‘Paracrisis’ and responding to COVID and other dilemmas

10 JUNE 2021

‘Paracrisis’ and responding to COVID and other dilemmas

Research by a recent Charles Sturt University doctoral graduate examined how organisations are adapting to the heightened risk of crisis events in an online world, with a focus on pro-immunisation messages and communication.

  • Charles Sturt University research finds organisations are more vulnerable to reputational damage in the fast-moving digital world, a situation defined as ‘paracrisis’
  • The immunisation paracrisis highlights the importance of protecting the reputation of immunisation as a vital public health program
  • Time and resources need to be devoted to listening and properly responding to key stakeholders if successful communication is to happen

Research by a recent Charles Sturt University doctoral graduate examined how organisations are adapting to the heightened risk of crisis events in an online world, with a focus on pro-immunisation messages and communication.

Dr Roslyn Cox (pictured, inset), Lecturer in communication in the Charles Sturt School of Communication and Creative Industries, was awarded her Doctor of Communication from the Faculty of Arts and Education at the graduation ceremony on Thursday 3 June.

Her research, titled ‘Preparing for the challenges of paracrisis in an online world’, explores the vulnerability of organisations to crisis events when there are so many options and platforms for individuals to express their views and create posts that can easily trigger damaging crisis events.

Dr Cox’s thesis examined the unique features of paracrisis to reveal important understandings and considerations for professional communicators designing strategies and using digital platforms to communicate.

“The concept of ‘paracrisis’ is a phenomenon where organisations are increasingly vulnerable to reputationally damaging events in the fast-moving world of digital communication,” Dr Cox said.

“Paracrisis is the now all-too-familiar situation where social media platforms can be easily used as tools or weapons by anyone with a smart phone.

“Organisations, and important messages, can be seriously negatively affected by commentary and posts to social media platforms.”

Dr Cox’s work examined the immunisation paracrisis through a case study of a pro-immunisation Facebook site, and the analysis of interview data from a group of pro-immunisation strategists tasked with promoting the immunisation message in Australia.

“The immunisation paracrisis was the perfect focus for my research because it is critical to protect the faith people have in the reputational value and safety of immunisation, for example,” Dr Cox said.

“And pro-immunisation messaging became such a timely thing to be researching with the events of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past 18 months.”

One of Dr Cox’s critical findings was that in order to avoid or minimise a potential crisis event, organisations need to be listening and responding to critical stakeholders.

“For example, the pro-immunisation message cannot be advanced by brow-beating and ‘shouting science’ at people who are vaccine-hesitant, or have other concerns about immunisation,” she said.

“Time needs to be taken to listen to vaccine-hesitant people and to pick the ‘right psychological moment’ for those conversations, as one of my research participants described it.

“It is important for all parties in contentious conversations to be respectful, to recognise that people have a voice and want to be heard, and that social media platforms support a broader range of voices with a great deal of power.”

Dr Cox said time and resources need to be given so that the ‘sharing and building understanding and trust’ part of successful communication can happen.

“My research provides a model of paracrisis to help organisations better understand what is happening and the value of properly and respectfully listening and responding,” she said.


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Roslyn Cox contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au

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