The impact of the advent of the 24-hour news cycle might be immeasurable. To people, it gave power. To journalists, it gave purpose. To public relations practitioners, it gave pressure. The days of organizations keeping their cards close to their chests while internal i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed are over. Once it breaks, news will be distributed with or without a company’s consent or comment. More than ever, organizational culture must be manicured to meet external expectations of transparency, trust and timeliness.
For certain types of organizations, this presents a unique obstacle, or opportunity, depending on the eye of the beholder. In a crisis, the 24-hour news cycle has the momentum to turn hierarchical structures upside down, inverting the pyramid and dizzying leaders who insist on rigid processes. But when managed correctly, it means enterprises like federal and state agencies, often considered to lag behind industry standards, can position themselves as thought leaders.
Social media plays a key role in news diffusion. Specifically, Twitter has added a new dynamic to media relations. If organizations want a voice, they have to speak up early. Before Twitter, bureaucratic organizations relied on routing press releases through the chain of command, delaying release of information for hours or even days. Now, such a delay means someone else will tell the story for them—and not always in a way the organization would prefer it to be told. To have any chance at framing, an agency must harness the power of social media by giving followers the scoop. A common objection to this practice is the antediluvian belief that news must be 100% accurate before it is distributed. Even journalists admit this is no longer true. Part of the story is better than no story at all. A quick tweet with or without imagery is a modern-day holding statement. So long as the information is not intentionally false, journalists are forgiving of minor inaccuracies that come up naturally as a breaking story unfolds. This practice not only satisfies the need for companies to frame the story, it can quell media questions and concerns until there is more news to share. In a high-stress environment, PR professionals would be wise to use Twitter to “silence the lines” as strategies are developed and solutions are found. Similarly, senior leaders resist disclosure due to operational and informational security concerns. Distributing timely information does not require compromising the organization’s procedures or processes. Rather, it helps to safeguard reputation while those procedures and processes are completed.
However, tweets without works are dead. Tweeting news without the right followers is equivalent to yelling into an echo chamber. To develop a social media strategy for news distribution, PR practitioners must spend time cultivating an audience of influencers. They can do this by reaching out using traditional methods like emails, phone calls and in-person meetings and through the online engagement tactic of following first. The goal isn’t just to grow followers, but to deliver consistent, credible content that encourages followers to trust the page for the latest and greatest information.
One unfavorable news story can haunt an organization for decades and plant mistrust in the hearts and minds of the public. Government agencies do not have to wait for clear hindsight to change the policies that block information flow. Instead, organizational spokespeople can utilize social media platforms like Twitter to become the trusted source of information for agency news. In today’s nonstop news cycle, even the most bureaucratic organizations are subject to the rules of information release: maximum disclosure, minimum delay.