There’s a Theory for That

I wish I had known about Situational Crisis Communication Theory sooner.

When I served as the communications director for a Jewish nonprofit a while back, crisis communication was straightforward. If a person, a synagogue, or the state of Israel was in crisis, our messaging would bolster the victim and denounce the perpetrator. Incidents could include antisemitic graffiti or hate speech directed at an individual or school, or an attack on a synagogue or Israel. In those instances, we’d voice support for the victim on social media, and rally followers to share the message that antisemitism must not be tolerated.

(I feel compelled to interject that Israel’s current war with Hamas horrifies me, and I feel deeply for civilian victims on both sides. My job would be quite difficult if I still served as the coms director for that organization.)

Moving forward: I changed jobs in 2018 and became the head of marketing and communications for a nonprofit publishing company. There, crisis communication took on a whole different meaning. There were a few crises to manage—crises for which my organization was partly responsible—and I had no playbook to guide me in crafting the responses I posted to social media.

Turns out there is a playbook, and it’s called Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT). I learned about it a few months ago in a graduate school class. Developed by Timothy Coombs, SCCT says that organizations should match their crisis responses to the level of crisis responsibility and reputational threat. It also provides specific response strategies based on crisis type.

I wish I had known about SCCT while working at the publishing company! I should have at least Googled “crisis theories,” but I winged it instead.

Back to grad school: I created this presentation on Situational Crisis Communication Theory which likely contains more than you’ll ever need to know about SCCT. Unless you found this blog because you too are a communications student, in which case, you’re welcome 🙂

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