Technology, Communication, and Community: In the Face of Tragedy

I had planned to post about customer service and Chick-Fil-A this morning, but all I can think about is the tragic shootings at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater.

As you may know, we just moved to Colorado in the wake of the epic Waldo Canyon Fire.

Just moved. A week ago Wednesday.

Almost exactly two weeks after the fire roared through the very neighborhood we were planning to move into.

And this morning, a week after our arrival, we awoke to the news of a horrific shooting about an hour from our new life in Colorado Springs.

What to think? What to say?

I’m not quite sure. But I’ll go ahead and jot down the loudest thoughts in my head …

Communication Technology Has Changed

The emotion is still too hard to deal with, so I’ll focus on the pragmatic instead.

I’m struck by how my source of information about tragic events has changed.

More than a decade ago, I was first made aware of the Columbine shootings and World Trade Center attacks through a frantic phone call from a close friend.

Today, I awoke to worried text messages from friends and family I’d left behind in Texas.

More than a decade ago, I watched in horror as television stations repeated the same disturbing images from Colorado and New York hour after hour.

Today, I immediately turned to Twitter. At no point today have I watched television news report. Any news articles I have read, I have linked to through a Twitter post.

Effective Communicators Use Technology to Connect Community

I’ll admit I was slow to jump on the Twitter trend.

Social media has many detractors. The claim that Facebook and Twitter and the rest of their kind make us less capable of communicating in-person certainly has merit. Working with high school students in public speaking workshops, I have seen the negative impact firsthand.

But over the past few weeks, I have also seen how powerfully social media can build community.

To be more accurate, I have seen how effective communicators using social media powerfully connect a community.

Waldo Canyon Fire

During the Waldo Canyon Fire, requests sent out over Twitter were filled almost immediately. Certainly faster than any report by a traditional media outlet would have accomplished the same result.

People who knew each other only by Twitter handles banded together to gather donations and staff response centers. And my own family has been warmly welcomed to Colorado Springs by all the folks I tweeted with during the long weeks of the fire.

There are too many effective communicators to mention (and I’m sure I would accidentally forget a few), but Wendy Carson of the Colorado Springs Community Alliance (to name just one) did a fantastic job using Twitter to disseminate information, connect people, and track down answers to any questions she saw being asked.

But her community building wasn’t limited to Twitter. She attended community meetings, spent time volunteering at the Disaster Recovery Center, and helped out in many other real life ways.

Not surprisingly, when I met her in person this week, it was clear she is an effective communicator offline, too.

Aurora Theater Shooting

The first reports of the Aurora theater shooting came from Twitter users documenting what they were seeing and hearing.

Most of the information reported by traditional media outlets has and will continue to come from posts and people found through social media sites.

In response to this tradgey, Twitter is being put to positive uses. To help find information about one of the presumed theater-goers who hasn’t gotten in touch with his parents yet. To make those affected aware of free counseling services. To put out the call for blood donations.

(In fact, as I was writing this, at least one blood donation center, Bonfils Blood Center, tweeted that all appointments today had been filled and it would not be able to accept walk-ins, but encouraged folks to make appointments over the next few days to replenish blood supply.) 

Through Twitter, we will learn more about the victims and the families, find links to their blogs, and hear of ways to help and honor them.

Communication Skills Are Key

The technology may be new, but the requisite communication skills are the same.

  • Be authentic
  • CARE about the message
  • CARE about the audience
  • Tell the audience what it needs to know

Effective communicators embrace technology as a powerful way to build and connect community. And their communication skills are invaluable in the face of tragedy.


Please join me in praying for all those impacted by both the Waldo Canyon Fires and the Aurora Theater Shootings. And consider checking out Twitter for a million ways to help them both.

Find out more about how HugSpeak can help you develop effective communication skills for speaking, writing, marketing, or social media!


Feel free to leave any comments you’d like … especially any information on how to help the victims of both of these tragedies.

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