I’ve talked a number of times about humanizing your Commissioner. About pulling away the veil of Government. All in the name of helping the public realize that the work you do is done by real people. If you’re a real person, then you’re not a faceless automaton. (Which, in case you weren’t sure, is a good thing.) This is key in establishing empathy, which seems to be pretty important these days.
While there’s a huge upswing in people who are interested in the return on investment of empathy, there are also good theoretical models that demonstrate how critical empathy is during your emergency communications. Dr. Vincent Covello is famous for his wonderful saying, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.” (And just to review, faceless automatons don’t care.)
So, I’d argue that there are two reasons we need, as government communicators, to be concerned with being empathetic. First, for our day-to-day jobs, and second, for our emergencies. Which ends up being just about everything.
When I hear consultants and presenters talk about how government communicators should demonstrate empathy in an emergency, inevitably the question comes up, “How do I demonstrate empathy in an emergency?” Dr. Barbara Reynolds, during her CERC trainings, always answers this with a question, “Are you a sociopath?” Invariably, the person denies it, and Dr. Reynolds points out that the only people who cannot express empathy are sociopaths. (Point, set, match.) The class then proceeds with examples of how famous politicians demonstrated empathy after disasters like 9/11, the Murrah Federal Building bombing, etc.
But a better question would be, how do I express empathy TODAY? How do I build that goodwill meter now, before an emergency? And my answer today, among many, many examples, is stairs and bears. Let me explain.
Long-time readers will remember this post about a British local government agency that scored an amazing hit with a Facebook post about a deluge. One of their communications staff went outside in the downpour and took a 16-second video of the rain cascading down a set of steps. That’s it. Why did it resonate? Because their readers–their public–found it cool. It demonstrated that they were real people who were impressed by the amazing amount of rain. (Tim Clark? Not a faceless automaton. Real person.)
The other example, bears, is more recent. And it comes to us via BoingBoing. It’s a two-minute video of a remote wildlife camera, set to some banjo music (<– I'm obviously a city kid calling it banjo music). The video doesn't espouse anything. It wasn't crafted or honed or pilot tested. It was Glenn Naylor, of the Alberta Parks Department, posting the cutest little video of what bears do when you’re not around. And as of yesterday, it’s racked up nearly 750,000 views.
I find it an instructive video not only because it gives us insight into what a ranger might have to deal with in Alberta, but because it gives a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes, the inside scoop. The public is being treated to something that none of them will ever see, unless they become an Albertan Park Ranger. The public is gaining an affinity for the Park System. They are learning that it’s peopled not by faceless automatons who only seek to restrict their fishing and hunting, but by Glenn.
And his funny bear family.