Early on the morning of January 3rd, an 8-12-inch snowstorm hit the Mid-Atlantic, causing widespread power outages throughout Virginia. I-95 was shut down for over a day, stranding some drivers – including Senator Tim Kaine – for over 27 hours. In central Virginia, tens of thousands of people (including me and my relatives) are still without electricity, with outages projected to continue for days.
Just as people who lost power did in 1981, many of the affected customers have been calling their utility companies, hoping for a voicemail update with an ETA for when they’ll get power back. Others have been checking the website, dealing with clunky outage maps that update occasionally.
But in 2021, the fastest, easiest, and clearest line of communication between electric companies and their affected customers is social media. Facebook – not the company website – has the most up-to-date information. It’s the best way to reach the largest number of people. And companies are able to give their customers much more detail in Facebook posts than they can through other means.
Like many others, I’ve been checking the Facebook page for my relatives’ electric provider, too. Posts include useful information, and typically include a picture of ice on the power lines, or of a road crew hard at work, or of a fleet of trucks heading out. The comments are dominated by thanks and well-wishes and prayers for the road crews. While everyone is understandably frustrated, they also truly appreciate the hard work these men and women are doing to restore power.
But We Want to Hear Directly from the Road Crew
At the moment, I don’t think anyone wants members of the road crew taking a break from fixing the power lines to get on Facebook. But when all this is over, I think many customers, including me, would like to hear directly from the brave men and women who worked in the cold and in the dark and in the snow to restore our power.
Human beings want heroes celebrate. We want to have people to thank, real people. It’s nice to see a quick picture on the company page. But if dozens of people are already commenting with prayers and messages of appreciation, think how many more will engage with stories posted by some of these brave men and women themselves.
Similarly, throughout the pandemic, we’ve learned to praise and laud frontline workers, healthcare workers, and all the men and women who labored in obscurity to fight the virus and keep their fellow citizens safe.
But praising “all healthcare workers” is too generic after a while. Humans want faces and names to connect to. Hospital workers, nurses, doctors, sanitation workers, and frontline workers aren’t monolithic. They aren’t a general collective all pulling in unison.
Healthcare workers are individuals. A hospital is an organization of individuals. Grocery store clerks are a group of individuals. Each with their own individual stories.
During the pandemic, we’ve been able to hear some of those stories. We celebrate scientists like Katalin Kariko, whose research led to the mRNA vaccines. We thank the traveling nurses we know, or our relatives who are EMTs, or our friend who is a hospital janitor.
But most of the stories still go unsung. Some frontline workers would prefer that it stay that way – not everyone wants publicity, for good reasons. But others no doubt would like to share their stories. And hopefully, as we pull out of this pandemic, they will have the opportunity to do so.
The Broader Lesson
In crises, we want to know our heroes. We want to actually see them. We want to thank a person, not a collective.
That applies not just to healthcare, not just to power crews, not just to soldiers and sailors, not just to frontline workers, but to anyone who takes personal risks to serve a community. Many people who make sacrifices every day go unnoticed. But today, thanks to the free flow of information, it is easier than ever for us to learn their stories and thank them personally.
For any organization – not just one facing a crisis – the people being served want to hear from the individuals who serve them. Individual stories are not just a powerful way to engage with any audience, they also humanize an otherwise faceless organization.
When the power is back and the road crews have a chance to rest, I hope some of them also get a chance to share their stories.