Public Service Communication Series PART II: ORM best practices for managers and agencies

CATEGORY: Communication | Digital Marketing | ORM | Social Media | Strategy
Public Service Communication - ORM best practices for managers and agencies

This is the second part of the public service communication series (read Part I here).

The most important recommendation for social media and Online Reputation Management by public figures and organisations is to hire a good agency. This is simply because agencies approach ORM from an unsentimental, professional and unemotional perspective, and are focused on results.

Based on this recommendation, this blog is written for agencies managing public individuals/organisations ORM.


Confidentiality is king, queen and the hand of the king.

On the Anakle website and proposal document, one of the service listed is ORM + Strategic Communications, but there is little reference to who ORM clients are. This is no accident.

ORM projects require very high levels of confidentiality. Working on public service/individuals’ ORM project is one of the most exciting experiences in digital media. Because clients tend to be high profile, managers gain unique access and insight into the underbelly of otherwise opaque organisations and individuals. Silence, therefore, is the price for privileged access.

ORM managers should never abuse access, share or trade information gained in the course of the service. Because the ORM manager’s job is ensuring positive perception outcomes for the client in every situation, every piece of information needs to be protected and targeted only towards client projects.

We often joke that our ORM service is to help our clients tell better lies. Imagine a client visited a night club in the middle of a national crisis, and took a selfie with a member of the ORM team, who later posts same on Instagram, with the caption “Chilling with Mr. X at the club #BillionaireChilling #MyJobIsCoolerThanYours”. What would happen to the client?

Because of the potential vulnerabilities associated with external ORM contractors, clients should sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA). But experience is that many clients do not sign NDAs, but implicitly expect managers to maintain high levels of confidentiality. It’s in the best interest of the manager to advance an NDA. This is good to remind both parties of the need for absolute confidentiality.

One of the downsides of ORM confidentiality is that managers cannot share their projects for marketing purposes. Our website does not describe our ORM services, or list projects. It’s a practical black market, where word of mouth and discrete recommendations work.


Timing is everything else

With social media timing is all important. A great post is only great if it matches valuable content with good timing.

Team Obama’s “Four more years” post-election photo is an example of great timing. Ordinarily, a photo of the U.S. president hugging his wife would have generated social media engagement, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, sharing it shortly after winning re-election ‘blew’ the internet.


So what does bad timing look like?


Former President Janathan with Olubadan of Ibadan Source: Reuben Abati @Abati1990


The former president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan’s office infamously released this photo of the president at a party shortly after about 300 girls were abducted from a government school in North East Nigeria. Bad idea


Be invisible
As a rule, Anakle team members on ORM projects are not allowed to mention the client by name even in private meetings. Code names are used for every project. Meeting notes are codified. There are no selfies in meetings with clients, and absolutely no public appearances with the client, including private events. Our team members do not attend clients’ private events, even when invited. The idea goes back to the fact that the client pays for a confidential service, not friendship.

This rule actually applies for publicly appointed media representatives on social media as well. The best official spokespeople on social media are the ones who have successfully separated their personal lives from the job.


You do not have an opinion
A common mistake ORM managers make is to make themselves so much a part of the job that they link their individual lives or organisations with their clients’. When ORM managers begin to speak for the organisation publicly, they actually put clients at risk.

The client’s opinion is not the opinion of the ORM manager. Nobody cares about the manager’s opinion. Posting client’s content on individual or agency handles should actually be a taboo. Remember it’s a job and you must prepare to have a life – post job. So, be invisible.


Know your client

As a rule, Anakle does not take on any clients we do not personally meet and interview. A deep knowledge of the client helps the agency think, act and function the way the client would, with a focus on positive outcomes.

Knowing the client means deep research into history, and not relying on client’s account of themselves. Client accounts tend to be filtered to favour a positive view of self, but doing a good job requires a knowledge of the good, bad and ugly, in order to provide the most appropriate reaction to events. So, learning as much as possible about the client, especially negative history, is key to understanding the scope of an ORM project, and how much work needs to go into achieving set objectives.


Make the news, don’t be the news

Political ORM handlers are infamous for injecting themselves into the conversation, and becoming the news, rather than promoting the client. As an agency managing a public organisation or individual’s ORM account, the temptation to abuse access is very high.

The common thinking by managers is that being seen managing high profile ORM campaigns improves standing. However, injecting self into ORM projects often hurts clients. Where SM or ORM managers publicly antagonise perceived opponents of their clients, they more often than not solidify negative feedback, and do more harm than good.

Once again, be invisible.


Screen and review every image going out

Imagery is one of the most important aspects of digital storytelling. One image, released on time, with the right caption, could do the job of a thousand news placements. Bad images also could do huge amounts of damage.

Every ORM team should have a review team, which checks photos for form and context. Images which do not strengthen the client’s position should be withheld from public release. Captioning is also very important for context. A good caption is as good as images.


Social media users are not stupid

No, you are not talking to dull people. The average person on social media platforms like Twitter will spot the fugazi from miles away. Before you send any information out, it is imperative to ask these important questions:

1. Does it make sense?

2. Is it relevant?

3. Can we manage the ensuing deluge?

4. If someone else did this, would I consider it great?

Four yeses would mean go on ahead. If not, please, hold the peace.


Language – don’t be an infant (create a voice and stick with it)

Finding the right tone of voice for your client is not an easy task. Sticking with it is even more difficult. But it is something that must be done. Most big brands understand the importance their tone of voice plays, and how it affects their audience’s perception of them. That is why they make the effort to ensure their voice is recognizable and different from other brands. They consider important factors like, should the voice be contemporary or classic? Should it be officious or witty? Should it be realistic or motivational? Will it resonate? Will it help us get better returns? The answers to these questions will help you create that voice that works. And once that is done, the continuous process of sticking with it begins.

The importance of this rule cannot be overemphasized. As mentioned earlier, know your client very well, then create a voice very very similar to theirs. Once you start, do not deviate. Talk like they will talk, and ensure there is no disconnect between the person on social media and the person in real life.


Ideally, every public servant/service should be on social media. But the world is not an ideal place; sometimes it’s best to not make a move, than make the wrong move. But if public officials and offices intend to get on social media, the best route is to work with an agency strong ORM experience. This often works better than the young family friend who is “very good with that twitter thing”.

So, how can we help you?