The medium is the message–swine flu and notification

April 30, 2009

I found this comment from a Ragan Daily Headlines article about swine flu communciation very interesting:

Several communicators at Texas Tech University say they are steering away from methods of communication normally associated with emergencies, such as text messaging or phone calls to students and staff, in favor of a less-panic-inducing approach. Texas Tech is in Lubbock, in northwest Texas, which is miles away from the closest confirmed cases in the state.

“We wanted to keep everyone calm, not overreact, not draw more attention than was necessary, so we’re providing an education-based approach,” says Lisa Low, senior editor of Web communications. “If it becomes an emergency, it’s a whole other response effort: We’ll text-message, and we’ll phone-call. We want to give everyone an opportunity to know what we know, and what information is out there.”

It seems a very sensible approach and one of the keys to swine flu communication is perspective, reassurance, avoiding panic. However, it is very interesting that sending text message or automated phone calls is considered “panic-inducing.”

The medium is indeed the message. If the public, or your students or employees beleive that you will only use the urgent means of direct communication for life threatening situations, do you eliminate the use of these valuable tools for lesser purposes. It seems the more organizations take this approach, the more ingrained it will be that if you receive a text message, start running and ask where later.Seems an argument can or should be made that these methods should be used for occasional test messages or even mundane messages to avoid the trap I see developing here.

Discussion anyone?

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