Crisis Communications – Hurricane Harvey: 3 Lessons Learned

No matter your organization’s size, knowing how to respond in a crisis should be a main priority. For this month’s #mashblog I delve into 3 ways your small business can be prepared for their own crisis based off the recent events surrounding tropical storm Harvey.

1. Always remain in charge of your narrative 


The onset of rumors is inevitable when the public is struck with terror and in a frenzy. Amid the constant fire of questions and criticism that undoubtedly follows a crisis, it is easy for any organization to lose control of its public perception.

City officials in Corpus Christi, Houston, and other affected areas made it a point to shut down the never ending rumor mill online. Publicly absolving claims of utilities being turned off and defending the rights of those to refuge because of immigration status.

Mayor Turner Immigrantion Status Hurricane Harvey

Transparent answers countered rumors, thus keeping city officials in the driver’s seat of a very tumultuous ride.

Applying the lesson: When your company is burdened with gossip and chatter, silence the clutter and speak honestly and from the heart always.

2. Don’t dismiss the power of social media


Social media, social media’ing.

Pastor Joel Osteeen felt the piercing sting of social media backlash when his public image was challenged for not immediately opening the doors of his Lakewood Church to thousands left homeless during the storm.  The 606,000-square-foot church was initially closed for Harvey relief due to high water that surrounded the church. Ultimately, it seems the pressure from social media had everything to do with release a statement and open the doors of the church.

This was not before Joel blocked a few of his naysayers online first. In a TV interview with CBS News soon after, Osteen was dismissive of the uproar and even said, “I never pay attention to Twitter…if you let social media run your life & your ministry, you’ll never do anything.” I’m glad I wasn’t the only one thinking his remarks were tone deaf given the times. One of my Twitter followers and social media /public relations expert, Molly McPherson felt it too:

Molly McPherson Hurricane Harvey tweet

Applying the lesson: Social media is not the end all be all for your brand, but to deny it’s significance is irresponsible and negligent. Instead use it as a tool to demonstrate your org’s core values.

3. Respond to criticism confidently but calmly


Kudos again go to city officials for remaining composed and active during this time of duress. Inquiries centered on a perceived lack of prevention methods before the storm and poured in from news outlets and critics all over the world. For me it was a little frustrating to see “Why Didn’t They Just Evacuate” headlines all over the place. However, Mayor Turner responded to rumors and questions circulating online with a confidence most could get behind.

Applying the lesson: Set the record straight in the public eye for your organization passionately and promptly. When your organization is facing a major crisis with serious repercussions the last thing you want to do is be seen as defensive.

Crisis, while scary, is always a great time to show your fans and customers what your brand is really made about. Once the drama is over, you will be glad you didn’t succumb to the pressures of chaos.


Looking for a way help those in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey? Donate to The Hive Society, a local non-profit organization doing it’s part to rebuild the community.



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