What is a public information officer?

If you’re a public information officer, what do you do? According to Wikipedia:

Public Information Officers (PIOs) are the communications coordinators or spokespersons of certain governmental organizations (i.e. city, county, school district, state government and police/fire departments). They differ from public relations departments of private organizations in that marketing plays a more limited role. The primary responsibility of a PIO is to provide information to the media and public as required by law and according to the standards of their profession. Many PIOs are former journalists, bringing unique and relevant experience to the position. During crises and emergencies, PIOs are often identified by wearing helmets or vests with the letters “PIO” on them.

I have a different idea about what the job (in larger cities and states) or role (in smaller cities and towns) should be. Not only, or even mainly, a spokesperson. Rather, a mentor and coach, helping people, groups, and organizations become better online communicators. And not only, or mainly, those in government. In a city that thinks like the web every public-facing information resource will be bound to its creator’s online identity and linkable into other contexts.

The PIO’s measure of success won’t be the number of documents posted to the city website, or the number of pageviews they draw. It will be the degree to which public-facing entities — government of course, but also schools, hospitals, newspapers, churches, downtown merchants, sports leagues, environmental groups, and many others — properly manage and interconnect their own online spaces. Why? Because a shared understanding of how (and why) to do that will make the city a better place to live and a more attractive place to visit or migrate to.

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