Bulgarian Public Administration’s Social Media Communications Strategies During COVID-19 Crisis
Authors: Ivan Valchanov, Stella Angova, Maria Nikolova, Iliya Valkov, Violeta Zlatkova, Krassimira Valcheva, Boryana Marinkova
Abstract: The global spread of COVID-19 transforms the communication practices not only of business structures, but also of state institutions. Numerous crisis situations arose for the public administration, which were both specific and requiring coordinating communication actions with local authorities and related ministries. The experts in public communications in the structures of the state administration carry out relations with media, building relations with non-governmental organizations and representatives of the civil sector, organizing visits, coordination with other institutions. Following the pandemic crisis, PR professionals and crisis managers had to develop digital skills and competencies for strategic planning and online public communication.Purpose: The aim of the study is to analyse the Bulgarian institutions crisis communication infrastructure during the pandemic. The study aims to 1) provide information on the practical challenges for PR experts in designing and implementing online crisis communication strategies on social media; 2) to review the quality and quantity of the published content in the Facebook profiles of the state administration; 3) to present a conceptual framework for the quality of the communication strategies of the PA during a crisis.Methodology: The research methodology is based on of both qualitative and quantitative methods: 1) theoretical sources and research for peculiarities of the communication in the structures of the public administration, crisis communication in the public administration are analysed; 2) by the method of case study a qualitative analysis of the official Facebook profiles of 17 ministries and municipalities was made; 3) a representative empirical study was conducted with 182 communication specialists working in the Bulgarian public administration.Findings: The study identifies the most common crisis situations caused by the pandemic and systematizes traditional and online communication techniques. The results of the survey summarize the three stages of crisis communication management: 1) preliminary preparation (pre-crisis); 2) Crisis phase and response; 3) post-crisis period.Research limitations: Our study covers only the structures of the state administration in Bulgaria. The period of case analysis is March – December 2020, when a state of emergency was declared in Bulgaria. The questionnaire was distributed only among communication specialists in municipal and state structures to achieve maximum accuracy in answering specialized questions.Originality: This is the first study in Bulgaria that highlights good practices and deficits in communication strategies of Bulgarian institutions during crisis.Discussion: The study raises research questions about the online communication strategies of the Bulgarian institutions during the pandemic and about the digital competencies of the communication specialists in the public administration.Conclusion: Deficits have been registered in terms of online communication strategies - there is no clear identification of stakeholders and vulnerable groups, the quality of the created online content is low, and in a number of institutions it is missing.
Keywords: crisis communications, social media, public administration
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