Walking dead gone viral.

Crisis communication and humorous messages in the social media age.

As far as pop culture goes, it is hard to beat the current zombie upsurge; from TV drama like “The Walking Dead” to movies such as “Resident Evil”, the devilish figures have invaded public consciousness. They are apparently popular in public relations, too, judging by the number of campaigns using zombie-related humour to generate buzz on social media platforms. But how successful are these PR strategies in the context of risk communication? A new study published in the National Communication Association’s Journal of Applied Communication Research looks deep into this matter, and reveals the match between social media and humour may not be made in heaven, after all.

Authored by Julia Daisy Fraustino and Liang Ma, the study presents an in-depth analysis of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “zombie apocalypse” all-disaster-preparedness campaign, and uncovers the benefits and the pitfalls of using social media and pop culture-referencing humour in the context of crisis communication.

Launched on social media in May 2011, the “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” campaign was aimed at engaging the U.S. public with the tactics needed to best survive a zombie attack–the idea being that withstanding a zombie attack will prepare people for any emergency. While the stunt was unquestionably successful, whether it encouraged people to take preparedness actions was less clear. “Social media facilitate communication” and interactions, especially in times of crisis, explains the team leading the research, but when humour is thrown into the mix, things become ambiguous. ‘Light-heartedness reduces…critical thinking,” increasing the tendency to accept communication content, and comical messages can “trivialise the perceived seriousness of a topic,” weakening people’s intention to safeguard themselves, adds the team. To further investigate the matter, the academics employed three distinct research methods, including a phone interview with a CDC zombie-campaign manager and an in-depth analysis of marketing materials including key evaluation metrics, both designed to allow the CDC to ascertain the success of the apocalypse campaign. Also, an online field experiment was carried out to establish the effects of medium type (social media vs. traditional) and message form (humorous vs. non- humorous) on recipients; to this end, 232 college students were randomly exposed to four adaptations of the original apocalypse campaign–a blog, a newsletter, and a comic as well as serious version of the zombie message–and then were asked to rank their ‘readiness to act’ by completing a questionnaire.

Results showed campaign goals had been achieved from the CDC’s viewpoint, and the medium form had no impact on the behaviour of the observed sample. However it was confirmed that a “tongue in cheek stance towards disaster communication trivialises perceived importance,” as evidenced by the students who were shown the comical version of the zombie message manifesting weaker intentions to take protective action. So, while humorous strategies can launch campaign messages into the spotlight, because of significant consequences on audiences’ behaviour and well-being, more caution and attention are needed from professionals using social media and humour in a risk communication context.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS

When referencing the article: Please include Journal title, Author, published by Taylor & Francis and the following statement:

* Read the full article online:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00909882.2015.1019544

Visit our newsroom at: http://newsroom.taylorandfrancisgroup.com/

Follow us on Twitter @tandfnewsroom  

For more information please contact:

Marita Eleftheriadou – Marketing Executive | Arts & Humanities
email: marita.eleftheriadou@tandf.co.uk

-----------------------------------------
About Taylor & Francis Group

-----------------------------------------

Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life.  As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioural Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine.

From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

---------------------------------------------------------------

About the National Communication Association

---------------------------------------------------------------

The National Communication Association (NCA) advances Communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media, and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. NCA serves the scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Dedicated to fostering and promoting free and ethical communication, NCA promotes the widespread appreciation of the importance of communication in public and private life, the application of competent communication to improve the quality of human life and relationships, and the use of knowledge about communication to solve human problems.

For more information, visit natcom.org, follow us on Twitter at @natcomm, and find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NationalCommunicationAssociation.

Tags:

About Us

Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine. From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

Subscribe