Monitoring Social Media for EM: Size of Event and Scene Control Matter

ESA/ESOC goes Social Media _10

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Post by: Kim Stephens

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about how and why emergency managers should monitor social media. Businesses monitor social media in order to ensure their brand is not disparaged and in order to engage customers whenever their company is mentioned (either positively or negatively). In short, they want to monitor and manage their brand name.  Public safety organizations also should monitor social media, but their objectives are likely to be different. Primarily, public organizations want to engage the public; but during a crisis, actively monitoring media messages also would support these three objectives:

  1. Maintain situational awareness (What do citizens near the scene know that I don’t?)
  2. Create message awareness and control (Is the message we are trying to convey resonating with citizens?)
  3. Manage rumors (What are citizens saying that is not true and needs to be corrected?)

The amount of monitoring and focus of monitoring efforts depends on two main factors: (1)  the size or scale of the disaster event, and  (2) the amount of control the response organizations have over the scene. For example, monitoring social media for situational awareness would be very important during large-scale events where response organizations have low amounts of scene control. (As the over-simplified graph on the right depicts.) An example of this would be a large-scale natural disaster, such as an earthquake. But, monitoring for situational awareness would also be important for small-scale events with low amounts of scene control (e.g., a hostage situation where citizens or victims are tweeting/texting/posting from inside or around the building). However, if response organizations have almost 100% control of the scene, this type of monitoring becomes less important and rumor control/message awareness take more prominent roles. An example of this situation is  a fire with a closed perimeter.

Note that situational awareness information has implications for the operational mission, while message awareness and rumor control are not central to the basic mission.  For example, in the recent BP oil spill, initially response organizations had almost 100% control of the scene around the area of the explosion. The Coast Guard and BP used Social Media in an exemplary fashion to push out their message regarding the response organizations’ activities. But as the oil spread, more and more citizens had first-hand knowledge of the situation–by spotting oil on beaches, for example. Without a good outlet for people to provide information to response organizations, they turned to the citizen-curated “Oil Spill Crisis Map”. This could have contributed to some of the feelings that the government and BP were not listening to the communities surrounding the Gulf.

Gaining situational awareness data from citizens through social media seems to be a much more uncomfortable endeavor than simply monitoring for rumors and message control, yet it could become an important tool for use by practitioners.  As stated in the White paper “The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media:

“As of today, most of us are not yet ready to collect, respond or react to this incoming social data in a timely manner.”

Understandably, emergency managers have all sorts of questions: “If we monitor, are we then liable if we are unable to respond?” “How do we know if the information is correct?” “How do we know where to look for the information?” One place these questions are being discussed in is the social media and emergency management hashtag on twitter. Join the discussion by following #SMEM.

I hope to hear your thoughts, especially if you have a way to think improve on this simplified model.

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3 responses to “Monitoring Social Media for EM: Size of Event and Scene Control Matter

  1. It’s in some ways about managing expectations before an event. Los Angeles (city) Fire operates a very interactive set of SM tools, and is very clear about how information will be delivered as well as how incoming information will be treated. Building relationships in the SM area ahead of a crisis creates knowledge among followers of the agency policy and limitations of the SM stream. The involved agencies must build protocols and engage the wider SM world in advance of large scale events, I believe the best way is to constantly engage the interested SM public regularly so that the expectation is managed. When large events strike the usually non-engaged who subscribe to the events SM stream will be coached and aided by those who were engaged before the event and have a knowledge of the originating agencies procedure and policy. Thereby the engaged SM stream members act to multiply the monitoring capacity to aid in controlling the rumor and misinformation that is going to happen in such events.

  2. Pingback: social media monitoring tools

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