Friday, November 26, 2010

Cherry picking communications (and tweets)

In this Gizmodo article, the author takes the TSA Twitter team to task for flippancy. While Americans are debating the extent of fourth amendment rights and videos of travelers having to tolerate gropings from TSA agents of a nature generally reserved for spouses, partners, and friends with benefits, Gizmodo quotes the TSA Twitter team's tweets:
#TSA Travel Advice for Pilgrims: Clothing with large buckles and blunderbusses at checkpoints could cause delays. #holiday #travel #security
And:
#TSA Travel Advice: Be on the lookout for turkeys with “fowl” intent. #holiday #travel #security
followed by a few bizarre responses to other tweeters, shown on the Gizmodo post.

In the comments, "Blogger Bob," purportedly a TSA tweeter, responds:
Hey Gizmodo - nice way to cherry pick the tweets. Seeing yesterday was the busiest travel day of the year, I tweeted far more than I usually do. I tweeted mostly travel tips and peppered them with some really intentionally corny Thanksgiving jokes. And yes, there was some two way communication. Is it a bad thing for a government agency to sound human?
If "Blogger Bob" is the genuine article, then his response throws the TSA's standards of professionalism into even greater shadow. A public relations or communications pro knows that the media and the public do cherry pick any organization's messages, like heat-seeking missiles intent on finding those that are incendiary, wrong-headed, or, in this case, juvenile and inappropriate to the situation and the nation's mood. People focus on and remember poorly chosen messages as well as moments of poor leadership. For example, how many have not forgotten George W. Bush's "heckuva job" comment as FEMA floundered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina under Michael D. Brown? Solid communications are the common norm, while gaffes are rare and noteworthy. It's not hard to figure out why people do take note; out-of-tune messages stand out, especially in circumstances that are themselves a test of our collective temper and temperament.

We expect a toy maker to be clever, cute, creative, and charming in its communications—until there's a recall because of faulty or even dangerous design. Then we expect them to speak to us in a way that conveys a blend of corporate professionalism, empathy, and humanity. Flippant comments and adolescent humor don't cut it.

The TSA is charged with striving to keep us safe during our business and leisure travels. They require our full cooperation as they scan, grope, and search us in their mission to protect us from the acts of terror that we fear and dread. The least we should require of the TSA is that their communications, which are part of their public face, and their communicators like "Blogger Bob," convey the gravitas that demonstrates their appreciation of and commitment to that public trust. The TSA needs professional communicators, not standup comics.

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