Almost overnight, public information officers and digital media directors in government agencies across the country had to switch gears into what’s looking like a long-haul crisis response. As offices were abandoned and children sent home from schools, it quickly became clear that the COVID-19 response was going to be anything but typical.
Now, as these government communications leaders settle into their home offices (and perhaps become more familiar than they’d like with the pitfalls of videoconferencing), the reality of the work ahead is setting in. Crisis response requires consistent, clear and accurate communication, especially when public health is in question.
While some office workers might be enjoying work-from-home in their pajamas, most of these public servants suddenly find themselves working overtime. Keeping up with constantly-changing information and communicating it clearly to city or county populations without creating panic is hard work. We’d like to recognize 15 leaders who are in the trenches of pandemic communication and doing everything they can to support others in there with them.
Dalton is the CEO of Government Social Media (GSM), conference director of the GSM Conference & Expo, and creator and host of the online video show GovGirl. In short, she knows a thing or two about what it’s like to be a government communications leader on social media. Her Twitter feed is currently chock-full of helpful resources and updates about communicating online during this pandemic, but it’s also balanced with posts about home life and family, and little wins while living a “new normal.”
Happy we got a chance to visit my father in law at the VA hospital, even under these circumstances. The staff there are trying the best they can. pic.twitter.com/DjB8ntHpgc
— Kristy Dalton (@kristydalton22) March 26, 2020
As the Community Outreach Liaison Assistant for the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management in Virginia, Morris is especially equipped to provide informed insights as COVID-19 triggers disaster responses. Many of her Tweets offer tips for things like keeping videoconferences secure and checking in with socially vulnerable people who may not have a network of friends and family to help with shopping and errands. She also asks questions that show she’s thinking ahead.
Many jurisdictions are considering field hospitals that may require tents or a less sturdy structure.
I think it is REALLY important to have a severe weather evac plan in place like we would for special events that have tents/stages. What are your triggers for evac? #EMGTwitter
— Ashley Morris (@MissAshes92) April 1, 2020
3. Deputy Chief Chris Hsiung, @chMtnViewPD
Hsiung brings over 29 years of experience in law enforcement to the table as Deputy Police Chief of the Mountain View Police Department in California. On top of leadership development and succession planning, he’s passionate about connecting government and communities. That’s really shined through as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded: he’s used Twitter to share positive stories, shine the light on unsung heroes such as police fleet service workers and offer clear, credible information for his followers.
As the Head of Digital for the City of Columbus, Ohio, Tolbert uses multiple social and other digital platforms to get vital information to residents. He also has a lot of fun doing it, creating relevant TikToks about social distancing and staying home, and keeping things light in between posts about staying safe during a pandemic. His TikTok content and tips were recently featured alongside those of other city government communications leaders in a SmartCitiesDive article about reaching Gen Z to squash COVID-19 misconceptions.
Gilgenbach joined Tolbert in SmartCitiesDive’s TikTok and COVID-19 piece. As the Digital Communications Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota, however, his engaging social media presence isn’t restrained to short videos. His Twitter feed is both informed and entertaining, meshing important information about staying safe with trending shows like Tiger King to produce hilariously helpful memes that he’s happy to share.
While being a City Council member in New Orleans, Louisiana doesn’t require an active social media presence, Nguyen’s online engagement since her election in 2017 is notable. As the city grapples with its rising status as a COVID-19 hotspot, this hasn’t changed. She’s highlighted the need to thank essential workers, spread information about rental assistance and food banks, and shared photos of people and companies offering help.
Brown wants you to know that taking care of yourself is not selfish. Perhaps drawing from experience working in Social Media & Communications for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, her Tweets implore followers and fellow government communications leaders to engage in social self care. Her Tweets promote kindness, unity and guarding your mental health, especially during these trying times.
Kat is the Public Information Officer for the North Richland Hills police and fire departments in Texas. Like many PIOs, her daily routines were upended when she had to begin working from home as COVID-19 spread. While her Twitter feed is full of gratitude for the little things, like a solo office visit, to the big things, like the scientists and medical personnel working to stop the pandemic, she doesn’t forget to check in and ask fellow PIOs how they’re doing. She knows it’s tough out there.
Nguyen is one of Kat’s fellow PIOs, and he’s also a fire captain for the Orange County Fire Authority in California. Unsurprisingly, he shares a lot of information about staying safe and healthy and complying with stay-at-home orders. However, he also shares lighthearted jokes and GIFs, and takes the time to remind everyone to be patient with one another during these stressful weeks.
When you’re in the thick of emergency management & know some stuff, remember your loved ones may not & need to sound things off of you at the end of the day. We’re all in it together.
— Thanh Nguyen (@PIOthanhn) March 30, 2020
As the Deputy Director of the Office of Digital Government in Gilbert, Arizona, you’d think Harrison would already have her hands full enough during this pandemic. Yet, she’s sharing heartwarming stories about Gilbert Fire & Rescue retrieving ducklings from storm drains, stay-at-home memes inspired by Missy Elliott, and music resources for parents and kids. Oh, and did we mention she also just had a baby?
Based in Lansing, Michigan, Belanger is the state’s Social Media Director and Digital Content Administrator. Just like many other government communications leaders, much of what he shares is Retweeted from local news, the state and its governor. However, he also shares helpful articles about managing social media profiles in the age of coronavirus and fun song parodies for fellow government social media professionals.
… Oh there ain’t no rest for the wicked; PSA’s don’t grow on trees; We got posts to write; We got trolls to tame; There ain’t nothing in this world we can’t change; Oh no, we can’t slow down; We can’t hold back; Though you know, we wish we could… #SocialGov #Anthem https://t.co/EdRwQSno8U
— Andrew Belanger (@AndrewJBelanger) March 15, 2020
Casey is the PIO for Collierville, Tennessee, and her personal Twitter shows that she’s committed to riding out this crisis with the help of a few laughs. From kid-invented homeschooling jokes to sensitive toilet paper content, Casey shares news that makes you smile. She also doesn’t want anyone to miss out on this perfect opportunity to spend some time filling out their Census.
As the Global Public Agency Lead and Ambassador of Community for neighborhood app Nextdoor, Porcelli has a unique perspective when it comes to government communications online. In response to stay-at-home orders and the increased need for food and medicine delivery to vulnerable neighbors, Nextdoor rolled out a Help Map to connect neighbors who need help with those who can offer it. Many government officials have spread the word, but Porcelli is far from finished with being helpful.
Grant is the Digital Media Coordinator for Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources. Inspired by Jordan Gilgenbach, she recently dipped a toe into the land of TikTok and Retweets content about stopping the spread of misinformation—an important task in times of crisis. Perhaps most importantly, however, she knows exactly how to reach Wisconsinites when conveying critical information.
15. Warren Kagarise, @WKagarise
Based in Seattle, Kagarise is the Digital Engagement Manager for King County, Washington. He Tweets helpful reminders and happily shares King County’s COVID-19 resources with other government communications managers looking for direction with their communications. He participates in GSM chats and was recently on the GovLove Podcast sharing what he’s learned so far about working during a pandemic.
When government communications leaders are put to the test
If there’s anything we’ve learned from the social media response of government communicators to this pandemic, it’s that in times of crisis they stick together. The shared information and resources, support and checking in are perfect examples of the ways social platforms can bring us together and make good things happen. In this case, it’s thanks to these dedicated professionals.
Not every government department or agency has the advantage of skilled social media communicators during a crisis. If you’re interested in learning more about harnessing communication tools like Twitter and other platforms, read our recent article about increasing citizen engagement using social media.
As for the hard workers both listed and unlisted: keep at it! You’re doing great and necessary work for our communities.