Decentralized Social Communications: Scary Stuff!

Post by: Kim Stephens

ad697e01Do you keep your social media presence “close to the vest” (e.g. only allowing Public Information Officers the ability to post content) or does your strategy include the ability for all agency officials to reach the community?  The latter type of presence involves letting go of control to some extent and this, of course, requires a huge leap of faith from leadership, especially in top-down oriented public safety organizations. However, this type of strategy is currently being done quite successfully.

Decentralized Communications: Is this The Evolution of Your Social Presence?

In the book “Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide” Ines Mergel and Bill Greeves suggest that a decentralized approach to social media content production is evidence of an evolved use of social media in organizations. They state that agencies that have been using social media for a while often “make social media the responsibility of everyone” and offer the benefits of this decision:

A recent decision at the Department of Defense was to abandon the role of the social media director and instead transfer that position’s responsibilities onto many shoulders in the organization. It is very difficult for a single department or division to speak with the knowledge and authority of all the business units of an organization. “Official” responses often require time and research. They frequently result in formal answers that do not fit the casual tone inherent in social media. By formally distributing the tasks and response functions to those who have the knowledge required to have meaningful online conversations on social media channels, you can decrease maintenance costs, increase trust in those exchanges and reduce the number of missteps or rounds of interaction it takes before citizens get the “right” response from your agency. (pages 110-112)

Jim Garrow, who blogs at “The Face of the Matter” makes a similar case: “My point, and it naturally follows from last week’s post on having others write for your agency, is that we [PIOs] need to get the hell out of the way. Let your agency shine through every day. Give your experts the podium they deserve. Build them a following (or let them build a following).”

But how would this work for public safety organizations?

The Toronto Police Department provides an example of complete decentralization of social media content. As can be seen in the image below their agency’s website homepage has all the “big 3″ social media buttons: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. These buttons take the user to their official account, most likely administered by a Public Information Officer.

toronto

Choose, however, the “Connect with us” tab right below it, and their world opens up. I counted 119 different social media accounts for this organization–119! What are all these people talking about? Ideally, the content they are posting should be directly related to their position or function in the organization, and with each of the samples I chose at random, that proved to be the case. Take for instance Sgt Jack West—who has the title of “Traffic Enforcement.” No shocker, he talks a lot about traffic and how people can stay safe–e.g “Don’t text and drive” etc.

Patricia Fleischmann or @caringcop on Twitter, has the title of “Vulnerable Persons Coordinator.” What does she post about? How elderly and other people who might be vulnerable to crime and natural disasters can be better prepared. She also Tweets quite a lot about people that are helping each other, organizations folks can turn to for assistance, and information from community meetings she attends. She has a healthy following of 762 people.

I could go on for while with examples, but feel free to explore of these great social feeds yourself by clicking here. So, how do they keep everyone in their “lane?” How do they keep all of these people from embarrassing the organization and posting inappropriate content? Yikes–this is scary territory!

I have been told by some of these Toronto Tweeters, that they do the following:

  • Before they get their social account, they are required to attend a 3-day intensive social media training class that provides them with not only information about how and why to use social networks, but also how NOT to use them. This would include Department and City posting policies.
  • Each of the accounts are clearly marked with the fact that the person works for the Toronto Police Department, however, they do often choose to use their own picture instead of the PD’s logo–giving the account a personal touch, which I think is critical for community outreach and engagement (it says to the public–we are people to).
  • Each account states that they do not monitor the account 24/7, and that if anyone needs emergency assistance they should dial 911. (See below–each person’s account information looks almost identical.)
  • Each Twitter profile links back to the official website.toronto2

This obviously is not a willy nilly hey, all-you-guys-go-Tweet-something strategy. Their strategy is obvious, their goals are clear; and it seems to me they are meeting the objectives of reaching out and  connecting with the public on platforms that the public uses everyday.

See, it’s not so scary after all!

Is Your Social Media Presence Accessible?

Post by: Kim Stephens

Open

Open (Photo credit: tribalicious)

Accessibility of emergency information should be a top-tier concern for organizations, but, I know trying to understand what is required can be a little overwhelming.  There are, however, some simple things you can do ensure everyone in your community has access to the vital emergency preparedness and protective action information you are providing via social networks. For help, HowTo.gov’s site Improving Access to Social Media in Government is a fantastic resource that lists and describes very implementable actions you can take right now. For instance, they suggest that prefixes should be added before tweets that have photos, videos, or audio. “This allows people using screen readers to know what to expect before it’s read out loud. The uppercase formats are for further clarity to sighted users.”

  • Photos: [PIC]
  • Videos: [VIDEO]
  • Audio: [AUDIO]

This site also has links to more in-depth educational tools, including video tutorials. If you have 20 minutes I highly recommend watching the recorded webinar, embedded below. The description states:

Join us for a 20-minute sprint where you’ll learn specific tips for making your agency’s social media content more accessible. We’ll go through tools and tactics you can use to help make sure your social media engagements are readable for all your communities.

What You’ll Learn:

 Participants will learn tips to make your content more accessible on:

  • Google+
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Video, Audio, Images

About the Presenter  

Scott Horvath, Web and Social Media Chief, U.S. Geological Survey, is an active member of the Federal Social Media Community of Practice who curated a list of key takeaways from the recent #SocialGov Summit on accessibility.

Tell me, have you incorporated any of these features into your social networking posts?

#SMEMChat Makes it to Congress

Post by: Kim Stephens

Patrice Cloutier tweeted:

And I’d have to answer…yes!

When the Social Media and Emergency Management #SMEM community started chatting at 12:30EST every Friday almost two years ago, we knew we were on to something. That day, Craig Fugate, the Director of FEMA, joined in–causing those of us who had organized the chat to literally jump up and down in our offices. It was pretty obvious that indeed we had started something that could be quite good.

Flash forward a couple of years, and in order to prepare for the Congressional Hearing that took place today (June 4, 2013) some of the staff for Congress Woman Susan Brooks asked if they could join in the #smemchat. In fact, what the staffers asked Heather Blanchard and I specifically was: “We want to ask you about your Friday activities.” I honestly had to think twice before answering that!  They wanted to join in the chat so that they could talk to practitioners directly, and it appears that the chat–as well as those who participated–made an impression. A couple of funny notes–for one, anyone can join in the chat–permission to participate is never required; and two, no one person or group is responsible for organizing the chat on a weekly basis (some people are under the impression that it is run by FEMA, but that can’t be farther from the truth). Anyone can join in, and anyone can ask questions. I would have to add one caveat: don’t try to sell a product–even a high tech social media gadget–to this group during the chat. It is a very bad idea.

During the Hearing, Ms. Brooks cited the chat as a reference–it helped her understand what the emergency management community was interested in learning from the private sector witnesses. The chats are always a place to get a good understanding of what others are thinking and doing across the country related to social media–which is why it has persisted for so long.

Very cool.

The Hearing was titled: “Subcommittee Hearing: Emergency MGMT 2.0: How #SocialMedia & New Tech are Transforming Preparedness, Response, & Recovery #Disasters #Part1 #Privatesector.” There are a whole lot of hashtags in that title! Below are the witnesses that testified today along with links to their written testimony.

Mr. Matthew Stepka
Vice President
Google.org
Witness Statement [PDF]

Mr. Jason Payne
Philanthropy Engineering Team Lead
Palantir Technologies
Witness Statement [PDF]

Mr. Michael Beckerman
President and CEO
The Internet Association
Witness Statement [PDF]
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]

Mr. Jorge L. Cardenas
Vice President
Asset Management and Centralized Services
Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc.
Witness Statement [PDF]

Social Media use by Emergency Managers: Survey Says!

Post by: Kim Stephens

photo credit: Rosaura Ochoa via photopin cc

photo credit: Rosaura Ochoa via photopin cc

CNA, a not-for-profit research and analysis organization,  in conjunction with the National Emergency Management Association, released the results of their survey of emergency management organizations about the use of social media. You can download the report here. The CNA website provides a description of why they felt a survey was important:

To date, much of the data on social media and emergency management is limited to anecdotal accounts or case studies. Thus, CNA, in partnership with the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), funded the development and nationwide distribution of a 56-question survey to state, county, and local emergency management and response agencies in late 2012 to answer questions about social media use in emergency management. By taking a survey approach, we were able to provide a broader, complementary perspective to existing anecdotes and case studies. This report provides the key results of that survey.*

They posed the following questions:

  • How knowledgeable are emergency management agencies regarding social media?
  • Do emergency management agencies use social media? What goals do they have for social media?
  • What are current capabilities for using social media?

  • Do emergency management agencies have experience using social media in real-world events?
  • Are agencies prepared to conduct social media operations in large-scale events?

  • What are emergency managers’ attitudes toward social media?
  • What are the main challenges to social media use by emergency management agencies? What can the Federal Government do to facilitate its use?

Findings:

Although the results of the survey do mesh with expectations, they did uncover a few nice surprises. For instance, the extent of adoption is higher than I would have thought: “Of those surveyed, all state emergency management agencies use social media in some capacity, as do 68 percent of county emergency management agencies and 85 percent of local response agencies.”

Not surprisingly, given the relatively recent acceptance of social media for crisis communications, they found that the emergency management community use these tools in a fairly ad hoc fashion–processes and procedures lag behind adoption. Furthermore, information found on social networks is also less trusted than “traditional media.” Most agencies do not have a person dedicated to updating and monitoring social media. During large-scale disaster events, this lack of dedicated personnel severely restricts the ability of organizations to glean information from users. “Less than one-quarter of state agencies responding, and even fewer county and local agencies, indicated that their data collection and analysis capabilities could sufficiently scale for large events.” The lack of personnel, however, does not seem to impact the ability for these organization to post status updates during events.

My favorite question–what can the feds do for you–also had an unsurprising response: send money. Although to be fair–training, guidance and standards were also mentioned.

Let me know–would you have answered the survey differently? Are you surprised by the results?

Report was written by Yee San Su • Clarence Wardell III • Zoë Thorkildsen

Getting Folks to “ShakeOut” via Social Media: Lessons for all Hazards

Post by: Kim Stephens
shakeout
 The Great ShakeOut (not to be confused with the Harlem Shake)  started in California but has now become a multi-state as well as international earthquake drill. The objective is to get citizens to practice the recommended action to take during an earthquake. The protective action mantra that is repeated in almost all of  the messaging is simple to remember: “Drop, Cover and Hold-On.”
Drop, cover and hold-on for ShakeOut BC

Drop, cover and hold-on for ShakeOut BC (Photo credit: BC Gov Photos)

The ShakeOut has become a bit of petri dish for those in the social sciences who study citizen engagement and participation in disaster preparedness activities–as well as the effectiveness of preparedness messaging. In turn, the outreach efforts have been fine tuned throughout the years in order to take advantage of lessons learned from each year of the event.

A key aspect of the Great ShakeOut is the integration of comprehensive science-based earthquake research and the lessons learned from decades of social science research about why people get prepared. The result is a “teachable moment” on par with having an actual earthquake (often followed by increased interest in getting ready for earthquakes). The Great ShakeOut creates the sense of urgency that is needed for people, organizations, and communities to get prepared, to practice what to do to be safe, and to learn what plans need to be improved.
               Quote via: http://www.washington.edu/emergency/shakeout

Marketing

This event is promoted through a variety of methods that are centered on websites designed  for each region. Citizens are encouraged to register via the website and make a pledge to participate in the drill.  Once registered, they are asked to use resources on the sites such as drill manuals, broadcasts, scenarios, and safety information to help develop their plans in order to be more prepared for an earthquake.

How do you keep interest year-round?

Even though the ShakeOut is planned for one day out of the year, community outreach  is a job for all 12-months; and reaching people via social media has increasingly become an important piece of the “ShakeOut” communications strategy.  Jason Ballmann, (@JasonBallmann) the Social Media Strategist of the Southern California Earthquake Center told me how they keep people’s attention.
“I think what makes us special is that we are already extremely relevant. We’re based in Earthquake Country. Yet, we try to make preparedness and recovery fresh, interesting, and fun. Social media is a great way for us to do that, and I think our sincerity and wish to keep people safe and ready is obvious.”

Define Your Strategy

Being “fresh, interesting and fun” however, is not something that can be done in an ad hoc fashion.  According to Jason, their social media strategy includes the following 5 main points:
  • Define the best platforms for our audiences and ways to use them, notably Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google Plus, and Vine App;
  • Identify key players and read/share/retweet their content (Twitter lists, like them as our Facebook Page, follow them on Pinterest, etc…);
  • Listen to how audiences are participating in ShakeOut, staying prepared, and practicing Drop, Cover, and Hold On with their shared content;
  • Create innovative, unique content that will engage and inspire our audiences to be better prepared and informed;
  • Attend live events (expos, fairs) and post event/news-related content to engage people on social media while staying true to our mission.
Their social presence, as mentioned above, include the big 3 (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) but also they have added the Vine App, Pinterest and Google Plus. Their presence is robust with over 7,000 thumbs up on Facebook and over 4,o00 followers on Twitter. I really like the way they have taken full advantage of adding other social apps to their Facebook page–making it a bit of a one-stop social stop: fans can readily see their YouTube videos and their Pinterest page without leaving Facebook.
I’m also loving that they are experimenting with humor. The video: “Don’t fight a brick–the brick will win” (see below)  is something that teenagers might actually share. Why is that important? Getting people to share the message is always one of the main goals of any social media strategy. Also, it is important to keep in mind that even though an older person might not find the video humorous, not all content can connect with all people. That is the beauty of social media–it allows the messenger to reach all segments of the audience with tailored content with the knowledge that one size does not fit all.
Don’t forget–the ShakeOut is on 10/17 at 10:17AM–no what your location. See the California ShakeOut website here: http://shakeout.org.

More Research on Boston Marathon Official Twitter Activity #SMEM

Post by: Kim Stephens

Project Hazards Emergency Response and Online Informal Communication (HEROIC)* has posted two more reports that describe their research around the use of Twitter by public safety organizations during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing (see the complete citation at the end of this post).  You can read them in their entirety by clicking the hyperlinked titles and then choosing “Research Highlights.”

Below, I briefly describe both of these reports and provide the most significant findings.

Emergency services working after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings

Emergency services working after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings

 Micro-structure in Broadcasting Messages

The Microstructure report reviews  “conversational microstructures.”  They specifically examined whether or not Federal, State or local entities took part in or were the focus of the conversation on Twitter.  For the purposes of the study,  conversational Tweets were identified if they included a hyperlink, a hashtag, an @ message  or were ReTweeted, each of which  “…signify varying dimensions of online engagement…. Aspects of conversational microstructure use are of interest because they provide insights into which Twitter messages are amplified and why.”

Findings

By studying the data in a systematic fashion (which they describe) they found something very interesting regarding the use of hashtags–by now a common item  in public Tweets, especially for advance notice events.  They discovered that even though this crisis lasted a week, there was NOT a consistent use of one particular hashtag by public safety organizations. They state:

While there were a series of events throughout the week, including the detonation of improvised explosive devices at the beginning of the week, the killing of a police officer at MIT, and the lockdowns of Boston and Watertown, there was no indication that a consistent hashtag emerged or trended among official organizations to organize their content into a traceable stream.

That finding, in my opinion, can be turned into a simple take-away lesson:  agencies that are part of the Joint Information System should immediately determine which hashtags will be used throughout an event to ensure the broadest possible message distribution (of note, the public initially used the tag #BostonMarathon, which was rarely used by public safety organizations). Furthermore, this could have easily been something decided upon when planning for the marathon. The researchers note:

Hashtags that were utilized varied by sector, such as #tweetfromthebeat, #WANTED, and #CommunityAlert by law enforcement, and #oneboston from local government, indicating different aspects of the response.  However, a single hashtag, related to the weeklong investigation and subsequent manhunt and capture, did not emerge.

800px-Scenes_and_approximate_times_of_events_of_April_18-19Tweeting What Matters

Increasingly there are a variety of systems or channels in place to notify the public about what protective action measures they should take before, during or immediately following a crisis event. These systems include everything from the Emergency Alert System–which should reach almost everyone, to targeted text messages from local Universities,  to reverse phone calls from local government, to opt-in mobile applications from the State, etc., all of which were used at some point during the manhunt stage of the crisis. The Project HEROIC report, however, specifically examined Tweets that were posted that contained guidance  to  shelter-in-place, therefore “discussing the role of Twitter as a redundant channel for risk communications.”

Findings

Interestingly, they found that during the immediate aftermath of the bombing (on Monday) there were not a lot of official Tweets providing direction to the public. They speculate why: “…few [protective action] guidance-related tweets were posted, possibly signifying the lack of certainty about the event, the speed at which it unfolded, and having little information regarding what people should do in response.  However, at the end of the week, guidance tweets became more prevalent and focused on sheltering in place.”

They found that during the manhunt stage of the event Twitter was “definitely” used as a redundant channel to provide protective action guidance to the public; however, the public did not necessary repeat (ReTweet) these message as much as other content posted by official organizations. Again, this finding required the researchers  to speculate. They conclude that since the information about the protective action measure was provided  in so many different formats, it is quite possible that people did not feel the information required repeating–particularly not during the day once it was widely distributed and repeated on all forms of media.

Mission Hill Capture Celebrations

Mission Hill Capture Celebrations

The take-aways for the researchers:

“With this in mind, it is becoming prudent for organizations to consider the kinds of information that is most desired by an online audience, at different points in time, and for different sectors of the public.

Messages can be crafted for both locally affected community members in need of advisories and guidance, as well as distant observers intent on serving as information conduits.  Future disaster communicators ought to learn from these detailed observations about public retweeting practices in order to determine how to more effectively focus, shape, and share messages that make a difference.”

Let me know what you think. Does their analysis fit with your own experience?

Sources:

Sutton, J., Johnson, B.,  Spiro, E.,  and Butts, C. (2013). “Tweeting What Matters: Information, Advisories, and Alerts Following the Boston Marathon Events.” Online Research Highlight. http://heroicproject.org

Sutton, J., Spiro, E., Johnson, B., Fitzhugh, S., and Butts, C. (2013). “Tweeting Boston: The Influence of Microstructure in Broadcasting Messages through Twitter.” Online Research Highlight. http://heroicproject.org

**Project HEROIC is a collaborative, NSF funded effort by researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the University of California-Irvine to better understand the dynamics of informal online communication in response to extreme events.

Should Your Emergency Management Agency be on Vine?

Post by: Kim Stephens

vine-logoSome consideration ought to be given to adding the new video-sharing-mobile-application from Twitter called “Vine” to your Public Safety Organization’s communications toolbox. However, if you don’t have teenagers in your house you might not be sure what Vine is or what it could do for your organization. Currently, Vine is one of fastest growing video-sharing apps and tops Apple’s app download chart. Some Federal entities have noticed: the White House is already taking advantage of this new means of connecting to their audience and GovLoop recently posted an article titled “Vine: Government’s 6 seconds to Shine.”

What is it?

For detailed  background information on this new social sharing application, see Twitter’s FAQ page here, but in a nutshell, Vine allows users to post very short (only 6 seconds) of video content to the application via a smartphone. Other Vine users can follow you to see your posts, however, content is easily shared via either Facebook or Twitter and can also be embedded in a blog (as demonstrated below). In fact, “A post on Vine cannot be viewed outside of the Vine app unless it is shared on Twitter or Facebook, in which case a link for the video will be made publicly available.” The Vines loop–so unless you click away from the video it continues to play over and over, although this can be a bit annoying, it is actually pretty good feature for getting your point across.

Why?

Public Safety and Emergency Management organizations are having a hard enough time finding resources to post interesting content to the “big 3″ social media sites–YouTube, Facebook and Twitter–so thinking about adding responsibility for another social network might seem ludicrous. However, in my opinion, the forced brevity of Vine actually makes it a great tool for preparedness messages and maybe even for protective action information/demonstrations. In terms of preparedness messaging, this video below is intended to be funny versus instructional, but it inspired me, nonetheless. (Click the x to hear the sound–otherwise it is muted.)

Although the Vine above is shot all at once, a great feature of the app is the ability to stop the action. Once recording from within the Vine app, to stop the scene you simply tap the screen of your smartphone and then tap again to restart.  This feature makes it a great way to create instructional snippets without having to edit the content post-production. See this cringe-worthy “How to Fail” video below by the same slapstick comedian from above (I hope this young man has a good relationship with his local EMTs).

Adding very short video content to your Agency’s Tweets and Facebook posts could be a very valuable asset. Instead of saying: If you catch on fire remember to “Stop Drop and Roll” you could actually demonstrate what to do. Similar demonstrations could be done for “Duck, Cover and Hold On” or  “Don’t drown–Turn Around.” Increasingly this is an image driven society–this tool provides another way to insert ourselves into the conversation.

Let me know–is your Agency considering Vine or have you already started using this tool? I’d love to see some public safety examples.