Twitter is not about what you had for lunch: It’s a tool for collaboration.

Post by: Kim Stephens

Recently I was at a holiday party and mentioned that I was interested in social media and enjoyed twitter. The reaction I got was interesting. The person asked “Isn’t twitter just people talking about what they had for lunch?” Some emergency managers still see twitter in that light, or worse–as either frivolous or dangerous. I’d like to use an example of a recent exchange in order to illustrate how this particular form of social communication can be a collaborative tool and is far from a diary of people’s dietary habits.

Joppatowne, Maryland in Harford County has a Homeland Security and Emergency Management magnet program in their high school. Since I am a resident of Harford County I offered to help with the senior capstone projects. Each year the graduating class is given a mentor and a project to work on that culminates in a presentation in late May. I contacted the school about being a mentor, since I had an idea for a project: peer-to-peer preparedness. The concept of the project tackles the problem of how to make emergency preparedness “cool” or interesting for teenagers. My thought was that kids who have experienced a disaster would have a story to tell to kids in disaster prone areas; this exchange could be done through the medium of social media.

In order to get input on the concept I turned to twitter. The hashtag #SMEM stands for Social Media and Emergency Management. The hashtag simply allows for tweets to be sorted by topic. By utilizing an application such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, users can watch hashtags of interest that are divided into columns.

There are not too many places other than twitter where I could get almost instant feedback from 8-10 emergency managers across the country: an email list simply is not the same. Pictured on the right is the list of comments taken from my Tweetdeck page.  Start reading it from the bottom up. People were interested in the idea and immediately added to the concept, even given it a new acronym P3. One suggestion was to add preparedness for zombie attacks to the concept. Cheryl Ble, an emergency manager out of Washington State offered the link to the Zombie Squad. According to the wikipedia post about it, Zombie squad “is a community service and disaster preparedness organization that uses the metaphor of a ‘Zombie Apocalypse‘ for any natural or man-made disaster (hurricaneterrorismearthquake, etc.). Zombie Squad was created by Horror fans who combined their shared interests of zombies and experience withdisaster preparedness. It describes itself as an “elite zombie suppression task force ready to defend your neighborhood from the shambling hordes of the walking dead.”[1] (Wikipedia)

I could definitely see teens liking the zombie idea. Who wouldn’t be interested in protecting themselves from “hordes of walking dead!”

With all of this great input in hand I called the school administrator in charge of the capstone projects. She loved the idea of peer-to-peer preparedness, BUT… the school has a firewall that prevents any computer on campus from accessing social media including and/or especially twitter and facebook. I offered the compromise of the education oriented  “edublog,” which is specifically designed for schools, and this might work. However, I think the initial concept is better since 73% of teens use social networking sites according to Pew Research.

I did send out a tweet about the school’s reaction, it seemed there was a collective sigh of disappointment  from everyone who had been engaged in the conversation. Nonetheless, I do thank them for their input. Even though we can’t use the social media platforms I envisioned originally, I remain optomistic that the P3 project will be successful, especially since I can turn to the SMEM community for help.

3 responses to “Twitter is not about what you had for lunch: It’s a tool for collaboration.

  1. Great post Kim – even if it has me in it! (Thanks for the mention.) First of all, I agree with your great description of the frustration as you try to explain twitter and its collaborative/networking capabilities to people. But more and more, people are seeing the value, and we just have to keep sharing the good examples of practical use, as you have here.

    Regarding the peer-to-peer youth program: I definitely will help with the pilot on this if asked, since I’d like to help replicate the effort here. Youth involvement is our Astoria CERT team’s top priority/goal for 2011.
    Thanks for your work. -sr

    • Thank you so much. I will absolutely be in touch about piloting the program. It will help to have another community interested. The capstone projects are already underway for this year, so they won’t start on it until next fall (unfortunately). But that might give us time to talk to your local school district and gage interest. Both schools will probably need to sign up for the edublog service. The service is free, but…there’s always a but, to get the most use of the software, such as video downloads, there is a charge (I think its $900 for the year). Our school thought we could get that money donated, the partner school might not need the full service.
      I’m counting on the students to be the creative ones, to figure out content that will interest other students–as my kids tell me all the time, I’m not as cool as I’d like to think.
      Thanks again for your interest, having you and your CERT team already interested will be exciting to whomever gets to do the project.

  2. Pingback: Note to startups: The network is all that really matters |

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