United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the global community to work in unorthodox ways, by collapsing institutional barriers and pledging $1billion to the UNMEER mission in response to the Ebola crisis. This is pretty weighty and, of course, headline-grabbing stuff. Amid the accolades and praise swirling in the latter half of last week following his opening address to the 69th General Assembly came a perceptive tweet from the Canadian Press’ Helen Branswell:

It was enough to make us pause and take a look at the UN’s communications approach on this issue. Yes, it is a complex time for the UN with meaty topics on the agenda. Balance in the UN’s communication approach to each issue needs due consideration. However, a week after the opening address and unanimous support for the unprecedented UNMEER mission, Helen’s observation still stands. Nowhere on the home page of the UN’s website is there any reference to Ebola other than three words in the “in focus” box on the right hand side of the page that say “the Ebola virus.”
Compare and contrast this to the more up-to-date, issues-focused websites of the World Health Organization (WHO), Doctors without Borders, Centers for Disease Control and Canada’s Humanitarian Coalition (made up of CARE, Oxfam, Plan and Save the Children). It’s easy to see which organizations understand the impact of a multi-channel communications approach, not only in working towards their respective organizational missions/mandates to mobilize containment of the virus, but also to educate the globe.
So, who does it best? First place, as you might expect, goes to the WHO. In terms of evolving content and currency, WHO has its finger on the pulse of the evolving international dialogue. One trip to their home page shows a commitment to helping multiple stakeholders understand what the Ebola crisis means, who is doing what, and where the collective is headed. An assessment, a roadmap, an infographic and daily changing content that is relevant to the ever-changing story provides appropriate context. What it lacks in design appeal, it makes up for in content management. WHO is also highly active and engaged in social channels and message consistency across all platforms is apparent. Their approach is a prime example of a solid, integrated strategy using channels that can deliver at the speed this crisis is evolving.
The runner-up? That depends on your particular perspective. We’d say the Centers for Disease Control. In terms of clear messaging, comprehensiveness of content and ease of use no matter your perspective or information need, the CDC is clearly at the front of the pack and “on message” given its mission to work 24/7 to “protect America from health, safety and security threats both foreign and in the US.” There is no question where to go for information when you land on their home page. One layer down they break down their content into digestible chunks and make it relatable and self-guided, depending on the reader’s personal context. Where the CDC’s on line communications strategy breaks down is in social channels. Ebola content is on their Facebook page but they are not using the real estate as effectively as they could to drive information and understanding, and their Twitter presence is limited to a reactive or re-Tweet strategy.
Perhaps the UN believes it’s done its job and no longer is required to paint the picture – headline news will carry the day. But with a billion-dollar commitment on the table and the world’s eyes on next steps, if they were our client, we’d recommend those responsible for managing communications reconsider their approach before they add a reputation management issue on top of a serious global health crisis.