- There are no isolated stories about the agency but rather there is an overarching narrative and every story feeds into it. So within the agency it is not OK to have one group working on Initiative A and another group on Initiative B and they are connected in the public's mind yet internally the people are not talking to one another. Public Affairs has to be that connecting linchpin working between Groups A and B to insist that the narrative be made whole.
- Similarly there are no isolated news outlets or platforms on which news is delivered but rather one always connects to the other. So it is impossible to say, we'll do a press release but avoid social media; or we don't want to get involved in mobile now; because the reality is, your content is going everywhere. The people responsible for sending out content to the public must be working across platforms to comprehensively assess and then report back on the impact of particular stories and on the general tone of coverage across traditional and new media.
- Finally in the Bezos model as in the Huffington post model, the user is king and so there has to be much more respect for and engagement with the unfiltered and uncensored comments from the public. It's no longer enough to say "whoa, that's astroturfing and I'm not going to respond" - you have to get in there, roll your sleeves up and talk to people. (Of course you have to identify yourself as an Agency representative.)
On a related note I think it is important to point out as I try to do periodically that no matter what communication outlet we use, it is illegal to use appropriated funds for propaganda.
The law does not specifically say what that word means but over the years, it has been interpreted pretty clearly and the Legal Information Institute at Cornell offers a brief guide. Essentially Agencies:
- Can: "inform the public about its activities and programs, explain its policies and priorities, and defend its policies, priorities, and point of view"
- Can't: 1) engage in “self-aggrandizement" 1) engage in “self-aggrandizement" (also known as "puffery" or promotional talk that "no 'reasonable person' would take literally" and that can't be verified for accuracy - e.g. a sales pitch 2) promote a political party or candidate - e.g. communicate for “purely partisan purposes,” and 3) issue “covert propaganda” - meaning Agency materials issued to a non-government outlet without disclosing who made them.
To counter the problem of objectivity, it is helpful to offer raw data along with context and then invite third parties to analyze it, break it down and communicate about it their own way. Check out this template for a Social Media Press Release.
(Note - all opinions my own as always.)