Brummette, John & Fussell Sisco, Hilary (2015). Using Twitter as a means of coping with emotions and uncontrollable crises. Public Relations Review, 41, 89-96.


This study uses a theory-driven approach to explore how stakeholder tweets can be analyzed by organizations to gauge the public’s collective sentiment and construct messages that facilitate coping during a crisis. Findings from this study revealed that participants use Twitter to communicate about their perceptions of a crisis, specifically in terms of perceived predictability and controllability on behalf of the organization, as well as to express emotions and employ various coping strategies related to the crisis.


An integrated crisis mapping model (ICM) framework and content analysis was used to examine 818 tweets collected in real time immediately after a repeat organizational crisis at Virginia Tech. The variables examined in this study were (1) perceived predictability, (2) perceived controllability, and (3) the type of emotion, and (4) coping strategy utilized in each tweet.

Key Findings

  • The majority of tweets examined in the study 61% (n = 481) expressed perceptions of neutral predictability in terms of the organization’s ability to predict the repeat crisis while 17% (n = 133) of tweets expressed perceptions of high predictability.
  • 42% (n = 336) of the tweets examined in the study expressed perceptions of neutral controllability in terms of the organization’s ability to control the crisis while 37% (n = 295) expressed how the organization had very little or low controllability.
  • The three most frequently displayed emotions in the tweets were anger (40%, n = 316), fright, (25%, n = 198), and sadness (11%, n = 87).
  • Stakeholders utilized Twitter for various coping strategies that include instrumental support seeking (31%, n = 245), emotional venting (25%, n = 198) and emotional support seeking (16%, n = 127) while a total of 127 (16%) tweets displayed no coping strategy.

Implications for Practice

Twitter is a popular social medium that has the capacity to provide real-time information to stakeholders and crisis managers during an organizational crisis. External stakeholders who are users of social media are an excellent resource that can be gauged to identify the informational and emotional needs of an organization’s publics. Crisis managers using the ICM model to operationalize the emotions and coping strategies expressed by their stakeholders must further apply the model to determine the appropriate responses that meet the emotional needs of their publics.

Table: Coping strategies used in the ICM model

Coping strategy  Coping type Definition
Rational thinking Cognitive “Deliberate attempts to prevent subjective emotions from directing behavior”
Positive thinking Cognitive “Attempts to psychologically reconstrue a source of stress in order to make it more tolerable; Efforts to reconstrue stressors so that they are less damaging”
Emotional support seeking Emotional “Attempts to marshal social resources to improve one’s emotional and/or mental state; Seeking out others for comfort”
Emotional venting Emotional “Attempts to recognize and express one’s emotions”
Instrumental support seeking Emotional “Attempts to marshal social resources to take action toward ameliorating a stressor; Focused on bringing about objective change and [trying] to get advice from someone about what to do”

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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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