Crisis Communication on Social Media: A Comparison of User-Generated Messages to Traditional Media and Organizational Framing

Heather Riddell

Major Professor: Carl Botan, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Timothy A. Gibson, Melissa A. Broeckelman-Post

Merten Hall (formerly University Hall), #1204
August 02, 2018, 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM


The focus of this dissertation is on user-generated crisis communication and studies how the interaction of publics on social media have changed the nature of crisis situations. Framing theory is used as the theoretical base for this study as it explains the way publics, traditional media, and organizations shape their crisis messages. Traditional media effects models indicate that messages come from the top and filter down to the public. However, with the dialogic nature of social media, crisis situations are communicated quickly through first-hand accounts and citizen journalism. The review of literature in crisis communication, especially the use of social media in crisis communication, shows that most of the research is organization-centered. This dissertation seeks to answer how publics construct crisis messages, how they are framed, and the impact crisis frames generated by publics have on traditional media and organizations frames.

During this research, interview methods were used to investigate why and how the public communicates about crisis situations on social media. In addition, a content analysis examined tweets to understand what the public, traditional media, and organizations posts during a crisis and the frames each group employs. Finally, a survey compared frequently used frames and provided understanding into the frame perception and preference that the public has during crisis communication. The findings of this study show the contribution publics make to the framing used during crisis, as seen through an adjusted model of media effects, social media content perception scale, and a social media crisis communication development model. The implications from this research indicate a needed shift in the crisis communication models that reflect the role user-publics have during crisis communication on social media.