Schultza, Friederike; Utza, Sonja; & Göritzb, Anja. (2011). Is the medium the message? Perceptions of and reactions to crisis communication via Twitter, blogs and traditional media. Public Relations Review, 37(1), 20-27.


The value changes and the rapid emergence of media innovations (internet, social web) in society lead to an institutionalization of crisis communication, in which especially new media play a crucial role. The key contributions of the paper include deepening and refocusing the theoretical foundations of crisis communication by experimentally analyzing the effects of traditional and social-media strategies on the recipients’ perceptions of reputation; and by analyzing the effects or crisis responses on the recipients’ secondary crisis communications (e.g., sharing information and leaving a message) and reactions (e.g., willingness to boycott). The results indicated that the medium matters more than the message. For all three dependent measures – reputation, secondary crisis communication and reactions–main effects of medium occurred, whereas the message had only a significant main effect on secondary crisis reactions.

The experiment had a 3 (medium: newspaper, blog, twitter) × 3 (reaction: information, apology, sympathy) design. Overall, 1677 participants completed the experiment. Participants were given a fictional crisis communication scenario and one of the three reactions via one of three media. The organization’s reputation and secondary crisis reactions were analyzed.

Key findings

1)    The results indicated the medium matters more than the message. There were differences between the three measures of reputation, secondary crisis communication and reactions based on the medium of the message. The message itself only saw difference in secondary crisis reactions.

2)    Crisis communication via Twitter led to less negative crisis reactions than blogs and newspaper articles.

3)    Twitter users were more likely to share the message than blog users and nonusers of social media. They were also more likely to share the newspaper article than the blog post or tweet.

Implications for practice

For successful crisis communication it is important to address Twitter users. Organizations should pay more attention to Twitter, and strategically reflect on their media choice and the target groups’ media use. In this study, the media was found to be more important than the message itself so organizations must consider multiple mediums when they communicate their message, especially on social media.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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