Post by: Kim Stephens
The Australian flooding event in Queensland is proving to be a good example of the use of social media during a crisis. Although there are multiple facebook pages, twitter feeds, blogs and even a crowdsourced map created around this event, I’d like to focus on the Queensland Police facebook page. The fact that the page has almost 165,000 fans points to its relevance, but their content and use of the platform I believe, make it a model to be duplicated.
What lessons can we learn from this site:
1. Be the clearinghouse for information.
The Queensland Police facebook (QLP) page appears to be created in terms of customer service: how can information be provided to the citizen in a no-hassle format. For instance the Flood Info tab has a comprehensive list of categorized hyperlinks to information that citizens would naturally look for during a crisis. Although this information might also be available on other government websites, by providing it on the facebook page, citizens have a one-stop shop, if you will. Info and links are provided on these topics:
- Recovery and Clean Up
- How you can Donate
- Weather and Road Condition
- News Organization links
- How to get help
- What do if you hear the flood warning siren
- Evacuation info.
- How to get assistance
In addition they also link to maps, both the ESRI generated display of areas that have already flooded, as well as the “Brisbane City Council flood maps” of areas most likely to flood. With regard to the predictive model, they provide the caveat:
Please note these are NOT guaranteed predictions – areas outside these might flood too. Yellow areas on the maps mean places where water runoff from rain, drains etc might cause flooding. Blue areas on the map mean areas where rising river levels might cause flooding.
Keeping these maps online and available was a bit tricky, apparently. They thank http://lexiphanic.com/floodmaps/ “who downloaded these maps and kept them available when the Brisbane City Council’s own website was down.”
2. Seek Information From the Public
A picture was taken of a person in the water and the police turned to the facebook page to solicit information about him or her (it was initially difficult to discern if the person was male or female). Within 2 hours of posting the police provided an update on the Wall that she had been found alive and well, having been rescued by members of the public downstream. Although it doesn’t appear that the tip regarding her whereabouts came from the facebook page itself, having 164,000 people view and then potentially share the message could not have hurt.
3. Provide Pictures and Videos of the Crisis
Although their page only has a few pictures of the flood event (about 40), they also have YouTube videos posted from press conferences. Undoubtably there are thousands of citizen pics of the flood circulating on photo-sharing websites such as Flickr, so this doesn’t have to be the main focus, but… people like pictures.
4. Appeal for decency and be upfront about your intentions.
We understand that everyone feels very deeply about the current disaster in Queensland, and are keen to share information and participate in the conversation. However, we are presently incredibly busy trying to provide up-to-date information on the flooding situation.
The more time we have to spend cleaning up your posts, the less time we have to do our real job. Consequently, we are appealing to all users to follow a few simple terms, which will really help us out:
***Don’t spam us***
This means don’t repost other people’s appeals, requests or offers. If you see something offensive on Facebook, report it to Facebook, don’t link it to our page!
***Don’t link to any any non-government page*** We don’t have time to check the content of links, so we will remove them.
***Don’t swear*** We want everyone to be comfortable visiting here to get the important information we try to provide.
By following these simple guidelines, you will help us to get through this challenging time.
5. Use facebook’s Chat feature to talk directly with the public.
The ability to “chat” with the public is a great feature in facebook. It appears that by monitoring their page, the Queensland police determine topics that are “running hot” and then set up time and a date for the public to ask questions about that particular topic directly to the relevant officials (other than the PIOs who normally monitor the facebook site). It appears that someone serves as a moderator for these events which is a also a good idea. The chat is saved and cataloged on the facebook page for anyone to read after-the-fact.
I find looking to other countries to see their use of social media fascinating. It appears they have similar issues that we are facing here in the United States, and some are taking full use of the platforms to communicate with the public. Finding best practices does not have to be limited to our borders.
- Brisbane floods: Facebook page set up to trace scores still missing (telegraph.co.uk)
- SA police to help in Queensland (news.theage.com.au)
- Facebook and Twitter prove their worth (theage.com.au)
- “Brisbane flood maps and up to date flood information” and related posts (larvatusprodeo.net)
- “Queensland Premier establishes Commission of Inquiry into flood disaster” and related posts (jennifermarohasy.com)