Webinar presenter Katie Nelson answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Public Information Post-George Floyd. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: We are an agency of 360 officers serving a city of 300,000. Every day, we meet with the media to provide news stories from the last few days. However, we only have one PIO to manage the media and social media. Should we be focusing more on social media and less on traditional media, then typically how many PIOs does an agency our size have?
Katie Nelson: Luke, those are excellent questions. And I would say, maybe don’t move away from keeping those solid relationships that you have clearly built with your local media but make a concerted effort to move or invest time and resources into social media as well. Because ultimately, that’s where people are going for information. They’re probably getting information from your local media on social media. So, it’s just basically, you’re not necessarily doubling up, but you are diversifying how people can access you and get information from you and those stories around that. Your agency is quite large, and you have just the one PIO which isn’t necessarily unusual, but that being said, I would say, look at other opportunities to perhaps build out a team where you have multiple people who have the ability to do right by telling your agency’s story by finding folks who are like-minded in tone and voice who has a real passion for connecting with communities, both in a digital space and with the traditional methods like media. Because, ultimately, if something were to happen and not one PIO isn’t available. There is a chance that something could fall through the cracks. And so, you want to have backup systems built in place to ensure that somebody is always going to have the ability to connect with you.
Audience Question: Does that mean that those PIO-kind of responsibilities, it can be an additional duty, it doesn’t have to be a dedicated position, is that kind of what you’re saying?
Katie Nelson: That’s correct. Depending on what your agency prefers, you can have dedicated PIOs who, like me, your sole job is to be the ultimate millennial, be online, all day, connect with the community, do the traditional PIO role with media inquiries. Or, you can have something called a collateral assignment, where it’s typically sergeant’s or corporals. They will rotate in every couple of years, The downside to that is, you know, once they rotate out of the position, you’ve got to either, there’s a slow knowledge transference, so you’re going to have to have somebody learn a new, learn the process all over again. Or you can have something like a team, where you have a dedicated PIO who does this all day long. But also, you have people who serve in a backup capacity to be able to respond to things like, let’s say the PIO is off on weekends or you have an on-call schedule, something like that.
Audience Question: Many agencies do not want their officers to make any public statements and all statements should go through the public affairs. Do you see a shift in that policy and should public affairs, provide talking points for all officers and deputies?
Katie Nelson: So, I’m going to answer the second question first before I answer the first one. Yes. Whoever is the dedicated PIO, they’re technically the subject matter expert within your department for how and what should be shared, with regards to talking points, perspectives, quotes, whatever, on a particular incident. So, they should always have a primary-hand in being able to ensure that everybody’s on the same page when it comes to information sharing. Now, depending on how your agency is structured, it helps to be able to allow the media to go to a particular group or individual for information, because, again, those folks know how to deliver the content. If a camera guy or a reporter runs up to an officer on the scene, who’s maybe on the perimeter and who may not have all the information, or they may only have a bit, or they’re gosh, they’re working the scene and the reporters asking them questions. You want to be able to have somebody that they can be redirected to quickly so that they have, the resource. And, quite frankly, if the officer is not trained in media relations or they don’t have on-camera experience, the reporter or whoever is going to get the best bang for their buck by getting the right person in front of them for information. And that way, the officer is able to continue to do the job that was assigned to them, or they’re able to do the actual police work that they signed up to do in the first place.
Audience Question: With public disclosure laws, does Tiktok present a problem due to its limited retention?
Katie Nelson: That’s an excellent question and you know, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that question. So, with Tiktok, they have their own archiving system within their platform, and I know that they are looking to better enhance that. Now, something that we’ve seen with things like Snapchat with places like Next Door where they don’t necessarily allow for archiving through an external source like Archive Social or Page Reserve. That can present a concern for let’s say, city attorneys, county counsel, or records departments in that if you get a public records request, a day before something is supposed to disappear or a day after something, is cycled through the retention process that could potentially present a problem. So, I think, because things like Tiktok are so new, I think we have to allow and afford the opportunity for them to grow and scale. That being said, I would highly encourage you to reach out to the government representatives who work at Tiktok and the public policy representatives that work at Tiktok to talk about things like that. Because as more government agencies get on board with using Tiktok, there has to be an understanding that by states especially in places like California, Florida, and other places where, you know, record retention laws are not only very strict. They’re very wide in scope, that they understand the need to have the opportunity to perhaps hold onto something longer than maybe they originally thought.
Audience Question: After you post official information on your official social media platforms, should agencies reply to any comments that have inaccurate information or even delete comments that may be inappropriate? Or should they always just let comments stay, or even should they just shut off comments?
Katie Nelson: Yes. You should always reply and that requires a lot of social listening on your part, especially during an active incident when information is flowing quickly.
So anytime you see misinformation in a tweet, in a post, what have you do the right thing, not just by your agency, but by your community, and respond with the correct information. That is vitally important because you are a primary source of information. If you are not making a concerted effort to ensure that everybody has not just timely information but accurate information, that will allow the rumor mill to spiral quickly and the rumor mill much like the court of public opinion is very strong and very fast. With regards to deleting comments or shutting off comments, that presents a serious concern around First Amendment violations. Quite frankly, the way that we think of social media for public agencies is that they are limited public forums. The easiest way to think about that is, if you can say it in a city council meeting and not get kicked out of City Hall forever, it’s allowable on the internet. The internet is still very much kind of a Wild West in terms of what is allowable and what does not, but I would say set your standard around that. If somebody can say something in a city council meeting, and it’s not going to ultimately result in them being escorted off the property and told you’re never allowed to come here again. Quite frankly, it should probably be allowed to stay up on social. You can certainly modify how people have access to information through having your profanity filter set to high, for example, but even turning off comments presents, quite frankly, all it takes is one person to say, I wasn’t able to comment any more you prevented me from being able to state my opinion. And suddenly you have, you know, a First Amendment lawsuit on your hand and those are ugly. So, I would say as much as it sucks, keep the comments open, allow people to comment, do what you can through filters to be able to prevent profanity from coming through. But even, understanding the very few limitations that you have to delete comments, such as, you know, targeting a specific class, spam, posts that are completely unrelated to the topic at hand, go ahead and respond as necessary and really, quite frankly, keep the comments section open.
Audience Question: What about accounts that you think are either fake or run by bots?
Katie Nelson: I would say, report those on whatever platform to the reps. So, you have the opportunity on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to report those accounts. And then also make sure you know who the reps are for your state, specifically, or particularly for Instagram and Facebook. Because that’s, quite frankly, where a lot of the bots popup, you also have the opportunity to connect with the public policy team for Twitter. And if you don’t know who those folks are, please connect with me after this presentation. I’d be happy to get you guys that information. Because they’re, quite frankly, a phenomenal resource in tackling issues where people are spamming you, or that’s particularly it’s potentially bots who are creating issues for you and your communities on social media.
Audience Question: Do you suggest having one person be the only one who adds things to the social media platform? And if so, how many hours a week would someone need to dedicate to updating social media?
Katie Nelson: I would say have as few people as possible have access to your social media accounts, because all it takes is one bad post from someone within your organization to bring out a lot of questions. So, you really want to lock those down. As far as posting on social media, it really varies by platform. Six thousand tweets are sent every second. So, Twitter is fast, you can post even a couple of times a day on there if you so choose. What you’re really looking for is that sweet spot where people have time to absorb information. In 2020, there was an inundation of information being shared. Not just during the pandemic but post-George Floyd. If people don’t have the opportunity, at least even a couple of hours to get information from you, guess what? It just goes in one ear and out the other, they’re not going to retain it. So really, it’s about you building in best practices for scheduling, too. And I don’t mean, you know, scheduling a tweet or scheduling a post. I mean, how and when you post something and then, in turn, being able to watch how that unfolds in real-time, so that you have the opportunity to be able to create conversation, and have those engaging moments with your audiences. Because, quite frankly, social media is not the ceiling, it’s the floor. So those posts that you have, that should be like opening the door and then inviting everybody in.
Audience Question: Media access to information has a downside and that media tends to report the most sensational components and not necessarily the content of a media release. How do we, as public servants, keep the media accountable for telling the truth about a circumstance?
Katie Nelson: I would say tackle that from two fronts. One for any story that you tell, or that you allow the media to tell on your behalf, you also tell that story. And then two, find the friendlies in your community, particularly your local journalists, who believe that the fourth state has to be also held accountable for what they do. And having them serve as a guide and resource for you and for other journalists in your areas to ensure that when somebody does wrong by something. For example, they don’t report in the way that they probably should that their own peers are calling them out and educating them on best practices. We saw that in Denver last week where a national correspondent but he asked a horrifically unfair question to family members who had just lost their loved ones in the mass shooting. And the local reporter called him on it. On Twitter, no less. And then, subsequently, that individual posted a photo of himself hugging victims’ families and inserting himself into the story. And the local journalists, again, made a concerted effort to note that this was not best practices. And this was not how these stories should be told. Particularly from not just the law enforcement angle, but also from the community perspective, And so people like that in journalism. They absolutely exist. It’s just it’s our job to find them.
Audience Question: Where can you find out more about clubhouse conversations?
Katie Nelson: I would say, first and foremost, get on Clubhouse. So the only, you can only access Clubhouse right now if you have an iPhone I know they’re working on an Android component, but if you have an iPhone find somebody, you know, who has Clubhouse and get invited in. And then you are allowed to search on clubhouse by topics of interest to you. So, begin looking through those and popping into rooms and listening to conversations. There’s everything from stand-up comedy to conversations right now that’s dominating the platform around AAPI hate and attacks, to police reform, to really, quite frankly, that’s what’s happening in Minneapolis right now, with the trial of Derek Chauvin. So, it is a platform where conversations are still civil. So, if you can get in now, I would highly encourage you to do so, because it really is a breath of fresh air. The way that history and stories that we have absorbed as humans from time before, it’s through listening. And so really this is a return to our most fundamental ways that we take in information and it’s just done so in a very digitally savvy way. So, that is, I think, probably the best path for you to get onto Clubhouse.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Public Information Post-George Floyd.