D. Managing communication and media relations
1. Personal communication
The mission you work in might have a policy on the personal use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other media in connection with mission activities. No mission member should make statements to the media on behalf of the mission unless receiving clearance to do so.
You should always be aware of identity thieves and fraudsters and think about your professional reputation and that of your mission. Some parts of the media might be looking out for a story about public officials that could be embarrassing.
It is important to remember that once you ‘click’, the information you have provided is in the public domain – forever. You may not be able to control what people do with that information and whether third parties can access it. Applications of social networks such as Facebook can provide access to your personal information.
- Keep official and private information separate.
- Keep privacy settings high and consult them regularly. Be wary of posting personal information and disclosing financial details.
- Do not hesitate to block or report someone who is making inappropriate comments or advances.
- Pictures: keep them for your friends and think what could happen if they became public.
- Never post anything on social media in relation to an ongoing security incident. By doing so, you could endanger yourself or colleagues who may be affected or hamper/obstruct ongoing investigations.
2. Internal communication
Internal communication within a mission includes information gathering, dissemination and interactivity. Possible internal communication tools are, for example, intranet, open days, internal billboarding and mission newsletters. Internal communication should ensure that the mission’s mandate, its main elements, achievements and milestones are clearly understood by each and every mission member; this information should be available in a format and wording that makes it possible to share it with non-mission members. The mission personnel should be aware of the current trends and activities performed by the mission and of political, social and other factors at play in the host country that may affect the mission’s endeavours.
Keep in mind that with all these tools and with a large number of staff within the mission there is a strong likelihood that whatever is conveyed and intended as purely internal communication will get out to the public. Sensitive issues or messages for purely internal consumption are therefore better communicated in person.
3. Crisis communication
Coordinate effectively with the members of your press and communications team. Everyone must know what their tasks are. A simple procedure for crisis communications should be established in advance.
Managing relationships with the media and answering their queries requires trained staff. Whenever possible, refer requests for comments or information to the assigned staff in your mission.
Never say ‘no comment’. Give the basic information you have and say that you will provide more details as soon as you have them and do so. Focus on communicating facts, never speculate and avoid the communication vacuum that lets rumours take the lead. Clarify facts as best you can: who, what, when, where, why and how?
Use short sentences and simple words, avoid using jargon, acronyms, humour or judgmental expressions. Speak clearly and calmly. Try to transmit one idea per sentence. Ensure your body language matches your messages. Be extremely careful with any ‘off-the- record’ comments.
4. Media monitoring and rebuttals
A successfully working media monitoring operation is of crucial importance to the work of the mission. Fast and accurate reporting and summarising of what is currently running in the broadcast, print and online media is important for responding to public perceptions about the mission’s work, as is developing a keen awareness of the topics that are dominating the environment ‘out there’. It gives you the information you need and the methods to counter negative coverage or encourage positive coverage of the mission’s work.
Crisis management missions habitually operate in an environment where rumour and conspiracy theory are often the currencies of public debate. False information can soon become ‘fact’. It is therefore important to respond quickly and energetically to inaccurate and sometimes malicious reporting about the work of the mission.
Principles of Rebuttal:
- Speed: the mission must respond quickly to reports by wire services because wire services provide news for other media outlets and have an immediate and multiplying effect.
- Accuracy: the mission must be 100% certain that it is right. The Press and Public Information Office (PPIO) should check and double-check its facts to make sure that the rebuttal is accurate and correct.
- Proportionate response: do we really need to respond? If we do, who should we be in touch with? How should we make contact (phone, email, meeting)? Should it be formal or informal? How strong should our language be?