Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Persuasively communicating about a disaster: It's a trap.

On the 20th of April 2010, BP committed the largest accidental oil spill in history, killing 11 workers and the Gulf of Mexico wildlife by spilling more than 4.9 millon barrels in 87 days. 

How can a company ever communicate about such a disaster?

Something feels wrong
This extract consists of a very strict selection of information and favourable changes of meanings. There is a strong sense of artificiality in this interview: information seems to be kept secret and that embarrassment/incompetence seems to be the only justification of censorship. This may lead to a desire for more information to see 'the full image'. 

It is arguable that BP is not in position to provide a two-sided message because of the extent of the disaster. But would that have actually improved the communication with the audience?

Two-sided messages v.s. One-sided messages in the media
De Vreese and Boomgaarden (2006) conducted a study on the effect of one or two sided media coverage of a Summit about EU enlargement. Survey data was collected 3 weeks before and immediately after the Summit. Participants' behaviour differed according to their political sophistication, defined by the authors as "a combined measure of factual political knowledge and political interest". The results show that a two-sided media coverage is ineffective, no matter how politically sophisticated are the subjects. However, a one-sided media coverage mattered for less politically sophisticated subjects (Table 1).

Table 1: Impact of Message Flow and Interpersonal Communication on Change in Public Opinion (Source: de Vreese and Boomgaarden, 2006)

The authors explain this phenomenon with the hypothesis that "mixed cues are likely to cancel each other out, whereas a consistent and pervasive directional news bias may shift public opinion".

BP's communication makes the best out of the worst. 

De Vreese, C. H., & Boomgaarden, H. G. (2006). Media Message Flows and Interpersonal Communication The Conditional Nature of Effects on Public Opinion. Communication Research, 33(1), 19-37.

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