Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Keith Grant-Davie


Keith Grant-Davie


Steven Hanks


Kristine Miller


Ryan Moeller


Rebecca Walton


This dissertation examines how individuals use social media to respond to crisis situations, both during and after the event. Using both rhetorical criticism and David Boje’s theories and concepts regarding the development of antenarrative—a process of making sense of past, present, and future events—I explored how social media users make sense of and respond to a crisis. Specifically, my research was guided by three major questions:

  • Are traditional, pre-social media image-repair strategies effective in social media environments?
  • How do participants use social media in crisis events, and how does this usage shape the rhetorical framing of a crisis?
  • How might organizations effectively adapt traditional crisis communication plans to be used in social media during future crisis events?

These questions were applied to four case studies to provide a range of insights about not only how individuals respond to a crisis, but also what strategies organizations use to present information about it. These cases were carefully selected to include a variety of crisis types and responses and include the following:

  • A business (H&R Block) communicating to clients about a software error
  • A governmental organization (the NTSB) presenting information about the cause of an airplane crash and about missteps in its response
  • A governmental group (the CDC) responding to a global health crisis with various audiences and types of responses
  • An activist movement (Black Lives Matter) attempting to unify social media users to lobby for change and highlight the scope of the issues to the nation

Analyses of these cases not only show how individuals and groups used social media to make sense of crisis events, but also how the rhetorical strategies used to respond to a crisis situation. Understanding how individuals and groups make sense of crises will provide additional understanding to information designers, public relations professionals, organizations and businesses, and individuals using social media to effect change.