Päivi Tampere – What Happens in Social Media during Crises?


During catastrophes and social crises, users of social media form five distinct groups, making the communication between organisations and people more complicated than ever before, says Dr. Päivi Tampere from the TU Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School.

In her PhD thesis, she analysed the relationships between organisations and target groups in social media, and especially the shifts in these relationships during crisis. She used three recent events as basis: the H1N1 Pig Flu scare, the Fukushima disaster and the local Rimi store chain boycott.

Tampere discovered that five distinct participator profiles emerge during crisis. The organisations have to deal with 1) information providers, 2) askers or worrywarts, 3) sceptics, 4) scaremongers, and 5) authority defenders.

Sceptics were critical about the organisation and its communication, scaremongers spread speculation and false information, while authority defenders turned to defend the organisation handling the crisis.

Comments that defended politicians or officials showed high levels of trust. The posters believed in the organisation’s ability to handle the crisis and are the perfect public for any organisation. They do not require convincing, do not panic, nor oppose officials.

Organisations will have problems with sceptics and scaremongers. Sceptics have no trust toward the officials, nor do they perceive the actual level of risk. As a result of this, these people do not believe in what the organisation is doing, nor their ability to handle any crisis. The scaremongers are the biggest challenge, as they decline all messages from the organisation, have a systematic negative reaction, and spread fake information, whether from malice or simply because they believe in it.

The relationships between the organisation and the people have various challenges in today’s networked world. These include the slow reaction by organisations, difference in the knowledge the officials and the general public possess, the ambiguity of online groups, the ad-hoc nature of crises, and legal restrictions, that do not allow organisations to reply or comment to accusations online.

Despite their activity and participation, organisations can never control the discussion in social media. However, they can reap benefits, when they analyse the public opinion, understanding and argumentation, and use it to form their future messages.

In December, Päivi Tampere defended her Doctoral Thesis “Stakeholders as Crisis Communicators – Flow of Communication Power from Organizations to Publics”

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