Reporting Live from the Red Tape.

Are you a user, or a reporter?

That all depends. Do you just consume social media content, or do you contribute?  And what do you contribute?

The Smart Phone has made each one of us a reporter.  Gone are the days of Jimmy Olsen running around with a camera slung around his neck and a duffle-bag of lenses, looking for the next big story.

Every user of Social Media is now a potential reporter. We influence news on a daily basis. In fact, this aspect of the social media game has been embraced by the average user, as well as media outlets around the world.

But, Social Media still faces one major hurdle.  Local Government bureaucracy .  Some local governments have to be dragged, kicking and screaming in some cases, into the digital era.

The position that has suffered the most, in regards to Social Media policy/procedure/usage is the Public Information Officer.  Some administrators have embraced Social Media 100%, while others have hamstrung their staff to such an extent, that they can’t even say “Good Morning” without running it past the legal team.

These administrators apparently still haven’t seen the benefit of coming out of their Cold War bunkers during daylight. They seem to fear the thought of one-on-one interaction with the public. Too long a victim of “write a press release and hope it’s reported,” they can’t seem to get past their myopic fear of “that gadget stuff the kids use.”

Social Media Done Right

There are numerous examples of government agencies “doing it right” in regards to social media.  Here are just a few, off the top of my head:
Los Angeles Fire Department (@LAFDTalk on Twitter)
Mountain View Police Department (@MountainViewPD)
Seattle Police Department (@SeattlePD)
Arizona Dept of Transportation (@ArizonaDOT)
They post several times a day, reply to questions, respond to requests, and even crack a smile occasionally. They are approachable, knowledgeable and willing to go the extra mile to answer your questions.

Social Media? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

And then there are the agencies who, while they have a Social Media account or two, never post. Or if they do, it’s a post that has been washed through so many policy scrubbers as to be useless.
Dave Statter (Follow him on Twitter @Statter911) writes about one such agency in a recent blog post at The Bright Spot.

…Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander, talking about figuring out how departments should disseminate information, is quoted as saying, ‘We are a public safety agency. We are not reporters.’

Mr. Quander, DMPSJ represents the residents of Washington, DC.

Mr Statter correctly points out that Deputy Mayor Quander is correct. He has wrapped his PIOs up in so much red tape that they are little more than cardboard cutouts, spouting approved jargon that issues from a central mouthpiece.

…Quander apparently doesn’t understand that one of the great advantages of social media is that it allows the PIOs for his agencies to be just what he says they are not. SM lets a PIO provide timely and instant information directly to the people, without necessarily having to go through traditional news media to relay their messages. In other words, the PIOs are now the reporters.

DC government appears to have completely missed the part about Social Media being the best way to reach most of their citizens, visitors and commuters.

The disaster that this is became apparent during the recent winter storms last week. A quick look at the Twitter accounts for the counties around DC show quite a bit of activity geared toward educating and informing the residents.

While the PIOs for agencies around Washington were using their Twitter accounts to get vital weather-related information to their citizens (examples here and here), the residents of DC received the following informative news (only tweet of the day):

Anyone who has ever turned on the news during a weather event knows how the news media handles the reporting of these events.  “Team Coverage,” “Snowmageddon,” “Weather Emergency,” “It’s raining/snowing/whatever where I am, how about your location, Buffy?”  Most of what they feed us during these “events” is fluff.  Anyone with a window can usually tell if it’s raining/snowing/windy at their location. During the verbal snowball fights however, the media may let important information slip out. Stuff like school closings, emergencies, etc.

They get this information from the PIO. Most of these same PIOs post the same information on social media outlets, for the benefit of their residents, at the same time the media gets it.

As a PIO, are you able to interact with the citizens in your area? Is it time to look at your agency’s Communications Policy, and see if it meets the needs of your community?

If your twitter account has cobwebs and tumbleweeds in the corner, chances are it doesn’t.


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