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Communicating complex risks through social media: The role of social influence on risk attenuation

Project Description

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in October 2019.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Business and Law, and will be supervised by Dr Daniel Nunan and Dr Giampaolo Viglia.

The objectives of the project are:
-to understand approaches to risk communication and influences on risk perception when mediated through social media;
-to understand the role of social influence in determining perceptions of risk;
-to identify recommendations for practical communication approaches that leverage the targeting and segmentation techniques available on digital channels to enable the effective communication of complex risks.

Project description
This PhD project aims to explore techniques that enable the effective communication of complex risks to the public in contexts that improve health and reduce risks of harm.

Working within our Marketing & Society research grouping this project builds on a research stream that seeks to broaden the impact of marketing research and consider the role of marketing activities amongst non-commercial stakeholders. This project will address a research theme relating to the application of marketing techniques to improve health and wellbeing. The contextual focus of this project will be supported by working with a high-profile public sector organisation developing practical solutions to real-world problems.

Research has long established that public perceptions of risk differ from expert evaluations. Understanding how individuals perceived risk is therefore key to effectively communicating risk in a way that will encourage appropriate behavioural responses. This project looks at the way in which risks, particularly complex risks, related to health and safety are perceived and understood by individuals when communicated through digital channels. The growing use of digital channels, particularly social media, as a communication medium challenges existing approaches to risk communication. Whilst social media provides the opportunity for more targeted communications, and can potentially increasing reach for vulnerable or hard to reach groups, the role of social influence can make communicating risks more difficult.

Entry Requirements

General admissions criteria
You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum second class
or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate
subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or
Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements
You should have a background in the social sciences, preferably in marketing or psychology/consumer psychology. You should also have some knowledge of quantitative methods and be willing to develop your skills in this area as part of this project.

If you have project specific enquiries, please contact Dr Daniel Nunan () or Dr Giampaolo Viglia () quoting the project code.

How to Apply
When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form and select ‘Business and Management’ as the subject area. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Please also include a research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, the challenges this project may present, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field.

Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code BUSM4540219 (UK and EU students) or BUSM4570219 (International students) when applying.

Funding Notes

Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years and a stipend in line with the RCUK rate (£14,777 for 2018/2019). International (non-EEA) applicants also receive one return flight to London during the duration of the course through the Portsmouth Global PhD scholarship scheme.As part of the bursary, the Faculty of Business and Law may fund fieldwork expenses (currently £2,000) over the total period of PhD study. We also offer funding to attend conferences (currently £450), training (currently £450), and a work-based placement (currently a maximum of £3,000 tied up to the period of 12 weeks).


Anderson, A. A., Brossard, D., Scheufele, D.A., Xenos, M.A., and Ladwig, P. (2014), The “Nasty Effect:” Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 19: 373-387.
McAllister, C.P., Parker Ellen, B., and Ferris, G.R. (2018), Social Influence Opportunity Recognition, Evaluation, and Capitalization: Increased Theoretical Specification Through Political Skill’s Dimensional Dynamics. Journal of Management, 44(5): 1926-1952.
Risselada, H., Verhoef, P.C., and Bijmolt, T.H.A. (2014), Dynamic Effects of Social Influence and Direct Marketing on the Adoption of High-Technology Products. Journal of Marketing, 78(2): 52-68.
Sheeran, P., Harris, P.R., and Epton, T. (2014), Does Heightening Risk Appraisals Change People's Intentions and Behavior? A Meta-Analysis of Experimental Studies. Psychological Bulletin, 140(2): 511-543.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Portsmouth in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 41.40

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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