Examining multiplicity and dynamics of publics’ crisis narratives with large-scale Twitter data

Xinyan ZHAO*, Mengqi Zhan, Cheng Jie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


The new reality of networked publics on social media calls for crisis communication practitioners and researchers to understand the narratives generated by publics on social media during organizational crises. As social media publics possess diverse, unique characteristics and communicative needs during a crisis, they form interpretative communities and co-create various symbolic interpretations of the crisis. Extending the public-centric and narrative perspective to the context of social media crises, we examined what crisis narratives were constructed by social media publics (i.e., multiplicity) and how these narratives changed by crisis stages (i.e., dynamics). Using topic modelling based on large-scale Twitter data of the Chipotle E. coli crisis (N = 40,610), we identified ten narratives subsumed under two themes (i.e., sharing-based and conversation-based) based on publics’ social constructions of their perceived risks and crisis experience. On the one hand, sharing-based narratives, heavily impacted by publics’ shared media coverage, reflected media crisis narratives and salient risk perceptions aligning with the news agenda. On the other hand, conversation-based narratives, fueled by publics’ opinion expression and emotional venting, demonstrated publics’ interpretations of their experience with the organization in the crisis with less salient but more diversified risk perceptions. Crisis managers are recommended to produce and deliver compelling narratives resonating with different groups of social media publics during crises.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)619-632
Number of pages14
JournalPublic Relations Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Marketing

User-Defined Keywords

  • Communities
  • Crisis communication
  • Narratives
  • Social media publics
  • Topic modeling


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