Instructional Strategies for Tailoring Risk Communication Messaging

Principal Investigator: Timothy Sellnow


The majority of crisis communication research has focused on messages delivered in response to crises (Sellnow & Seeger, 2013). Although post-crisis communication is influential, this study focuses on the potential for instructional messages, delivered prior to a crisis, to influence both perceived self-efficacy (ability to protect oneself) during a crisis and to expedite the return of confidence in government agencies such as DHS to protect the public. As a means of addressing variance of audience needs, recent scholarship has bridged instructional and inoculation communication research with risk communication. In combination, the principles from these three areas of research allow us to provide messages before a crisis that have the potential to enhance the audience’s perceived ability to respond and confidence that government agencies can help the nation to quickly recover when facing a crisis. Through ongoing message testing procedures, our research focused on instructional or informative communication providing an inoculating or two-sided persuasion messages. Our previous CREATE research in 2011-2012 indicated that messages, delivered before a crisis and at the onset of a crisis recovery period, have the potential for diminishing loss of confidence in government agencies or in expediting the recovery of confidence for these agencies.   The overall objectives of this study were to: (a) provide an assessment of current best practices for crisis communication. This focus included assessing the potential for a shift in focus from post-crisis to pre-crisis message design; (b) Test the effectiveness of two primary best practices (“accepting uncertainty,” and “self-protection”) particularly as components of inoculation messages; (c) produce the basis for ultimately developing a “playbook” of message strategies to be employed prior to a crisis that may inoculate the public against a loss of confidence.