Do It Right or Do Damage Control

Crisis Whisperer Lisa Matheson Do It Right or Do Damage ControlWe’ve all heard the old query – “If a tree falls in a forest with no one around, does it still make a sound?”

Today, it could be: “If you push messaging on a channel few use, does it reach the intended audience?”

The answer, of course, is no.

The quandary is that there are so many communications channels. How do you chose the ones that will reach your audience, especially in a crisis when communication is critical?

First, you have to know who your audiences are and, as much as one can, how they get their information–from traditional and social media. You’ll also want to understand populations with special needs, including language barriers, to improve the reach of your message.

Second, you need to communicate across your chosen channels consistently. It’s important to “establish behaviors” by promoting and using the same communications channels, so that when the stuff hits the fan people know where to turn for authoritative information.

When you establish your communications channels, take into consideration the resources you have to manage them during business as usual and emergency or crisis situations. It’s easy to lose your credibility and/or damage your reputation if you have an information void on an established communications channel.

When It Goes Awry

The U.S. National Weather Service Forecast Office Baltimore/Washington, D.C., made a misstep this week when it announced during some inclement weather that it wouldn’t be updating its Facebook account and tried to push people to their website.  Their followers immediately pushed back.

Crisis Whisperer Lisa Matheson - NWS Baltimore Facebook SNAFU 05-27-14


Damage Control

Because NWS Baltimore/DC had successfully established Facebook as one of its primary communications channels, the move to not publish information important to its followers was ill-advised.

On the plus side, they did provide a communications channel for their constituents to get the desired information. However, they didn’t provide a deep enough explanation. Instead, the perception was that they were abandoning their post, so to speak, and had to do damage control.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t addressed until the following day.


Crisis Whisperer Lisa Matheson - NWS Baltimore DC 05-28-14


The follow up post by Jim Lee did much to assuage their followers because it provided the deeper information–the why–they needed to understand the decision. With a few exceptions, most followers who commented were accepting of the explanation.


Crisis Whisperer Lisa Matheson - NWS Baltimore DC 05-28-14



Because the NWS is the official weather service, they have a deeply entrenched communications process. As they evolved to adapt new communications technologies, they should have defined a strategy that clearly identified what information would be communicated across what channels that was shared with their constituents.

So, in this case, there should be ongoing “lead a horse to water” communications across all of the NWS channels to direct constituents to the authoritative or primary channels. E.g., if you’re not going to provide all weather updates on Facebook, then publish where people should go for that information and provide easy ways for them to get there (i.e., hyperlinks, directions how to download an app).

Then the use of their communications channels should be consistent. If you’re going to publish what could be potentially life and property saving information on social media in addition to your original or primary channels, then you need to do so consistently. Don’t change direction mid-stream, especially in an emergency.

If you are thinking about changing how you communicate, you need to manage the change well ahead of time and tell your constituents often across all channels.  You may want to consider involving the public in the decision making process by conducting a survey or just asking the question via social media.  Today’s constituents are all too happy to opine!