Leaders in crisis: measuring the impact of communication
Sponsored by Isentia | Thu, 17 Oct 2019
Isentia’s Research and Insights business is one of the largest and most experienced media analysis teams in the world. Isentia uses traditional and social media as a lens to understand how issues are being discussed and reacted to.
Our approach to measurement is based on our understanding of how the media can reflect and influence views, opinions and perceptions. We analyse the relevant print, broadcast, online news and social media coverage as often as required. All projects are bespoke and specifically designed based around an issue, industry or organisation. This can include measuring the media presence of messages or points of view, public figures, business units and the overall tone and health of a topic. Our analysis methodology utilises automated data collection and human coding and interpretation to more accurately determine how coverage may have been received and understood by the wider public.
Media research and analysis is used by both government and private sector entities to:
- Present a clear, independent overview of the key points of view
- Measure general credibility and reputation in the media
- Evaluate how an issue or organisation is portrayed to and by its key stakeholders
- Evaluate the short-term and long-term impact of issues and how it is being reported on and understood.
- Provide data to aid key organisational decision making
- Assist strategies for ongoing communications and public education
- In a crisis, assist in the fast digestion and understanding of large volumes of media content
- Measure and evaluate the positive and negative tone of media messages
We recently published a series of case studies on leading through crisis. Here are some of our findings.
Facebook has been heavily embroiled in media coverage and speculation about privacy since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March 2018, letting the wider public in on how user data on Facebook can be used and sold for political gain.
Since this first major story there have been a series of data breaches, concerns over the lack of transparency regarding data collection and sharing by the platform, and a number of legal proceedings against Facebook all over the world.
As a result, Facebook have been very vocal that they are making changes to their platform and are going to focus on creating a private environment for their users.
Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are difficult to disentangle, and are largely synonymous. Zuckerberg has been the face of these privacy changes and has set social media on fire with his meme-worthy performance explaining how the internet works to the US Senate (just look up the term “Zuckerbot”), but he has struggled to create a sense of trust.
Compared to the “visionary” label that we found used so liberally for disruptors in Edition 2 of our leadership series, Zuckerberg represents what happens when the snappy tech disrupter becomes the large multi-national corporate. The expectations on leaders change. While Zuckerberg is always on-message about privacy and how Facebook intends to build a safer platform, he lacks believability.
One of the most common criticisms of him as a leader, was that he operates as though he lacks understanding about the staggering amount of power that Facebook has. He is often absent in issues where he is expected to lead, for example in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, despite the shooter having streamed his attack live on the platform.
This shows the interesting shift in expectation on leaders when they face a crisis. You can be afforded the narrative of a maverick disruptor, until you become the dominant player. Holding all the power creates an entirely different dynamic between a leader and how the media expect them to behave.
On March 15 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern faced a challenge that political leaders dread. A terrorist attack had taken place in Christchurch, with a white supremacist gunning down 51 people and injuring a further 50. Ardern’s empathetic approach to the attacks set the tone for the New Zealand and international response to the event.
Prime Minister Ardern represents a new leadership narrative for a number of reasons, she is the youngest female head of government in the world, and is the world’s second elected head of government to give birth while in office. Ardern became leader of the Labour Party seven weeks before the general election and lead them to the best result since losing power in 2008. Her campaign was a relentlessly positive “Let’s do this”.
She has always been clear that she believes government should be “empathetic and kind”. She is often positioned in international media as an antithesis to nationalist, divisive figures such as Donald Trump.
Ardern effectively uses her social media platforms to communicate directly, with nearly 700,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram. These platforms help her to connect with her audience and provide content that shows her opinion, plans and responses rather than only relying on traditional media.
Immediately prior to the Christchurch attacks, the media narrative building around the Prime Minister was one of disappointment. She was criticised for the softening of her language around Capital Gains Tax (CGT) in early March, and the presumption that she would be unable to convince one of her coalition partners (NZ First) to enact a CGT policy. This coverage framed Ardern as weak and as a puppet for NZ First leader Winston Peters, a narrative that remains a common critique in domestic policy discussions. While media consensus is that she is incredibly passionate, this passion can be used to position her as ineffective because it has not immediately translated into policy.
The Christchurch terror attack provided an unfortunate opportunity for Ardern to demonstrate the strength of empathy and kindness, and how these can be used as a motivator for change. The Prime Minister was front and centre of the coverage, and was quoted and pictured in the vast majority of media coverage of the attack. The language she used and images of her defined the reporting and set the agenda of the coverage. News coverage was not analysing her or her response, which is typical of other leaders in a crisis; instead, her views, choice of language and policy changes were positioned as self-evident facts.
The imagery of and language from Ardern were incredibly powerful. This coverage was strengthened because her core traits of empathy, kindness and resolve were already there, and are innate to her, resulting in minimal criticism of her choices. For example, Ardern’s choice to wear a hijab as a sign of respect and to inspire others to do the same (including reporters and police officers) when appropriate did not appear disingenuous.
Ardern’s reactions and approach in the wake of the Christchurch attacks has set a new standard in crisis response, especially in the eyes of global media.
While not a challenge the Prime Minister would ever have wished for, she has shifted in our expectations of leaders. In the wake of this event she responded with traits that were true to her leadership style, that were previously considered a weakness by some, and they ensured firm, fast and believable action.
Headlines from world media:
Jacinda Ardern is a true example of a leader — Marie Claire
Jacinda Ardern: At last a true leader for our troubled times — The Age
This is what a real leader looks like — MamaMia
Jacinda Ardern is showing the world what real leadership is: Sympathy, love and integrity — The Guardian
The roots of Jacinda Ardern’s extraordinary leadership — The New Yorker
Want to know more, or receive the full report? Contact Russ Horell, NZ country manager on (04) 462 6201 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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