15 government communications leaders getting crisis response right during COVID-19

Categories: Care, Community Engagement, and Featured.

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.

1. Kristy Dalton, @KristyDalton22

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.” It’s heart wrenching that we can’t visit my father in-law at the Veteran’s hospital since they banned visitors this week. He’s a blind double amputee just diagnosed with Parkinson’s and doesn’t understand what’s going on https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=5400 

VA.gov | Veterans Affairs

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.

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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.

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. Simply providing information isn’t enough. Agencies need to rise above the noise and provide relevant, actionable, and localized information to their constituents. https://www.governing.com/now/Governments-Ramp-Up-Communications-as-COVID-19-Accelerates.html  via @GOVERNING cc: @ELGL50 @GovernmentSM

Governments Ramp Up Communications as COVID-19 Accelerates

Communicating during a crisis calls for government to deliver a balance of credible, correct and timely information. It’s not easy, but tested strategies and tools are available.

4. Jon Tolbert, @ImJonTolbert

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.

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5. Jordan Gilgenbach, @JGilgenbach

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. Practice appropriate physical distancing like Joe and Carole. Keep six or more feet apart from others. #COVID19 @netflix #TigerKing

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6. Cyndi Nguyen, @Vote4Cyndi

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. Thanks to Walmart for donating 100% Cotton fabrics so we can make face masks for healthercare providers & volunteers. @CyndinguyenNOLA

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7. Jessie Brown, @JBrownSocial

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. Yes, others may have it worse. Yes, others may be acting in frustrating ways we can’t control. But we can’t discount our own emotions about . Acknowledging how you’re feeling is the first step to work through it. https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?fbclid=IwAR3Nv6J75bzcUMYoMlsX1xiRZ2UVVAXhpLJN2iUFDBfy_JSInag7tUvWM3U 

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

8. Carissa Kat, @CarissaPIO

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. This is me, in two conference calls at once, monitoring texts, email and social to ensure we’re getting it right in the communication world.

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9. Thanh Nguyen, @PIOThanhN

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.

10. Jen Alvarez Harrison, @JenAlvarezAZ

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?

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Read more here! 

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