If you have access to any “public information officer curriculum,” I have a homework assignment for you:
Check the curriculum and compare how many slides are dedicated to social media versus the number focused on writing press releases.
Recently, I have been taking a look at both public information slides and videos and it is interesting to see how dated many presentations are with regards to information dissemination.
Often, there is a “nod” to social media where a slide will say “it’s important and you might want to figure it out,” but rarely is there any specific discussion of the benefits or instruction on how to use it effectively.
What really kills me though is the extraordinary focus on press release development! Typically, PIO curriculum will spend several slides talking about the length, clarity of the ideas conveyed and having a bold title or “hook” in the release.
When you are in a dynamic situation, spending time fashioning a perfect press release is rarely going to be possible. In fact, while you are writing that press release, people around you are tweeting, posting on facebook and filling in the blanks you think you will be answering.
Press releases are too long and too slow. That is all.
Your public information officer or section should be fashioning talking points just as quickly as you can verify key information about your emergency.
These talking points should be focused on the following types of information:
- Identify who the “official sources” are that will be sharing information,
- Share what is happening and confirmed (or share openly about when you can or will share more information),
- Provide information on how people can protect themselves, and/or
- Give ideas on how people/onlookers can help (channel the benevolent desire to help immediately).
If you are managing public information in an emergency, your list of talking points should be dynamic and changing regularly. Allow for various ways for dissemination and forgo the need to approve every single message. Instead, ensure that the talking points are reviewed and approved periodically.
Social Media information significantly changes what is possible for both Public Information and Planning sections of any Emergency Operation Center (EOC) or Incident Command Post (ICP). Be sure that your training curriculum stays current and doesn’t find itself wasting time on antiquated products like press releases.