios were randomly administered with an online questionnaire to survey participants using both traditional media and social media. The questions were about media use, trust in traditional media reports/social media reports, organisational trust, organisational distrust, attribution of blame, and future purchase intentions. The scrutinised data yielded a final full sample of 876 valid respondents. The pathway analysis was conducted using AMOS version 28 software to test the postulated research hypotheses. The data was analysed using the comparison of means to implement six pairwise tests of the four scenarios, i.e., 1 vs 2, 1 vs 3, 1 vs 4, 2 vs 3, 2 vs 4 and 3 vs 4.

The findings provided new insights about consumer perceptions in an organisational crisis context. The attribution of blame was significantly influenced by traditional media in the case of an intentional crisis report compared to a victim crisis report. The association between traditional media trust and attribution of blame, leading to future purchase intention, was found to be statistically significant. The mediation of organisational trust was stronger than organisational distrust. Compared to traditional media reports, the social media reports were observed to evoke lower organisational trust and distrust in the survey participants. Traditional media usage significantly moderated traditional media trust influence on organisational distrust. The results reveal that traditional media reporting crisis news has a statistically significant influence on the consumers' judgement in an organisational crisis context. Thus, this thesis makes original contributions to the knowledge, and the conclusion discusses the theoretical as well as the practical implications of these findings.

Keywords: Crisis communication, consumer, trust in media reports, organisational trust, organisational distrust, attribution of blame, future purchase intentions

Subject: Business thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Professor Roberta Crouch