Date of Award

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication Studies

Committee Member

Dr. Joseph Mazer, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Erin Ash

Committee Member

Dr. Andrew Pyle

Abstract

Crisis communication has been studied in many ways; however, researchers are starting to observe this practice in the context of social media. Social media is consistently rising as the most popular and efficient platform for communication and is essential for effective communication during a crisis. During the Gatlinburg wildfires on November 28-29, 2016, social media was used to communicate about the disaster. This thesis utilized media dependency theory and the social-mediated crisis communication model to explore how organizations and the public use social media during a crisis. Radian6 software, a program that captures publicly accessible social media content, was used to gather 3,000 tweets captured from the night the fires first occurred, throughout the next day while the fires continued, and the day after the fire was extinguished. This study also examined the amount of posts related to the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during the wildfires by crafting a search that included the previously mentioned keywords and hashtags as well the tags @RedCross and @FEMA and the hashtags #AmericanRedCross and #FEMA. Analysis revealed that individuals post more affective content than informative content. It was also found that organizations did not use social media to share information about the crisis. This thesis provides theoretical implications and practical applications for crisis managers.

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