Trust us – We’re the government

crisis communications corporate vs government

A comparison of crisis communications in corporate America vs. the U.S. government

Hours after posting our crisis communications analysis on Theranos, I received a letter from the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) indicating I was one of 21.5M people whose personal information was lost in a security breach.

There were many other companies who experienced a data breach in 2015 – some even bigger in scale (Anthem lost 80M patient and employee records), yet none generated the same level of backlash that the U.S. government has received.

Knowing that OPM has been heavily scrutinized in their response and response time—the security breach was announced in June 2015 but affected people were not alerted until September 2015—I wondered if some of this backlash was rooted in their communications.

Communicating (effectively) during a time of crisis

We used our language analytics platform to analyze OPM’s notification letter in comparison to the content of nearly 30 corporate crisis communications from the past year.

We measured each communication on the components of language critical to regaining customers’ and the general public’s trust after a crisis: Clarity, Confidence, Persuasion and Trust.

What we found

The OPM letter trailed the corporate average in three of the four critical components of a crisis communication, demonstrating 40.2% less persuasiveness and 81.9% less confidence. With these low numbers, it is no surprise the public has failed to accept the government’s assurances.


Interestingly, OPM communicated with 8.6% higher levels of trust than the corporate benchmark. However, the low levels of clear language may lead to some readers having a difficult time understanding the scope of the breach, how it may affect them or what the government plans to do to resolve the issue. Further, the data suggests readers may not have been persuaded by the government’s proposed steps to rectify the problem, or been confident in the government’s ability to prevent future breaches.

For example, in the excerpt from the OPM letter below, the government fails to instill a sense of confidence in their handling of the situation. This would have been a good opportunity to express a level of certainty that the identity restoration service would minimize the impact of the breach.


Communication matters

How a company—or the government—responds during times of crisis can mean the difference between a speedy resolution and making the problem even worse. Our data suggests that OPM and other government organizations can learn from the way corporations have approached crisis communications in 2015.

To learn more about how we can help your team use data to inform and improve your crisis communications strategy, contact us at

Read more about crisis communication analytics from Quantified Communications.