If You Ever Become A Special Assistant To A Governor On Digital Media, This Is Your Survival Guide | THE DEBRIEF With Tunde Muraina

Being that this is a season of political appointments, some of us continue to pray someone somewhere puts forward our name for something in someone’s cabinet. I, for example, will take any appointment haha. Fingers crossed, ladies and gentlemen. Now, if you find yourself in charge of digital media for any governor or politician, come learn from Tunde Muraina. For eight years, he did this job for Senator Abiola Ajimobi, the immediate past governor of Oyo State and Tunde’s got nuggets to share. You’ll be surprised at some of the demands:

What’s the difference in your responsibility between when you were in the Governor’s office and when they moved you to the Ministry of Information?

Not much of a difference because there’s a thinning line between media for governor at the governor’s office and same for the government at the ministry of information. Though, while I was at the governor’s office, I was the primary admin to the governor’s social media account but I didn’t have the same responsibility at the Ministry of Information. Over at the ministry, we served as government spokesmen and not governor’s spokesmen. At the Ministry of Information, I dealt with over 50 MDAs that had about 35 information officers. This was a higher responsibility than what I had at the governor’s office, although the paraphernalia of the governor’s office cannot be compared with any other office at the state level. In some aspects, the responsibilities are the same: while at the governor’s office, I was one of the content managers of the Oyo State website, monitoring our exposure on web-based and traditional media while and I still did the same at the Ministry. I still sat in the room I used then.

And your official position was still SA to the Governor on e-media?

Yes, but attached to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism. I want to believe the decision to move me was strategic in order to make the Ministry more formidable, efficient and effective. If I may quickly say here, our Ministry was adjudged the most efficient MDA in 2017.

Now, Tunde, what skills does a person in your position need to have to function effectively?

The person must be versatile, flexible, dynamic, broad-minded, internet savvy, able to work with or without supervision, and capable of working under intense pressure. Also, he must be able to play the devil’s advocate. To be a news person is a very good advantage as well. My background and experience as a journalist have been very useful, especially in this era of fake news and so many phony social media accounts.

Speaking of being a professional news person, how do you manage the political aspects of the job?

I guess I didn’t have issues with the political aspect of my job because I’d learnt the art of political communication. Politics cannot be separated from what we do but to be a good media man for a politician, you must always tell yourself the truth at all times. Even when you sense things may not right, you re-context the issue and improve on it. Be the first to appraise and review your principal’s policies and actions and don’t deceive yourself. With this mindset and playing the devil’s advocate as I said earlier, you won’t have issues communicating with the people. Use the appropriate medium and proper engagement to manage the trust issue or totally eliminate mistrust. But don’t forget that trust issues are not peculiar to politicians: it is our way of life.

Have there ever been any instances where the fast and open nature of the internet blew a small issue out of proportion and you had to quickly quench the fire? What’s the instance and how did you handle the matter?

I had so many but the one that affected me the most and on which I had the opportunity to exhibit my professionalism and versatility was when in October 2012, some news sites published a report that the wife of my principal, Her Excellency, Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, was arrested by the Metro Police for money laundering.

When I read the story, I knew it was an attempt at blackmail because the reports quoted three different figures entirely for the currencies. Their figures in naira varied from the one reported in dollars and pounds.

I was so sure that she couldn’t have been arrested for such or any other criminal activity because she and I had a mother-son relationship and I knew what she was capable of.

I got the story in the middle of the night and while I was still figuring out how to handle it, my phone rang. She was the one on the line. We spoke for a few minutes and I told her I would get back to her on the action to take.

But the first thing I did was to ignore the story, thinking it would die a natural death but by 8am it had gone viral, thanks to our people who, in a bid to attack the writers, kept sharing the links.

One thing I have learnt over the years is that you make unpopular post go viral when you share it, either to dispel the post or add your views. There are times you just need to comment and leave it or totally ignore.

Sometimes you need five screens to get a full picture.

We held so many meetings and everyone became a media manager, bringing different suggestions. The most appalling thing was when some people attacked the media team that we should have issued a rejoinder in the traditional media. I was particularly castigated for not doing a good job, even though I had already been on many sites, leaving nothing less than 100 comments by then.

Then I asked the people bringing the suggestions: Has any traditional media published the story? Who would I write a rejoinder to, sites with no verifiable address? Even when we got one of those blogs shut down but the owner created another one immediately and used Facebook to drive traffic to it.

But our crowning moment came when The News/PM News published the initial fake post. Now, this was what we’d been waiting for.

Tunde Muraina

I checked the details and IP of the blogs running the report and found out they were either recently launched or hadn’t been used for months until that day. I also realised that we made the post popular with our views and action.

We later concluded that the best thing was for Her Excellency to take the next available flight back to Nigeria so people would see her and know she’d not been arrested by anyone. That’s how we finally killed the story.

But we continued with our media work and an international medium published a report, quoting the Metro Police that the woman was never arrested. We made this new report go viral in less than 10 minutes and the tension reduced.

But our crowning moment came when The News/PM News published the initial fake post. Now, this was what we’d been waiting for. We needed a veritable medium to carry the story and so we slammed The News/PM News with a libel suit to deter other media from touching that fake report. After that, we organized a phone interview with some journalists. The recording of the interview was posted online and we turned things around.

What happened next was: the public started hammering PM News and other media houses that were peddling the fake report.

Our team was appreciated and rewarded by His Excellency.

Another instance was when an article came out that His Excellency and some other government officials went on a jamboree to the UK for the Olympics. We wrote to the medium for a retraction but the publisher didn’t budge. We stated our own side and sent it to all our contacts to put the issue in proper perspective as the original medium in question was considered to be very credible. We needed a distraction and we just pushed the reports of an investigative panel that exposed fraud in the system.

My brother, with this new more sensational story, people stopped talking about the jamboree (which wasn’t even true in the first instance). We broke the internet space, blew up the airwaves, and dominated the newspapers with the findings of the panel.

In situations such as the ones you mentioned, you’d have needed funds to move quickly. How was that need managed in your set-up?

If it’s about government policy or action, the expense was at the discretion of the MDA or our Ministry. Some of these matters were not always budgeted for as press conferences but as press relations and other subheads. Usually, we would make the needed requests and approach the appropriate authority for approvals.

Did you work with digital marketing or PR agencies/consultants? In what scenario did you work with them? How did you select whom to work with?

We asked for expressions of interest and then interviewed them to decide who was suitable to handle the brief. Occasionally, some of them sent in unsolicited proposals and, after looking at their ideas, we engaged them.

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