Crisis Communication Strategies & Social Media An Application of Situational Crisis Communication Theory



the problem

The field of crisis communication & public relations is in many ways an attempt to find patterns in seemingly unrelated events. Every crisis that a organization goes through is unique, brought on by a number of different factors & relationships. With numerous stakeholders both contributing and reacting to the situation. Thus, each crisis requires a different response strategy, that can best address the crisis and ensure that the reputation of the organization is protected. Understanding the efficacy of these strategies in different situations is critical in improving our crisis management strategies, and being able to prepare for the inevitable crises that will befall the organizations that we are a part of.

A core theory in the field of crisis communication, is Timothy Coombs' Situational Crisis Communication theory (SCCT), which provides a framework for organizations to classify their crises, and respond accordingly. With social media becoming an increasingly important element of crisis communications, applying SCCT to crisis cases that have played out in the digital sphere, will serve as a great point of reference for organizations that utilize SCCT in their crisis communication strategies.

the purpose

The purpose of this project is to apply Timothy Coombs’ Situational Crisis Communication Theories (SCCT) to two recent corporate crises. H&M’s “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” controversy, as well as United Airlines “David Dao” incident. Both these crises are relatively recent, having occurred within the last 2-3 years,. Both received a significant amount of attention from the media and general public. In each case, the company under crisis used a different SCCT strategy to respond to the situation, with differing results in each situation. This research project aims to record the opinions of participants on the strategies that each company used, and how it impacted the reputation of the company from their perspective. Additionally, this research will also look into how participants feel about the role of secondary crisis communication through social media in these situations. With the results of the study being used to improve the applications of SCCT in relation to social media.


How does the general public respond to different situational crisis communication strategies?

How can secondary crisis communication through social media be incorporated into corporate use of situational crisis communication response strategies?

THE goals

This project had two very beneficial goals in mind, both of which aimed to improve the contemporary understanding of SCCT, as well as its practical use within the field of crisis communications.

  • SCCT APPLICATION - SCCT is a foundational theory that corporations and other organizations use in their PR efforts. The project applies SCCT to two very recent crisis situations, and directly incorporates social media into the process.This will serve as a good example on how to apply SCCT strategies to different social media platforms, and how to use secondary crisis communications to alleviate future crisis situations.
  • DATA FOR ORGANIZATIONS - The data collected from this survey on its own should easily be interpretable by companies, and on its own can be used in a number of different ways to judge the effectiveness of SCCT strategies in crisis situations, beyond what will be covered in the scope of this study. The survey answers provide statistical insight into how certain age demographics feel about the role of social media in secondary crisis communication. It can also provide data that shows how different age groups react to the same crisis response strategies.


This project primarily collected quantitative data, using the results from a 21 question survey. Each survey question was multiple choice, with 2-3 answers per question for participants to choose from. These questions provided quantifiable responses that will be presented in the final report in percentages. Participants were sorted based on their age groups, with a particular focus on analyzing the data from the 18-29 range. As this is the most critical demographic in terms of active social media users. Certain questions within the survey also directly ask/characterize how participants feel about certain topics. Specifically, how they feel in relation to the use of social media in regards to corporate crises. These questions will collect qualitative data, getting participants to state how they feel in a general sense.


My name is Ibrahim Raza. I am completing my 4th year Professional Communications degree at Ryerson University, with plans to graduate this fall in October 2021. During my 4 years at Ryerson I have studied various communications topics, with a focus on public relations, social media, & marketing. In my final two years, I became interested in the field of crisis communications, and wanted to explore it further as part of my final capstone project. The tremendous role that social media now plays in our everyday lives, has also come with an increased level of attention and visibility towards organizational crises. Thus, I felt that an in-depth look into the strategies organizations use in a crisis and how the general public reacts to them, was a practical and consequential field of study.

Created By
Ibrahim Raza