Do you wonder how organizations are handling issue management in the current fast-paced communication environment? Whether there are differences between companies from various fields? Or maybe it all depends on the level of expertise of the public relations practitioners? The latest study done by our team members sheds more light on these questions. So keep reading on to find out.
In their recent publication “The benefit of issue management: anticipating crises in the digital age” Nadine Strauβ and Jeroen Jonkman gauge how Dutch organizations and professionals employ issue management and media monitoring in the digital age to anticipate crises.
About the research
The authors conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 Dutch communication professionals. They were recruited from different organizations and sectors, including media, public affairs, technology, consultancy, municipality, lottery, oil/gas, cultural, insurance, and the financial industry. This sampling approach allowed for a coverage of a broad range of contexts to investigate communicative practices. The interview guide included questions related to communication and issue management and topics such as daily routines of communication professionals, their role perception, media orientation, and experience with issue and crises management.
The theory behind issue management
In the context of this study issue management is defined as “the monitoring or scanning of the organizational environment in order to identify issues and trends, adapt to changes, and/or to decide for managerial or communicative actions that are aimed at creating mutual understanding with relevant stakeholders”. Issue management is seen as a systemic process, meaning issues are handled in an organized manner that facilitates and informs the strategic decision-making of an organization. One way to perform issue management is through effective and timely environmental screening. This includes monitoring of traditional and social media. However, while the media monitoring of print news has a long tradition, the digital age represents a challenge for organization, demanding a constant awareness of information being distributed online. While some organizations might already be professionalized in this, the contingency theory suggests that there is no perfect or single model of issue management for each organization, but that there are variations depending on internal and external organizational factors.
What are the findings?
The study found that there are some similarities but also differences among practitioners regarding the practice of media monitoring and issue management in the digital age.
Talking about similarities, communication professionals understand the importance of monitoring trends and are mindful of uprising issues. Rather than focusing on a single topic, they monitor various issues, for example, stakeholders, economic, political or regulatory conditions, as well as social trends. At the same time, the participants acknowledged that one cannot be prepared for every possible crisis. Practitioners reported that they try to connect new crisis situations with previous encounters. They also agree that monitoring in times of crises requires additional resources due to the constant checking of traditional and social media and the direct, interactive engagement with stakeholders.
The differences in the approaches of the communication professionals revealed some interesting trends. Although traditional media are still seen as prestigious sources, practitioners from corporations offering intangible services reported that they are less focused on monitoring them on a regular basis and prefer to focus on them mostly during crises. The monitoring of social media has also been found to differ between the practitioners, dependent on their individual characteristics and experiences. Particularly young professionals and those with long-standing experience reported to be more actively engaged in issue management on social media. Although all interviewees employed stakeholder mapping as a tool that sheds light on issues, potential crises, and involved stakeholders, there is a difference in the approaches between companies. While large and well-known corporations seemed to try to fully map out their stakeholder grids, small companies appeared to deal with crises rather reactively, due to limited resources. When it comes to the assessment of competitors in monitoring processes, the most active sectors were found to be banks, insurances, and communication consultancies.
The authors conclude that new technologies have enabled communication professionals to monitor and manage issues in a more effective and consistent manner. The study showed that while practitioners share a common understanding of the importance of issue management and the focus on social media, they differ in their approach dependent on sector, the products or services their organization offers and professional experience. Whether these differences will decrease in the future due to more standardized practices in issue management remains to be seen.
What do you think about this topic? Let us know in the comments!
For more information check out the article in Journal of Communication Management and get acquainted with the details of the research. For further information you may contact the corresponding author Nadine Strauβ at email@example.com.