Monday, February 20, 2017

Tips for the PIO in the age of disinformation

It's safe to say we live in "interesting times" as the Chinese cookie proverb goes. The environment for the public information officer (PIO) keeps changing at breakneck speeds. How people consume and share news, how they create their own networks are key elements of that transformation.

Academics and practitioners are offering some hindsight on this change to the role and duties of the PIO. Recent event in the US have exacerbated things. Mistrust, plain lying and active disinformation are present at the highest levels. All this undermines the ability of the Federal government to communicate effectively in any future emergency.

While some things can be adopted from the "Trump" way ... it plays a large role in furthering the credibility and trust gap. And although I've addressed the need for adaptation by PIOs in the recent past, it's time for another look at how we must fulfill our role.

Whether you're a PIO for a public safety agency, a government, an emergency management organization or a hospital (my new role), I modestly offer some tips to help colleagues remain efficient and reach their audiences during a crisis.
Streaming from your EOC might be a good idea
  • Cut through the clutter ... become your own broadcaster  ... when media might be perceived (BTW, not by this former broadcaster) as biased ... you can talk directly to most of your audiences though social networks ... streaming is particularly efficient and gaining in popularity.

  • Be present online at all times ... before,during and after a crisis ... a good way to build confidence ... create your own network of message amplifiers ... a "circle of trust" of sorts ...
  • Stick to facts ... become the "beacon of truth" about your incident ... brand it ! No need to add flourish ... to obfuscate ... to exaggerate ... your actions dictate your comms response. It's simple in reality: emergency comms are about three things: A: tell your audiences what's happening and what you're doing about it ... B: tell them why you're doing it ... C: update 1 and 2 constantly
  • Engage meaningfully ... that means true two-way conversations ... if people don't have a sense they're being heard or even contributing ... they'll disconnect ... social listening brings value to any response ... it's the starting point for dialogue and also enhances your situational awareness.
  • Ignore trolls ... don't dispute alternate facts ... stick to your messaging ... sometimes discretion IS the better part of valour. Some fights are not worth getting into ... if you've followed steps 1 to 4 above chances are you're having a good comms response. Unless misinfo puts lives in danger ... let it go ... people will know where to find the truth.
All this is of course predicated on a socially-convergent outlook by the PIO. A thorough use of social and mobile to get the job done. On top of that, the PIO needs to adhere pretty closely to the four imperatives of a comms response to any incident.

How are you prepared to be heard in the age of disinformation? 

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