CSCA 2015 Research presentations on Social Media Crisis Communication and Deliberating Water Stewardship


I’m back home in Detroit after spending three days at the annual conference of the Central States Communication Association (CSCA), I presented some of my work — and caught up with some old friends from graduate school in the amazingly vibrant city of Madison, WI.

On Thursday 4/16, Amna Husain and I presented our paper (our third co-author Jessica Archer couldn’t make it, sadly), titled “Crisis communication, social media, and renewal: A multi-case study of Domino’s YouTube and BP’s oil spill disasters,” which was among the Top 3 Papers of the Public Relations Division. We were thrilled at the response we got from the audience, and are presently pondering our best options to move this project forward.

Even as corporate engagement of stakeholders via social media is an emerging area of public relations scholarship, researchers have largely neglected how social media may influence crisis communication tactics and post-crisis restoration. To study this issue, we draw from two case studies—Domino’s Pizza’s YouTube video crisis (2009), and BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010)—guided by the situational crisis communication theory (SCCT), and the discourse of renewal framework. We suggest four key implications for organizational renewal post-crisis: 1) the rapid information-sharing of social media necessitates immediate crisis response, potentially exacerbating the ongoing uncertainty; 2) organization-preferred crisis characterizations are liable to be resisted by social media users, while some strategies in particular may be restricted; 3) organizations’ preferred institutional history may be challenged by social media users, affecting their ability to renew/rebuild; and 4) rather than a one-time clarification of the organization’s views, social media warrant an open, conversational response strategy.

Then, on Saturday 4/18, I participated in a competitively selected panel on “Communication and Water Issues,” organized by Matt Seeger, where I talked about my research on the “Deliberative tensions of water stewardship in a multi-stakeholder initiative.” This is one of two case studies related to sustainable organizing around water issues that I examined as part of my dissertation research, and I’m planning to combine them in a subsequent manuscript. It was wonderful, therefore, to get some great suggestions from the panel respondent and audience members.

The effective management of at-risk resources like water demands creative and collaborative solutions, spearheaded by multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) that span multiple geographies and organizations. I examine the deliberative process undertaken by one such MSI, “Aqua,” drawing on participant observation of online and offline forums, meeting notes, audio recordings, and documents. Three tensions become evident: creating new/distinct standards while reiterating existing measures; collective decision-making, although privileging corporate interests; and comprehensive impact performance that is nevertheless open-ended.

All in all, a productive CSCA conference! 🙂 I’m looking forward to CSCA 2016 in Grand Rapids, MI.


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