Breaking News: Three Takeaways from the Orlando Police Department’s PIO

Kacir Karenby Karen Kacir

Last month, the FPRA Orlando Area Chapter reported to the Orlando Police Department Headquarters for a special session with Michelle Guido, Orlando Police Department’s public information officer (PIO). After 26 years in journalism, Guido became the police department’s first civilian PIO in 2013 and was tasked with radically re-evaluating how the agency told its story. In a media landscape more difficult than ever to penetrate, Guido turned to Twitter.

When she started managing the Orlando Police Department’s Twitter account in 2013, it had amassed just over 600 followers. Five years later, it now reaches over 122,000 – more than three times the number of 25- to 54-year-old viewers of Orlando’s most popular 6 p.m. TV news broadcasts.

Here are three takeaways from Guido’s presentation on leveraging this owned media channel:

1. Break your own news and remain the go-to source.

In 2017, Lt. Debora Clayton was fatally shot in a Walmart parking lot after attempting to apprehend murder suspect Markeith Loyd. When the Orlando Police Department apprehended Loyd days later, this tweet went live within a minute. By breaking the news on social media, the police department established itself as the source for information related to the case, driving media to its social channels for further information and updates.

2. Streamline communications.

At 3:15 a.m., June 12, 2016, Guido was informed about the shooting at Pulse Nightclub. By 7 a.m., she had received 1,100 emails from media across the nation requesting more information. After sending out a mass email directing all media to the Orlando Police Department’s Twitter account, she stowed her work phone and didn’t touch it for 10 days.

Responding to every outlet would have been an impossible task. Even if Guido had been able to personally respond to a fraction of the inquiries, it would have required prioritizing some outlets over others. By keeping the police department’s social channels updated, Guido ensured that all media outlets had access to critical information as it developed.

3. Control your message – for better or worse.

By cultivating a responsive social media channel, the Orlando Police Department has earned a robust following, which Guido leverages to tell the stories traditional media outlets might never pick up. On the Orlando Police Department’s Twitter account, stories of rescued puppies and officers’ good deeds abound. When the news is less palatable than puppies, a timely, transparent response circumvents public mistrust.

The Orlando Police Department’s strategic investment in social media has afforded a tremendous level of influence. Traditional media has its place. However, when preparing to break your next news story, consider looking no further than your own social media.

(Bonus! Police Chief John Mina showed us that he’s social savvy, as well.)

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