Something Old, Something Borrowed and Something New: Crisis Communication Theory in the Social Media Era

Liv Krusegaard Bentzen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The aim of this thesis is to investigate to what extend Situational Crisis Communication Theory is adequate for handling social media crises and what are the challenges for crisis communication theory in the social media crisis-landscape? Timothy Coombs’s authorship applies to the aim, as he is considered one of the founding fathers of crisis communication and he has revised his framework in an attempt to encompass social media. The challenges of SCCT on handling social media crises are presented as three points of criticism, which SCCT does not encompass: 1) The definition of crisis: SCCT’s original definition is too narrow to encompass the versatile nature of social media crises and the revised definition is too broad. The definition of a paracrisis is too broad as well. 2) Time and virality: SCCT does not encompass the increased pace of dissemination of information on social media and the virality of social media crises. The paracrisis theory encompasses implicit elements of virality but does not present a strategy for managing this challenge. 3) The tenet of communication: this has changed because of online outrage, which means that communicating can make a situation worse by its mere presence. This in opposition to Coombs’s tenet of communication according to which communication will improve a situation if executed well. The option not to communicate is presented in his paracrisis theory but applies mainly to low crisis threats. In order to investigate the adequacy, a social constructionist paradigm is applied encompassing the perceptual nature of crises. Coombs’s framework is subjected to analysis following the prescribed chain of events of SCCT on the case, the shitstorm that followed SAS’s marketing campaign ‘SAS – What is truly Scandinavian?’. Following the analysis, the points of criticism presented in the theory based on additional theoretical frameworks are applied to the analysis and discussed and evaluated. The bubble studies framework is introduced in the thesis as a framework that encompasses the versatile nature of behavior on social media, virality and a context for why and how people collectively aggregate beliefs, such as a crisis. This framework complements elements of the weaknesses in the SCCT framework.

EducationsCand.ling.merc Erhvervssprog og International Erhvervskommunikation (Multikulturel Kommunikation i Organisationer), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages83