Key West Mayor Teri Johnston pops up rather frequently these days in my social media “on this date” memories. That’s because in April 2020, we were smack in the middle of early Covid-19 days and the mayor’s no-nonsense, here’s what we know and don’t know videos kept island folk reasonably sane.
Then-Monroe County Mayor Heather Carruthers did the same, posting regularly to social media from her front porch swing. Digital information kept us up to date.
We forget how mystified we were about this new virus. How desperate we were for answers to little questions like “if I open my mail, will I die?” How surreptitiously we pulled down our masks when walking around the neighborhood, yanking them back up if we spotted a person or cop car three blocks away.
In hindsight some of this was just plain silly. But back then, before things devolved into a political swamp, we didn’t know. We craved information and those matter-of-fact mayoral videos and posts were links to facts and a smidgen of peace of mind. Those videos, coupled with plentiful updates from the city and county public information officers, helped us cope.
On March 27, when a shooter killed three children and three adults in Nashville, I automatically turned to the websites of the Covenant School and the Covenant Presbyterian Church. Neither had a mention of the tragedy. That was weirdly disconcerting and it took a week for them to update their websites and then only with a “thank you; please donate” pop-up.
That simply is not good enough.
We are well past the time when governmental and not-for-profit entities, churches, schools, businesses and assorted organizations, led for the most part by well-intentioned and digitally-clueless souls, have to be dragged into the world of digital communications strategies.
Digital information: Where do we get our news?
Eighty percent of American adults get their news primarily from digital sources. Eighty percent, dear print and digital readers; 80 percent. Do I need to say that again? Well before newsPAPER readers get their news, eight out of 10 people have seen it, acted on it and moved on.
Witness what happened in Key West last week when a resident in one of the Key West Housing Authority apartments posted pictures and a lament that the housing authority had ripped out her garden and stolen her stuff.
Crikey, the island’s oh-so-aware social media outrage junkies went nuts. In less than a dozen hours, they’d virtually called for a rebellion. The housing authority, caught flat-footed and tone-deaf, remained stoically silent, presumably unaware, or righteously above it all or just plain baffled about how to counter what was a full-blown social media flame war. Not until three days later, when the Citizen published its story, did we get contextual information.
Or, if you missed that one, consider the sluggish, turgid responses from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority to three water main breaks that resulted in no water up and down the Keys. Nothing on the website; a couple of news releases and, finally 10 days after it all happened, a more contextual letter from the executive director. We wanted live-time updates, not silence.
Both the housing authority and FKAA could take a lesson from Keys Energy. Keys Energy customers have been trained and served well digitally. Power goes out? Head to Keys Energy’s Facebook or Twitter accounts and get almost real time updates and explanations. Then check out the live power status map on their website. There may be lots of reasons to groan about one’s bill, but Keys Energy understands the power (no pun intended) of using social media effectively when information is essential.
The sheriff’s traffic alert app is a lifesaver. The city and county public information officers do an astounding job of feeding the relentless social media maw. But they can’t do it all on shoestring budgets.
I get it. I do. Doing digital information isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s an enormous time suck and a major financial commitment. It’s scary as heck for those who want every jot-and-tittle reviewed, edited, lawyered and sanitized before publication. Digital news and information distribution requires an up-front admission: This is what we know now. This is what we don’t know now. This is what we think we know now. And, it could all change. Please check back.
That’s a sick-making place for people whose most cutting-edge online presence is a static website and a PDF newsletter distributed sporadically to an email list. The cost and time commitment to a well-executed digital strategy is daunting. It can’t be an afterthought or an occasional part-time gig. (I know. My own website has a lengthy to-fix list and it lacks a certain attention to immediacy.)
In the absence of proactive, immediate, reliable, contextual information grow conspiracies, ignorance, anger, disbelief or apathy. Covid taught us that lesson. Right?