It's a Social Media World

A Discussion on Digital Media & Communication Trends

Just Do Something – It Is Contagious

It amazes me how in crisis people can choose to do nothing. It is almost as if we are frozen. The seemingly benign and unimportant issues take the forefront. Perhaps that is because these are the issues that are easier for humans to deal with then the raw, emotional and truly heartbreaking concerns. I see it in personal experiences as well as in corporate communications.

Recently, my family dealt with a difficult emergency medical situation. We had lots of well wishes and people asking us what we needed. All of these were appreciated. To be honest though, I didn’t know what we needed. In the midst of the crisis my neighbor did something amazing. As the ambulance pulled up, he walked into the house took a key from our back door and said, “Don’t worry about the dogs, I’ll take care of them.” To have someone just do something that they thought was needed meant the world to me.

In the movie Contagion, (Warning: do not eat before you see this movie – seriously!) I saw the same human response to a crisis. People questioned what to do, but information dissemination between the federal and local governments did not occurring. People did not know how the disease was spreading, what they could do to stop it, and they had little access to the medicine necessary to prevent/control the infection. The result was inaccurate assumptions circulating enabling people to continually make bad decisions. “Nothing spreads like fear.” It made you want to scream at the CDC, both local and federal governments and other organization – JUST DO SOMETHING! Anything would have been better then the laborious operational and financial discussions that were occurring.

Similar to Contagion, large companies like BP often stall, stutter and do nothing when crisis hits. There are lots of right ways to approach crisis communication. The one thing both interpersonal and corporate communications has taught me of late is that action is better than the best delayed plan. And if I had to guess, I bet action is just as contagious as fear.

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4 comments on “Just Do Something – It Is Contagious

  1. jcshoff
    September 30, 2011

    Thanks for the food warning. I am almost typing with gloves on after watching the movie. While I would like to agree that doing something is better than nothing, I can’t help but think about the issues created by media’s attention on Hurricane Irene. While the world did not end, in spite of the media’s focus, it did cause a great deal of damage. Nonetheless, as soon as it “missed” NYC, the critics started.
    The issue that has to be balanced is that doing something before you really know might work once (Contagion notwithstanding). If you are wrong, you set up for a muted response the second time around, a time which just might be the “end”. I used to live on the gulf coast(many years ago) and after a few near misses, people started to ignore weather warnings. Eventually, the big one hits.

    Monday morning quarterbacking is a horrible way to run a game. Unfortunately, those seem to get a great deal of attention.

    • kbconway
      September 30, 2011

      Great insight Jim. It is definitely a balancing act. Too much hype versus too little are both bad combos.

  2. pp09
    October 3, 2011

    Great post, KBC! One of the reasons people sometimes stand by and do nothing (or move full speed ahead without analysis) has to do with the principle of social proof: people make decisions about what to believe or how to act in situations based upon the beliefs and actions of others. This is especially true when people feel uncertainty about something or someone. (Cialdini, 2009, p. 139)

    I think another reason has a lot to do with litigation. Every crisis management team has legal counsel, and most likely every decision a CMT considers has to be approved first by the legal representative.

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