Monday, December 27, 2010

When you need to announce the obvious: Three ways to confirm what you think is clear

Your news may not seem like you, it's as plain as the nose on your face. No need to announce that, you say. But it's just at that moment that you may need an assumption check, as a smart communicator. There have always been situations that required pro forma announcements and housekeeping items, but the social media world has made everyone's deadlines tighter--and trained us all to look for updates and confirmations. 

Thus, you may need to plan ahead to include announcements of the obvious, lest your audiences fill the void with rumor, confusion, anger or worse.  (And if you're concerned about looking ridiculous by stating the obvious, Scott Berkun tells you why that's okay.)  Here are a few situations where communicators might need to announce the obvious:
  • Tell us you're open when you're open: University Relations blog shares a winter storm lesson in social media communication, in which the University of Michigan-Flint learned it needed to announce on social networks that it was open during a storm, rather than limit announcements to closings or changes in the always-open status. You'll learn a lot from this case study, and may want to follow the lead of the U.S. government, which has its status noted on the Office of Personnel Management homepage (look for the "operating status" button at top right) 24/7, so there's no mistake.
  • Publish something to explain why you're not publishing:  On a day when social-network rumors were flying about an embargoed NASA announcement, Embargo Watch blog posted in the morning to remind eager readers why it wouldn't be posting until later that day.  And Reference Library blog, which doesn't publish on Mondays, reminds you of that this way every week.  Likewise, if your blog has "daily" or "weekly" in the title and you're going to deviate from that assumption, tell your readers.
  • Tell us when you're not ready to tell us.  When you have a packed room full of reporters waiting for you to brief them during a full-on crisis, and you're delayed (as well you might be) in bringing out the principal speakers to share details and answer questions, go tell the assembled press corps at regular intervals that you don't have anything yet, and that you will be back in 10 minutes to let them know more--even if the "more" is to say, "I'm back here at 2:10pm to say that we do not yet have all the facts pulled together. I will be back in 10 minutes to update you on our progress, and when we do have a statement, I will be giving you a five-minute heads-up announcement." There's a practical consideration here: If your news is that big, you'll have reporters waiting to go live with your news conference. Telling them "We'll be out here with statements and to take questions in 10 minutes" lets them prepare.  And even if you're just marking time, you'll be alleviating the frustration of waiting without receiving information of any kind. Read more about accommodating reporters in a crisis here.
Have you heard--or had to make--announcements of the obvious? Add to our list of examples in the comments.

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