Post by: Kim Stephens
It is easy for emergency managers to learn social media in terms of the purely technical aspects–these platforms are pretty straightforward to use. However, one of the complaints I often hear, is “Now what?” Never before has the EM community been expected to communicate with the public on an almost daily basis. Once an emergency manager has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page they understand that they have to post something so that it doesn’t look like a ghost town, but what?
Deciding what to post is not usually a problem during an emergency or a disaster situation, but social communication during the preparedness phase can be challenging (even after an organization has determined they will invest time and resources to the effort). There are several inter-related issues to consider:
- Coordination with response partners.
- Managing Public Expectations.
- Being creative enough to get the public’s attention.
Coordination with response partners
In bigger communities it is increasingly common for almost every department or agency to have their own social media account. The Department of Transportation is likely to be posting information road closures, traffic problems, and real-time road conditions during storms:
Police Departments tend to post content about a wide range of activities from car crashes, to arrests, to the weather, as well as safety tips.
It only takes 10sec for a thief to take anything left in your car. From CDs, gym bags etc! So, when you leave your car, leave it empty!—
Baltimore Police (@BaltimorePolice) January 04, 2013
Fire Departments often provide updates about where they are responding, fire prevention tips, and general safety information as well.
BCFD reminds public that high winds can bring down trees and power lines which create dangerous conditions for everyone. Avoid at all cost!—
BCFD (@BaltimoreFire) December 30, 2012
So, where does that leave the Office of Emergency Management? If all of the “sexy” up-to-the minute content is being reported by other agencies, what’s left to be said? Even once your agency decides what “lane” you should be posting in, it’s still possible that other city or county agencies will infringe on your territory. I have heard statements from some annoyed EMs such as: Why did the Fire Department post emergency preparedness content? That’s my job!
Solution: In order to prevent “social-media envy” coordination and collaboration are key. The results of coordination could manifest in a city or county-wide written content strategy or simply in a verbal agreement regarding expectations. However, it is important to keep in mind that in the social media world, repetition of a message is NOT a bad thing. Your Tweets and Facebook updates are never seen by everyone that follows you (see Jim Garrow’s article “The Demise of Facebook” in which he points out how few people actually do see what you are posting in their feed). Therefore, amplifying each other’s messages should be an overarching goal. Here are two great examples of how this is done and communicated to the public in Baltimore.
Managing Public Expectations
I like the Tweet immediate above this paragraph because it also denotes the type of content OEM will provide and when. I have heard concerns from emergency managers that once they start posting something, such as road closures or the weather, the public complains when they stop. One social media admin told me “The public now thinks I’m the weather man.” However, continuing to post the same information daily can turn your feed into a very boring presence, ultimately reducing the amount of community engagement and interactions.
Solution: There are two ideas to consider:
- Pre-determine your thresholds for when your office will post emergency content (e.g. not every road closure, but only major incidents; not every fire warning, but only “red-flag” events; not every day it rains, but only severe weather ). You can publicize your intentions, however, by simply staying consist, the public will learn what to expect.
- Make it very well known, either via your website and/or Facebook page, the types of content your response partners are posting on social networks and where people can find that information. See the National Capital Region “News Feeds” as an example of this.
Whether or not we want to admit it, the “Be Ready” message gets very little traction when there isn’t an emergency. Posting “Are you Prepared?” along with a few tips to your Facebook page does not mean your community is now more resilient. In fact, they are probably ignoring this message altogether. Why? Frankly, it is boring.
What works? Storytelling. Stories do many things: reshape knowledge into something meaningful; make people care, transcend one’s current environment; motivate; and give meaning, among other things. In a blog post titled “The Importance of Storytelling in a Digital World” the author discusses why TED Talks (the ultimate in digital storytelling) work. His logic applies to all digital communication:
I believe that storytelling is critical for public engagement on the web. Storytelling is a fundamentally human and social practice that allows individuals to connect through mutual cooperation and shared empathy. Storytelling inspires. Storytelling moves. It is a timeless practice that is the future for public engagement on the web.
A great example of storytelling in emergency management this year was from “Ready Houston” with the video: “Run. Hide. Fight,” embedded below. This 5 minute video holds viewers attention and has received over 1.8 million hits. The protective action measures the public should take during a shooting incident are demonstrated via the story of an attack in an office building. It was also successful because, unfortunately, it is all too relevant for the times we live in.
In contrast, the Ready Houston Facebook page has only 208 “likes” and features typical “Be Ready” content.
Solution: What are we trying to do here? We are trying to change behavior, which is not an easy task. Posting “Get Prepared–here’s your list” is probably not going to get anyone off the couch. A little more work might have to be involved. (For some reason I’m reminded of kid in the movie The Incredibles who’s asked “What are you waiting for?” and he says, “I don’t know. Something amazing, I guess.”) See the video clip below, just for grins.
What can you do? You don’t have to invest thousands in producing slick videos, but you can find a family in Home Depot shopping for winter supplies and take a pic. Ask them why they are getting prepared and post that. Or repeat news stories (even older ones) about someone that almost died in their car during a snowstorm because they didn’t have food or blankets in their car.
Storytelling can also be short and sweet. The Brimfield Police Department, whom I’ve written about previously, tells little stories that amuse, and get people to act and engage. Below are two posts from their Facebook page. The second one had almost 1500 “Likes” and many comments.
Let me know, are you ready to provide good content for 2013? What’s your plan to be amazing?
Bonus Video #1:
See this video which demonstrates how boring “data” can be enthralling when given meaning and context.
Bonus Video #2: