Tokyo Disney Doesn’t Crack Under Pressure from Earthquake Crisis

Crisis communication is one of the most important uses of social media for companies. Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. defines crisis as “any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, damage reputation or negatively impact share value. He goes on to explain in his article, “The 10 Steps of Crisis Communication,” that every organization is vulnerable to crises and if you don’t prepare for these typically unexpected events, it will cost you more in the end.

Crisis communication is even important during incidents that the company is not responsible for. Natural disasters, for example, affect the travel industry frequently and your company must be prepared to handle them effectively.

Real-time communication is key in relieving uncertainty during a crisis. It is said that Twitter is ideal for crisis communication because of its speed, mobile access, and ease of redistributing information via retweets. For travelers always on the go, social media presence is essential for organizations that want to keep up with their stakeholders’ mobility.

Tokyo Disney Resort is a textbook example of how an organization should communicate with their stakeholders during a cascading crisis. On March 11, 2011, the fifth largest earthquake ever recorded (9.0) hit Japan. The earthquake caused a tsunami on the coast, which caused flooding and loss of power, which led to explosions at a nearby nuclear power plant.

The earthquake took place approximately 230 miles northeast of Tokyo Disney Resort. Even though there were limited physical damages to the park, there was a sense of uncertainty amongst concerned guests. Holly Ann Roberts explains in her dissertation how Disney utilized three crisis response strategies to ease the uncertainty of guests through organizational communication and social media. In this post, you will see a detailed account of how Disney successfully used its various social media platforms that I discussed in my October 1st post to overcome this crisis.

Roberts outlines three message categories of crisis response: instructing information, adjusting information, and reputation management. Instructing information is used to inform stakeholders what to do to physically protect them self. Adjusting information addresses the psychological stress resulting from uncertainty. Reputation management secures the organization’s image during a crisis.

She explains how Tokyo Disney used all three message categories effectively.  Just minutes after the first quake, the park disseminated the first instruction information via a park-wide speaker announcement. They used this medium to keep guests informed of what happened, what to do to remain safe, as well as updates on the earthquake and traffic. Cast members were also informed on how to instruct guests. It was illustrated by their calm and organized manner, that Disney had effective internal communications and had properly trained their employees on how to handle such events. The resort used Twitter and blog posts to keep subscribers updated on park restoration, plans for reopening, and other supportive information about the crisis.

The following video was recorded by a guest just after the first quake. Tune in at 1:41 – 1:56 to hear Tokyo Disney’s initial park-wide announcement (in English) and the cooperation of guests and cast members.

As for adjusting information, the park reassured guests during their initial announcement that the park had been designed with earthquake safety in mind and that they would provide additional information as soon as possible. Another way they eased the uncertainty of guests was by acknowledging the cultural barriers of guests and international cast members. The park-wide messages were disseminated in various different languages to accommodate non-Japanese speaking stakeholders. Additionally, cast members provided food, water, blankets, shelter, and other means of comfort to guests. Tokyo Disney also sent out a series of email to employees providing counseling, willing to answer parents’ questions, and event offering to pay American employees’ trip home during the park’s closure.

Disney solidified their outstanding reputation by showing their priority to guests, rather than merchandise or profit as mentioned above. They also provided transparency when they released before and after photos of the damages and restorations on their blog. They also illustrated their concern and sympathy for everyone affected in the weeks following the cascading events. When the park reopened, they had limited operation hours to conserve energy in consideration for those still recovering across the nation. Walt Disney Company donated $2.5 million contribution to the Red Cross for disaster relief. Tokyo Disney Resort also donated a portion of the ticket sales just after reopening to the Japanese Red Cross. And overall, each of Disney’s messages expressed heart-felt sympathy and concern for those affected from their first park-wide announcement to their continuous philanthropic plan.

With the overlapping use of instruction information, adjusting information, and reputation management, Tokyo Disney Resort and Walt Disney Company were able to ensure the safety and well-being of their guests, as well as solidify their reputation and brand loyalty. Positive comments on their various social media platforms by guests and concerned followers, illustrate their effective crisis communications.

By: Gina Cook


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