If there is one thing that Brandi Bates knows, it's trolls. Brandi has had first hand experience of the devastating effect that can have on someone professionally and personally as well as the wider ranging implications on a whole county.
What started out as a study topic for her FEMA MPIO class turned into a niche area of research that has benefitted PIOs from every area of public service. If you want to understand what motivates a troll and then how to deal with them effectively, take a look at our insightful interview with Brandi.
Brandi has managed to combine her real life experiences with all that she continues to learn so that she can enable others professionally.
Tell us a little about your professional background.
I actually have about 20 years of advertising, public relations and web site design in the private sector before I got into the public sector. Having that experience has been very helpful for me in terms of public information and public involvement/outreach. I've also had ten years’ experience in public information and public involvement in both local and regional government and I've been deployed several times with a Type 3 regional all-hazards incident management team throughout the state of Florida serving in a PIO capacity in the aftermath hurricanes Irma and Michael. I was also deployed as PIO for the state of Florida Department of Emergency Management at a FEMA COVID vaccination site.
You specialize in talking about internet trolls and educating people in how to deal with them. How did you come into this niche area?
I was the target of a fairly offensive post about a fabricated topless donut shop by someone who runs a satire site. He took my Facebook profile photo (in which I had made the poor decision to show myself in pink hair) and a post I made on our official county page, reworded them and pieced them back together in PhotoShop to look like a shared post of a county employee advocating for topless donut shops. It brought some pretty serious grief down on the county and me. The experience, which actually seems funny now, piqued my interest as to WHY some people go through such efforts to create havoc on social media.
You moved from emergency management to education - it’s probably one of the most atypical times to be a schools PIO, so what similarities and differences are there between the two areas of expertise?
I’m still responsible for getting the right information to the right people at the right time so they can make the right decision. Issues that affect people’s children consistently bring about a passionate response from the public – more so than updates about road detours or planning workshops.
What is something about the role that you were not expecting?
I was pleasantly surprised to learn how much our community supports our schools. I see a lot of people on social media sticking up for our teachers and bus drivers. We have are one of the top school districts in the state and it’s nice to see that it’s appreciated not just by our parents, but by the community as a whole.
What do you love about your role?
There’s so many new people to meet in the school district yet I’m still working with most of the same media as I did when I was in county government. I worked really hard to earn their trust and build those relationships – it’s nice to marry the two.
What would you say to anyone else in a leadership role about having a PIO who might not have one?
Having a staff person dedicated to knowing what the media wants and needs – and how they need it – is a huge benefit. I follow up with the media after the story is printed or airs and share those with our staff – and follow up with the media if they need clarification. Also, having someone to help “herd the social media cats” is important. With 35 schools and a couple of social media accounts at each one – that’s a lot of social media to help coordinate. I’m available to help them with creating posts, moderating comments, and ensuring the sites are updated and archived.
What are your biggest challenges that you might not have expected?
I was really surprised at how many social media accounts are in the district. Ensuring that we have consistent messaging and are following best practices when there are over 100 people managing all those accounts is going to be an interesting time.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a PIO?
You need to really like people and like helping people. I mean REALLY like people. You also need to be very polite, slow to anger and thick-skinned.
Are there any books, podcasts, websites or any other resources you would recommend for the comms pro?
My favorite is actually a Facebook group and I check it daily – Government Social Media Community (www.facebook.com/groups/governmentsocialmedia). It’s private and you’ll have to be approved but it’s where every PIO I know goes to swap war stories, ask for advice or share new resources.
To connect with Brandi and read her resources and downloads you can go to LinkedIn.
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