Top 3 FAQs for Social Media and EM Beginners

Post by: Kim Stephens

Whenever someone presents the concept of using social media for emergency management to people new to the medium, the same questions emerge again and again. I’m not going to pretend I have the answers to all of these questions, but I would like to put forth the top 3 questions and propose that the SMEM community develop a repository of FAQs with succinct answers to be housed at either  the First Responders Communities of Practice “MakingAmerica Safer through Social Media” portal (registration required), and/or the sm4em.org website. The answers I’m giving below are examples and by no means 100% complete.

1. How do you know who you are talking to when you are using social media?

I can almost understand why this is a question. Looking through available information for government agency types on the Howto.gov website, most of the content relates mostly to “pushing” information. There’s only one sentence about  answering questions directly from the public, in which they implore you to, ironically,  “Be a real person”.  So, how do you know the person on the other end of the conversation is a real, particularly on twitter?

What is impersonation?

Impersonation is pretending to be another person or entity in order to deceive. Impersonation is a violation of the Twitter Rules and may result in permanent account suspension. Twitter users are allowed to create parody, commentary, or fan accounts. Please refer to Twitter’s Parody Policy for more information about these accounts. Accounts with the clear intent to confuse or mislead may be permanently suspended.

  • Observe twitter in action by signing up and participating in the medium. You will learn that the people are as real as the people in your email inbox (and yes, your email inbox gets spam too).

2. How do you know the information is true/valid?

There really isn’t a succinct  answer to this question, it depends on many factors. If a response organization is trying to verify large amounts of data from social media streams during a crisis, Swiftriver is one of the few tools I’m aware of for this function. I’ve written about it before, but here’s a summary:

SwiftRiver is a free and open source platform that helps people make sense of a lot of information in a short amount of time. The SwiftRiver platform was born out of the need to understand and act upon a wave of massive amounts of crisis data that tends to overwhelm in the first 24 hours of a disaster. Since then, there has been a great deal of interest in this tool for other industries, such as news rooms and brand monitoring groups.

In practice, SwiftRiver enables the filtering and verification of real-time data from channels such as Twitter, SMS, Email and RSS feeds. This free tool is especially useful for organizations who need to sort their data by authority and accuracy, as opposed to popularity. These organizations include the media, emergency response groups, election monitors and more. This might include journalists and other media institutions, emergency response groups, election monitors and more.

If you are not employing a filtering tool, such as the one mentioned above, you can understand the validity of the information in various ways:

  1. Through your understanding of the person sending you the information, e.g. have they sent me correct information before?.
  2. Through deduction, e.g. CNN has not reported an earthquake yet, but I can see on  TrendsMap hundreds of tweets coming from Japan indicating they’ve had an earthquake.
  3. Or by aggregation (20 people are saying very similar things about an event).

There are many articles and blog posts that address this topic, here are a few:

3. What is the Return of investment (ROI)/and how much time does SM take; how do you measure success? (These are all related so I lumped them together.)

The community interested in social media and emergency management needs to come up with a succinct answer to these related questions in order to  dispel the myth that social media is an expensive endeavor that has no real rate of return and that participation requires too much staff or personal time. As a point of comparison, the 311 system was implemented in some cities in order to take pressure off of the 911 system, and this effect has been documented; similar research might be required for social media interactions. Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence indicates that people will not call EOCs or 911 as often if they have information through other means. When you are talking on the phone, almost by definition, you are talking to one person–that is very time-consuming. But by answering a person’s question on a social media platform there’s a high probability that you’ve answered that question for others. Here are a few other points:

  • News media will not call PIOs begging for updates if they are receiving a constant stream of info from twitter or RSS feeds (according to an account by Jeremy Heidt, PIO Tennessee Emergency Management Agency).
  • Citizens post questions and concerns directly to facebook page or ask through twitter accounts rather than calling (QPSMedia, Australia).
  • The amount of time spent going through email decreases (EMs Cheryl Bledsoe and Jeff Philips both indicate this has happened for them).
  • People start showing up to events that were never well attended before (this is a recurring story from MANY different public agencies I’ve spoken to).
  • People will turn to you in droves if you supply information on social media platforms: In Australia the “likes” on the Queensland Police Service facebook page pre-flooding crisis=6,400: post crisis=165,000. (I’d say that’s a pretty good measure of success.)

The IACP Social Media “how-to” website site does have an analytics fact sheet if you are interested in hard numbers to measure social media success. But in general, if you are doing social media effectively and are fully committed, you will know you are successful based on the feedback you are getting from the community. You could measure this good will by taking surveys of people’s opinion of your agency, as long as you have a similar survey to compare it with pre-social media. We aren’t the only ones worrying about this topic. Read this transcript of this discussion of local government types in Great Britain. The top suggestion, I thought:

Measure channel shift & behavior change. Measure ratio online v offline interactions to see the effect digital communications have.

None of this is as easy as we’d like it to be. But maybe a FAQ repository would be a good start. Please add questions you are hearing as a comment. I hope we can take this up as SMEMchat topic as well.


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2 responses to “Top 3 FAQs for Social Media and EM Beginners

  1. This is a great resource! The info provided in valuable and the links are very relevant. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for commenting. I fear I just scratched the surface. A true repository would be a great resource for the entire community interested in the topic (clearly national and international as well).

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