In the eye of the storm: Organisational response strategies to visually generated crisis

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Visuals like photographs and videos produced and circulated by lay people in social media serve as significant mediators in crisis communication. Such visuals are crucial for the way contemporary crisis events are defined and perceived in public (Mortensen, 2015; Coombs, 2007). This type of eyewitness footage is a growing visual genre of crisis communication. Yet, previous studies tend to neglect the visual aspect of crisis communication and there is scarce knowledge of how to monitor and manage visually articulated messages. The aim of this paper is to examine the role of eyewitness recordings in the unfolding of a reputational crisis involving multiple stakeholders. In particular, the study is concerned with how this visual genre affect the unfolding and definition of a crisis, how organisations respond, and how they can develop their preparedness for meeting visuals. As a particular case in point the study explores organisational responses to a visually generated crisis involving the social media circulation of citizen footage of a violent confrontation between an unaccompanied minor and a security officer at Malmo central station in Sweden. The study is based on a qualitative analysis of the eyewitness film, video surveillance, newsmedia articles, pressmaterial, social media posts, and interviews with key persons from the involved organisations. The analysis was directed to map the dissemination of the eyewitness film across media platforms, how it was mobilised in the ensuing public debate and how the organisational actors responded to and experienced the crises. Informed by theories of iconic images and situational crisis communication, the paper demonstrates how eyewitness images define an event and the roles that different actors adopt in the unfolding of the crisis. The study contributes to crisis communication theory by showing how eyewitness images are responded to by organisations in crisis situations and the challenges that are involved in responding to visuals. Eyewitness images were found to create discursive closure (Deetz, 1992) in communication, because they were experienced as representing events in an objective and authentic manner (see also Papadopoulos & Pantti, 2011). Moreover, the eyewitness film was embedded in other discourses and mobilised for different purposes. The actors were blamed, attacked and had limited opportunities to communicate their view of what happened. The iconic character of the film created emotional engagement and was therefore difficult to respond to by means of text-based communication. While text-based communication appeal to our reason and can be responded to in a rationalised manner, visual communication, particularly iconic imagery, appeals to our emotions and require other types of responses.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Communication Studies


  • Crisis communication, visuals, organizational response, image
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch
EventECREA 2018, 7th European Communication Conference: Centres and Peripheries: Communication, Research, Translation - Lugano, Switzerland
Duration: 2018 Oct 312018 Nov 3
Conference number: 7


ConferenceECREA 2018, 7th European Communication Conference
Abbreviated titleECC2018
Internet address

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