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Monitoring the issue arenas of the swine‐flu discussion

Vilma Luoma‐aho (Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland)
Päivi Tirkkonen (Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia)
Marita Vos (Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 26 July 2013




This paper seeks to describe the changing organizational environment and stakeholder debate currently taking place in various “issue arenas” during a crisis. Organizations today need to find and monitor these arenas before being able to communicate with their stakeholders.


Communications of authorities and discussions by citizens are studied and analyzed in a case study related to the 2009 swine flu or influenza A (H1N1) episode in Finland. The organizational point of view is studied through media releases of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), and the citizen point of view through a content analysis of popular discussion online forums through which the authorities attempted an intervention.


The analysis of the media releases revealed that the crisis communication of the authorities was timely and factual, yet failed both in using understandable concepts and responding to the emotional needs of people threatened by swine‐flu and questioning the safety of the vaccination. These deficiencies intensified emotion‐driven discussion, and when people opposed to vaccination managed to secure the central “issue arenas” using the words “swine flu” online, this led to online speculations and exaggeration of threat, excluding the authorities and logical argument from the discussion.

Research limitations/implications

This study only looks at the swine‐flu debate from the points of view of the authorities and citizens, and does not discuss the role of the legacy media, for example. Since this study focused on one country, a global comparison could be the next step.

Practical implications

This study argues that success in communication today depends heavily on using the right language, finding the right issue arenas, getting there early, and answering the needs raised in those arenas. It is crucial for authorities as well as public relations practitioners to acknowledge these changes in communication in order to be able to deliver their messages.


The concept of issue arenas can help to clarify changing perspectives in communication management. Moreover, the study is timely as it focuses on a global topic – pandemics and their communication. The results demonstrate how lack of monitoring and belated activity may lead to online issue arenas being dominated by extreme groups, who then strongly shape public opinion. Practitioners and scholars need to focus on identifying issues and stakeholder needs, and to understand the dynamics of the arenas concerning them.



Luoma‐aho, V., Tirkkonen, P. and Vos, M. (2013), "Monitoring the issue arenas of the swine‐flu discussion", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 239-251.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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