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Trust is the Most Important Element in Good Crisis Communication

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In any type of crisis, disaster or peril, trust is the most important element in successful crisis communications to the public.

This is according to John Born, who has had more than 30 years of experience in crisis communication.

Born served as the director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety for Gov. John Kasich and was on board during the Ebola crisis. He also previously served as colonel and superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, capping a 26-year career in law enforcement.

Although he admits that there are many different crisis communication styles among leaders, there are some fundamentals that are basic to all good communication. Born says that the spokesperson must be “truthful, consistent and trustworthy” in his/her messaging if he/she is to be believed by the public.

He also says that it is imperative that the messages presented by public officials be based on good science and be grounded in strong underlying facts.

He also adds that in today’s social media age, not only do crisis communicators need to talk directly to the public but they also must be able to counter erroneous narratives that breed on social media. It is necessary, according to Born, to do this immediately before a false narrative can spread.

Born also says that good crisis communication must be specific in what the public is being asked to do – for example, social distancing. The message must be repeated over and over repeating both the request and the underlying reasons for the request.

Born acknowledges that, although today many people get their news from biased sources at both ends of the political spectrum, that the public will eventually gravitate to the true facts and jettison political bias.

Born currently is working with the Scripps College of Communication and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University.