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Published September 5th 2017

Hurricane Harvey, Joel Osteen, and a Social Storm of Disappointment

Pastor Joel Osteen hit the headlines last week in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Kellan Terry unpicks and analyzes the social data around the story

Last week saw Hurricane Harvey and the devastation it wrought on the greater Houston area dominate the headlines.

This was the proper place for the media to concentrate last week. I, however, won’t take you on a journey of the ins and outs of this social discussion. It was a natural disaster that I don’t want to, even marginally, capitalize on.

The conversation was very large, and very bad. That’s my analysis. People lost everything, and those social posts are heart-wrenching.

In an attempt to maintain relevancy, I will look at how pastor Joel Osteen was talked about last week, as he found himself quite intricately entwined to Harvey’s conversation.

For those of you unfamiliar – which I’m guessing won’t be many – Joel Osteen is a pastor with Lakewood Church in Houston.

This church is massive. It’s fair to call it a mega-church. Reports stated that it holds more than 1,600 seats.

Outrage mounted as social media learned that the doors of Lakewood Church were shuttered to Houston residents rendered homeless by the storm.

Now that the scene has been set, Joel Osteen was mentioned more than 1 million times online last week (as of the writing of this post), and many of these mentions criticized Osteen for not allowing stranded people into Lakewood Church.

Joel Osteen mentions by day

Tuesday, August 29, saw nearly 450,000 mentions alone. The sentiment within Osteen’s categorized mentions for the week are overall 59.1% negative.

Looking at sentiment on a day-by-day basis shows how Osteen’s discussion fared with the arrival of Harvey, and the downward spiral it took as people expected Osteen to help his neighbors.

Joel Osteen sentiment

Osteen’s online sentiment dipped as low as 72% negative on the 30th.


It’s important to state that Osteen did open Lakewood to people fleeing the rising waters, but the internet doesn’t recognize this act, after it had been demanded, as “good enough.”

You can see that even after Osteen started providing shelter in Lakewood people only wanted to talk about how Lakewood stood empty for a days as people were scrambling to find shelter and survive.

Joel Osteen topics

Sometimes you simply can’t shift poor public opinion

Here is the lesson to be learned, as you can see the “bad PR” topic in the latter days of Osteen’s conversation.

You will not receive the same amount of attention for doing the right thing. JJ Watt, a professional (American) football player, raised over $14 million (as of this post’s writing) for relief efforts. The press Watt has received is nothing compared to the press Osteen has seen.

When you are perceived as being a person of celebrity and means, the public will look to you to lead by example.

This isn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but you’ll never get the recognition for being as good as people think you are.

However, if you disappoint people, that disappointment will swell, and it sticks like glue.

If you’d care for any real-time data around any/all breaking news, please feel free to contact us by emailing Kellan at [email protected].

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