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Featured Researchers

Dr Eva Zhao

Assistant Professor
Department of Communication Studies

Dr Eva Zhao



When the pop star Ariane Grande’s Manchester concert in 2017 was hit by a terrorist attack, thousands of tweets started to fly as the public quickly to turn to social media. Dr Eva Zhao has been trying to understand such online information behaviours. In the case of the Ariane Grande concert bombing, Dr Zhao and her co-authors found that “influentials” used the medium for information sharing and to offer support, while “followers” expressed opinions to cope emotionally. Such knowledge could, for example, help crisis communicators understand the communicative needs of people in an emergency.


Dr Zhao, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies, researches diverse aspects of strategic communication, including health, risk, and crisis communication, particularly in social media contexts. She mainly uses quantitative and computational approaches, such as experiments and large-scale data modelling. Dr Zhao is interested in learning how social media serves as a platform for information sharing, public engagement, and community cultivation, especially during crises. In a multi-stage research project regarding social media influentials in crises, she explored how individuals and organisations take advantage of the affordances of digital media platforms to communicate during a crisis.


In a 2018 study, Dr Zhao and her co-authors developed and tested an integrated framework to measure social media influence during four crisis events using large-scale Twitter data. They found that social media influence is comprised of four factors which are associated with a distinct set of users’ behavioural indicators like retweets. In an on-going study, she is examining how different levels of factors, including crisis-level characteristics and message-level characteristics, predict the communication pattern of social media “influentials" across different crises and disasters.


Dr Zhao completed her PhD in Communication at the University of Maryland, College Park, after doing an MPhil at the HKBU School of Communication and her BA in Journalism at Fudan University, China. Her work has appeared in top communication journals, including the Journal of Health Communication, International Journal of Strategic Communication, and Public Relations Review. Her awards include the Top Student Paper and Top Faculty Papers at the International Communication Association Annual Conferences in 2017, 2018 and 2020 respectively.


Dr Zhao is now working on the development of valid and reliable automatic content analysis tools in the domain of social media and crisis communication. She also plans to continue her empirical investigation of social-mediated crisis communication by applying computational methods and social network approaches. “Is there a better time than now to study social media and crisis communication?” Dr Zhao notes



  • Top Faculty Papers in the Public Relations Division at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (2020)
  • Top Faculty Papers in the Information Systems Division at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (2018)
  • Top Student Paper in the Public Relations Division at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (2017)
  • The Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Students Abroad (2016-17)
  • University of Maryland Research Fellowship (2012 & 2013)
  • US-China Education Trust Scholarship, Washington D.C. (2010)


Research Outputs

  • Zhao, Xinyan, Mengqi Zhan, & Brooke F. Liu. “Disentangling social media influence in crises: Testing a four-factor model of social media influence with large data.” Public Relations Review 44.4 (2018): 549-561.
  • Zhao, Xinyan, Mengqi Zhan, & Cheng Jie. “Examining multiplicity and dynamics of publics' crisis narratives with large-scale Twitter data.” Public Relations Review 44.4 (2018): 619-632.
  • Zhao, Xinyan, Yang Bo & Chau-wai Wong. “Analyzing trend for immigrants’ e-health engagement from 2008 to 2013.” Health Communication 34.11 (2018): 1259-1269.
  • Yang, Bo & Zhao Xinyan. “TV, social media, and college students’ binge drinking intentions: Moderated mediation models.” Journal of Health Communication 23.1 (2017): 61-71.
  • Zhao, Xinyan, Mengqi Zhan, & Chau-wai Wong. “Segmenting and understanding publics in a social media information sharing network: An interactional and dynamic approach.” International Journal of Strategic Communication 12.1 (2017): 25-45.
  • Yang, Bo, Xiaoli Nan & Xinyan Zhao. “Persuasiveness of anti-smoking messages: Self-construal and message framing.” Health Education 117.4 (2017): 398-413.
  • Zhao, Xinyan. “Effects of perceived media diversity and media reliance on public opinion expression.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 28.3 (2016): 355-375.
  • Zhao, Xinyan & Xiaoli Nan. “Influence of absolute and comparative risk perceptions on cancer screening behaviors and the mediating role of cancer worry.” Journal of Health Communication 21.1 (2015): 100-108.