During a Global Crisis or Pandemic, good communication is key. Its very important that you spread the information with out creating panic in the people considering the uncertainty that the communities are experiencing at that time.
For professional journalists this could be quite simple as compared to the citizen journalists who often use their skills when reporting. So, what is the role of officials and journalists as they deal with both people’s strong emotions and emerging facts as they communicate with the public? Peter Sandman, an expert in risk communication explains why risk truly has two elements—hazard and outrage—and why understanding them both is crucial to crisis communication as well as pandemic journalism.
The risks that kill people and the risks that upset people are completely different. If you know a risk is deadly, that tells you almost nothing about whether it’s upsetting. If you know a risk is upsetting, that tells you almost nothing about whether it’s deadly.
• Let’s consider the technical side of risk—whether it’s likely to kill you, hurt you, or damage the ecosystem. Let’s call that “hazard.”
• Let’s take the other half of risk—the culture half of risk rather than the scientific half—that is, whether it’s likely to upset you, anger you, or frighten you. Let’s call that “outrage.”
• This makes the formula: risk = hazard + outrage.
The public generally focuses on the outrage and ignores the hazard. The public, therefore, overestimates the risk when the outrage is high and the hazard is low, and underestimates the risk when the outrage is low and the hazard is high.
The only real relationship between hazard and outrage is that they’re both called “risk” by different groups of people.
When we look at the high correlation between outrage and hazard perception, the question we’re asking is this: Do people get upset because they think something is dangerous, or do people think something is dangerous because they’re upset?
It is very important that you recommend precautions with out increasing outrage.
Low outrage equals apathy: people are not interested, they’re not concerned, they’re not upset, they’re not angry, they’re not frightened. They’re apathetic. As a result you’re going to have to:
• Keep your message short. Many people have short attention spans.
• Work really hard to make your message interesting, because apathetic people are easily bored. If you’re a source, you’ve got to try to make it interesting to the reporter. If you’re a reporter, you’ve got to try to make it interesting to the editor. If you’re an editor, you’ve got to try to make it interesting for the reader or viewer.
• Stay on message. If you’ve only got an eight-second sound bite, it’s got to be interesting, because people are going to tune out pretty easily. Pick your words very carefully and then stick to them.
The objective here is to get people to calm down. Usually because they are upset, you have to listen to them. Outrage management is done largely with the ears; precaution advocacy is done exclusively with the mouth. Outrage management involves a lot of listening, and a very weird thing happens when you listen to people’s concerns—they become calmer. I’m not saying the outrage disappears. It’s not magic, but they get calmer. The other thing that happens is they start wanting to hear from you.
Crisis communication is required when people are upset and they have a right to be. That’s a third paradigm, along with precaution advocacy and outrage management. With the first one, the message is “Watch out!” And with the second, it’s “Calm down.” Here the message is, “We’ll get through this together.” And this presents yet a third skill set. The things you do in crisis communication are very different from the things you do with precaution advocacy and outrage management.
Where is pandemic communication in this scenario? It depends where you are in the pandemic and where you are in the world. If there is a pandemic, particularly if there is a 1918-like rather than a 1968-like pandemic, we’ll all be working on crisis communication.