Tag Archives: social media

Reach Your Audience in an Emergency: #SMEM

Post by: Kim Stephens

Flooding was rampant yesterday for what seemed like half the country. Social Media was buzzing with images, safety tips and information about the event as it continued to get increasingly worse as the day wore on and the rain seemed unending.

Using social networks to communicate emergency, safety and preparedness information has now, in 2014, become a standard operating procedure for quite a few emergency management and response organizations. As with any standard procedure, each event can provide an opportunity to understand how to improve and adjust. As a person on the receiving end of the information stream yesterday, I noticed three things that could be improved upon.

1.  Ensure posts are “Mobile Ready”

On a day where the situation is changing rapidly, as it does with flooding, people will be looking for information anywhere they can get it. It is important to keep in mind that there is a high likelihood that those searches will be occurring on a mobile device. According to the Pew Research Center The growing ubiquity of cell phones, especially the rise of smartphones, has made social networking just a finger tap away.  Fully 40% of cell phone owners use a social networking site on their phone, and 28% do so on a typical day.” Of course, the deluge we experienced yesterday was anything but typical, so that percentage was more than likely much higher.

With this in mind, when posting content about road closures, for instance, make sure the user does not have to go to another site to get the information, as seen in this Facebook.

“[County X DPW reports] eight (8) roads closed as of 6:00 a.m. this morning. Crews working to re-open all roads today. For complete list of road closures visit: http://YouCan’tSeeThisOnYourPhone.gov”

There were only 8 roads closed–why not list them all? If you are using a micro-blogging site, such as Twitter, that won’t allow listing all roads in one post–do 8 separate posts.

2. Use Images to Make Your Point

A warning about the dangers of driving through standing water is good, such as the one below.

“A reminder to motorist; please watch for standing water this morning during morning commute. Do NOT drive through standing water.”

However, a picture of a water rescues or a stranded vehicle might be more of a deterrent.

3. Reinforce Where Citizens Can Find Information–On Every Platform

FT_13.10.16_GettingNews2There are many ways communities can reach their citizens with emergency information: a website, reserve calls, social media, door-to-door (if necessary). It is important to keep in mind that no single source will reach all of your citizens. Younger people may search social media for news and information (as shown by the Pew Research Center results) and older individuals might not ever look at your website.

However, linking and reinforcing all of those information outlets is important because you do not know where the citizen will start their search. I’ll use my own community as an example. Quite a few cities and counties have the service that allows them to call citizens on home phones or cell phones to provide updates about the situation. In my community, the call yesterday ended with a note to call the “Hotline” for more information. Unfortunately, there was no mention of their own social media sites that were up and running and providing vital emergency information and regular updates.  A quick visit to the county website also yielded disappointing results–there was no mention of the emergency at all and no easy way to navigate to current information. When choosing the “Facebook” link on the homepage, their emergency management page is not even on the list.

Conclusion

In terms of providing information to citizens via social networking the emergency management community does seem to “get it.”  We are now in a position to tweak and refine our processes in order to best serve our communities versus debate whether or not these are useful tools. That’s a good thing. Let me know, what lessons have you learned from recent experiences?

Keeping the Lines of Communication Open: Atlanta Public School’s Long Snow Day

Post by: Kim Stephens

large_12197276904We had a light dusting of snow last night and schools are closed today in my county. I’m guessing there are some officials in Atlanta wishing they had made the same decision yesterday before snow and ice paralyzed the city‘s roadways. Although they tried to dismiss school early the traffic was so horrific some buses were unable to get children home and instead had to return them to school. Parents who normally pick up their children were stuck in traffic eerily reminiscent of scenes from the Atlanta-based series The Walking Dead. A shelter-in-place order was issued after 10:00 pm last night and about 452 staff and students spent the night in several different ATL public school buildings.

This situation could be any public communicator’s nightmare scenario. However, the Atlanta Public School’s communications team provided a master class in emergency information dissemination, mainly through their @apsupdate (or Atlanta Public Schools Update) Twitter account. Here are a few things they did well.

1. Addressed parents questions and concerns directly

I have heard quite a few communicators debate whether or not they should address direct questions since it could overwhelm staff and bog down the message they are trying to convey. However, in this situation, the decision to address each person was the only logical choice–ignoring parents’ questions could have been its own disaster.

2.  Addressed rumors–immediately

It is a good/best practice to directly address people that are disgruntled or spreading half-true information. The Tweet below demonstrates this tactic. It appears a couple of kids got into a kerfuffle at one of the sheltering schools and were escorted to the office. Once person stated on Twitter “…fights are breaking out!” The Tweet was outlandish and ATL Public School communicators pointed out that not only was the person incorrect, but were needlessly causing concern.

3. Communicated tirelessly

When children are kept in school buildings overnight without their parents I’m guessing not a lot of people are getting a good-night’s rest. This was true for the communications team as well. Indeed, the Twitter feed for the district was active all night, for example, at 2:00 a.m. they addressed an upset parent that was concerned about building security.

In the morning they addressed a high school student that said she was cold:

As the new day began, they addressed a flood of questions and sent out reminders that school was canceled.

4. Used multiple platforms and allowed venting

The school district used both Twitter and Facebook to post school closure and the shelter-in-place information. Not surprisingly, parents were a TAD upset that their children could not get home and were quite unrestrained in their comments, especially on Facebook–calling for administrators to be held accountable, etc. It appears some Facebook comments may have been deleted by the district, however, that mistake was acknowledged or at least addressed. This interaction occurred on their page:

  • Yup. They deleted one of my comments which was not irate, no bad language, nothing. I simply called out the truth – they did not take our children, teachers or parents safety into consideration at all.
  •  Atlanta Public Schools Dana McElwee Carnahan we rarely, if ever delete posts. We value social media and interaction and maintain a robust FB and Twitter presence. Feel free to post again.
5. Social Media is integrated into their Website and Blog
Screenshot 2014-01-29 09.49.29Although the decision to incorporate social media posts into their blog and website was done well before the storm, it certainly can pay dividends during a disaster or emergency.  Websites are still one of the most popular go-to resources for community members: not everyone engages on social media (shocking, I know).  Integration, however,  provides an opportunity for non-social media users to read real-time interactions during the height of the event and participate if they are interested. By prominently displaying these feeds it also reminds community members that their social accounts are active.
Conclusion
Although the Atlanta Public Schools decision-making process regarding closures will probably be questioned in the months to come, the communications team should be praised for their very hard work during this event (which is still ongoing at time of writing).  Not only did they step up during the storm to provide parents and community members with the latest information, they were obviously prepared to do so by having systems and processes in place.  That level of advanced planning is truly a lesson worth noting.

Crowdsourcing, Digital Volunteers, and Policy: New Workshop Summary from the Wilson Center

Post by: Kim Stephens

English: Woodrow Wilson International Center f...

English: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Español: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A year ago this month the Commons Lab, part of the Wilson Center’s  Science & Technology Innovation Program, hosted a workshop with the goal of  “bringing together emergency responders, crisis mappers, researchers, and software programmers to discuss issues surrounding the adoption of… new technologies.”  The discussions included an in-depth review of crowdsourcing, specifically the use–as well as the reluctance, to use digital technology teams to aid in both message dissemination as well as data aggregation. The 148 page report from that meeting was released yesterday and is titled:  “Use of Mass Collaboration in Disaster Management” with a  focus on “opportunities and challenges posed by social media and other collaborative technologies.”

The Executive Summary states:

Factors obstructing the adoption of crowdsourcing, social media, and digital volunteerism approaches often include uncertainty about accuracy, fear of liability, inability to translate research into operational decision-making, and policy limitations on gathering and managing data. Prior to the workshop, many in the formal response community assumed that such obstructions are insurmountable and, therefore, that the approaches could not be adopted by the response community. However, it became clear during the workshop that these approaches are already being integrated into disaster response strategies at various scales. From federal agencies to local emergency managers, officials have begun exploring the potential of the technologies available. Stories of success and failure were common, but out of both came policy, research, and technological implications. Panelists shared strategies to overcome barriers where it is appropriate, but resisted change in areas where policy barriers serve a meaningful purpose in the new technological environment.

…Workshop participants identified the following activities as some of the more urgent research priorities:

  • Creating durable workflows to connect the information needs of on-the-ground responders, local and federal government decision-makers, and researchers, allowing each group to benefit from collaboration;
  • Developing methods and processes to quickly validate and verify crowdsourced data;
  • Establishing best practices for integrating crowdsourced and citizen-generated data with authoritative datasets, while also streamlining this integration;
  • Deciding on the criteria for “good” policies and determining which policies need to be adapted or established, in addition to developing ways for agencies to anticipate rapid technological change;
  • Determining where government agencies can effectively leverage social networking, crowdsourcing, and other innovations to augment existing information or intelligence and improve decision-making (and determining where it is not appropriate).

Social Pressure: Can it work for Disaster Preparedness?

Post by: Kim Stephens

medium_3955644975In this post I examine what social media, emergency preparedness and get-out the vote messaging have in common–it seems like a stretch, I know!

Every September is National Preparedness Month and the typical information campaign revolves around getting people to understand their risks, make a plan, and get a kit.  But, measuring whether or not people have actually changed their behavior is the tricky part. On October 1 how will we know if people are more prepared for the hazards they face?

In terms of benchmarks, an often cited American Red Cross survey in 2008 found that only one in ten American households had accomplished these tasks. Research in this area also reveals interesting demographics regarding who is more likely to take these steps (e.g. homeowners vs renters, older adults vs those younger than 34, etc.) and why people prepare or not. There are many barriers to disaster preparedness, each with implications for messaging, but it is somewhat common knowledge that risk perception is dependent upon both how the information is communicated (Mileti and Sorensen, 1990) and how it is interpreted through social interactions (Kirschenbaum, 1992).

Can Information Shared on Social Networks Influence Behavior?

If social interactions play such an important role in how people make decisions, then Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management is on the right track. They are experimenting with the social platform ThunderClap, which was specifically designed to influence people via their social connections about a product, idea or movement. The “about” tab states:

Thunderclap is the first-ever crowdspeaking platform that helps people be heard by saying something together. It allows a single message to be mass-shared, flash mob-style, so it rises above the noise of your social networks. By boosting the signal at the same time, Thunderclap helps a single person create action and change like never before.

Fairfax County’s Thunderclap involves accomplishing 30 Easy Emergency Prep Ideas in 30 Days. Participants agree to allow a pre-scripted message appear on their Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr timeline on September 9th advertising the fact that they are doing one, some or all of these preparedness activities.  The platform does have a few idiosyncrasies:

  •  If the County does not reach their goal of 100 supporters then the message is not delivered–at least not on this platform. Talk about an incentive structure!
  • The tool can be a bit confusing. I had to read and re-read what they wanted me to do until I finally realized that I didn’t have to post–that it would be done for me. Although I had no problem with them posting on my behalf, this might cause concern for others.
  • Making a pledge to do a preparedness activity is not the same as actually doing the deed, so although this platform is quite cool–it does not eliminate the problem of actually measuring behavior change, other methods have to used for that purpose.

However, with that being said, the potential to amplify the message and reach a huge audience with this model is immense, since it is based on people’s existing social connections.  For instance, if two people sign up to blast the message to their Facebook friends the reach isn’t 2–it is 300! (The average number of connections is 150.)

Does this work?

031110_votedThe impact of Fairfax County’s Thunderclap might not be known anytime soon, however, quantitative analysis of the 2012 “I  voted” virtual campaign does speak to the potential significance.

On the day of  the 2012 election, for the first time, people could display their civic engagement on their Facebook page with an “I Voted Today” virtual sticker. Researchers wanted to know if this display elicited an “Oh–I need to go do that!” type of response. Apparently, it did. Techcrunch reported the findings:

The first large-scale experimental research on the political influence of social networks finds that Facebook quadruples the power of get-out-the-vote messages. While the single-message study produced a moderately successful boost in turnout (a 2.2% increase in verified votes), the most important finding was that 80% of the study’s impact came from “social contagion,” users sharing messages with friends who would otherwise never have seen it. This is the first definitive proof that social networks, as opposed to television or radio, have uniquely powerful political benefits.

Published in the latest edition of the prestigious science journal, Nature, the 61 million participant study randomly assigned all Facebook users over 18-years-old to see an “I Voted” counter at the top of their newsfeed with the number of total users who had voted on Nov 2nd, which had a link for more information about local polling places. Turnout was verified from a database of public voting records. Interestingly, the 3-pronged experiment displayed two types of “I Voted” messages, one with pictures of friends underneath and one without. Those who did not see pictures of their friends were barely affected by the message at all, “which raises doubts about the effectiveness of information-only appeals to vote in this context,” surmise the authors.

Although voting is a somewhat easier task than doing 30 separate preparedness activities, this research does shed some light on how social sharing can help influence desirable behaviors. Let’s hope people will see these posts and think–I should do that too. Best case, they actually do!

Related articles

Aggregated Social Postings: FEMA and the NCR Social Hubs

Post by: Kim Stephens

FEMA consumed the majority of the Social Media and Emergency Management conversation on Twitter yesterday with their announcement of an update to their mobile application allowing people to post images of damage after a disaster: read more on Mashable.  Another interesting development–yet, much less discussed–was the announcement of their new “Social Hub” a feature on the FEMA mobile website.

photo 1

The Social Hub, as indicated by FEMA staff member Jason Lindy, pulls in Tweets from official or trusted sources and organizes them by topic. The site can be viewed on the desktop but has a better user experience on a mobile device, the intended platform.

A Visual JIC

This new feature is a great addition to  FEMA’s social presence since it allows for a “one-stop shop” of information from all  response partners (see the screen capture on the right). I think it is also a visual demonstration of how each organization and government agency should continue to post content relevant to their “lane” to the audience they have already built. The “Social Hub” aggregates that content and  literally puts everyone on the same page. The site can also help community members find relevant voices: when viewing the content  they will clearly see information provided not only by FEMA headquarters and regional offices, but probably even more importantly, from local officials.

National Capital Region

FEMA is not the only organization that has realized the value of having a Social Hub. The National Capital Region also has a News and Information Page that provides a similar feature–including alerts from partner agencies throughout the region.  The page highlights and provides  links to four main content areas: Emergency Alerts, Weather, Traffic, and Utility information.

ncrBy building the page they recognize that the public might not define “emergency” the same way that Emergency Management officials do. Large traffic incidents, poor road conditions and bad weather can be an emergency for an individual. Another great feature is that the links are not simply provided but the content is pulled into the site, also making it a one-stop shop for information.

Although the public can view official content directly on social networks by sorting information based on key words–I think these aggregated pages provide a valuable service. If you know of any similar sites, let me know!

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?