Crisis communication and social media

In a number of projects FOI has looked carefully at the use of social media for the purpose of crisis communication. The issues considered relate to the possibilities and challenges associated with the use of social media, both from an organisation/authority perspective and from the individual citizen's point of view. Social media can provide a means of disseminating a message during an ongoing crisis but they can also constitute a rich source of information prior to activities planned in relation to the crisis concerned.


Issues underlying FOI's work on/about social media and crisis communication include:


  • multidisciplinary perspectives on communication possibilities 
  • technical solutions 
  • organisational questions 
  • human behaviour in social media in crisis situations.



FOI possesses expertise and experience gained from practical applications, global studies, techniques for the gathering and analysis of web data, as well as analyses covering Man System Interaction and crisis communication. FOI also possesses knowledge and expertise concerning human behaviour in general but especially in how human behaviour expresses itself in the social media, itself an important factor to take into account in the development of future systems for crisis communication and warning. A broad portfolio of methods is required when researching this field, for example field studies in both the virtual and the physical worlds, studies of crisis situations and crisis communication in simulated environments, as well as interviews. This multidisciplinary way of working provides a basis for adapting these methods to particular domains and research questions.


The technical solutions which are being studied/developed are intended to achieve improved awareness of the public's views, feelings and knowledge regarding crises based on what is written in social media. The understanding of the situation achieved in this way can then be used in crisis management in order, for example, to reach out with alternative crisis announcements or to use other more effective channels of communication. In order to bring this about, a range of different techniques is needed. These include data collection, analysis of natural speech and statistical analysis. FOI are specialists in adapting these techniques for use in the domain of crisis communication.


In the field of organisational development FOI are working, for example, on development and support with regard to how social media can/should be used by authorities in connection with crisis situations. This includes, for instance, assessment of the practicality of using social media for crisis communications based on actual events and/or exercises, or the development and validation of communication strategies for social media through a series of exercises. In this context FOI makes use of its knowledge and experience gained in other fields and applications such as management and communication, training and exercises, evaluation and capability development.


FOI's clients in this field include, for example, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency and the European Commission.