Post by: Kim Stephens
The third discussion on the #SMEMchat (Social Media for Emergency Management) hashtag, hosted by Joseph Moore, was very lively. The topic for the week was “common obstacles in implementing social media in emergency management.” Of note, some British social media enthusiast that use the hashtag #lgovsm (local government and social media) for discussions, also tweeted about impediments to implementation in a separate conversation. Although the Brits are not necessarily emergency management types, the impediments they listed proved to be very similar to the ones we discussed–their suggestions to overcoming these obstacles were also very interesting. I didn’t include every tweet, thought or even discussion stream in this summary. For a transcript of the entire SMEM chat go here. The concepts here are an aggregation of the opinions of everyone in both chats and aren’t my thoughts alone (although I did participate).
In Britain, their discussion seemed to focus on management buy-in as the biggest impediment. They listed managers concern with loss of message control as a problem: “managers [are] anxious about losing control of the message,” wanting to “own” the message. Message control was also brought up with the Americans. The expectation on social media platforms is that citizens are allowed or even encouraged to post information and comment on postings, but some saw this type of engagement as a culture shock to many in the emergency management community. “[I] think the idea of engaging others is tough and tougher still in Social Media.”
This could be based on the simple fear of what people will say and do on these sites–will they post wrong, inflammatory, racists, crude material? Or will they bash our response efforts like they bash government on newspaper websites? This has led some in the EM community in the US to disable the ability for citizens to comment on their facebook page. However, some participants saw disabling comments as a false choice: citizens will still comment, but now, you are no longer a part of the conversation: “The public will comment with or without government control. It will just be in a different channel. Better to engage than be blindsided.”
Others pointed out that the fear of citizens bashing your efforts might be somewhat overblown, and even if people do comment negatively “we should embrace the comments…that’s how we learn.” As someone succinctly put it: “We are not moderators or eavesdroppers, we are [should be] part of the conversation.” Others pointed out that one the benefits of being engaged and accepting comments is also the ability to stop rumors before they gain ground. For example, people will use social media channels to ask government agencies if something is true or not–but you can only answer if you are there.
Some suggested, however, that a lack of social media adoption had nothing to do with fear of engagement: “I would think its more [about] information overload than fear? Many agencies were overwhelmed prior to social media.” So, even if social media has buy-in from management, are their perceived or real costs associated with its implementation that prohibit its adoption?
This led to a discussion on barriers that had to do with resources, both human and material. Three main points emerged:
- Hardware/software systems can be necessary for implementation:
- In the US, chat participants also pointed to some hesitancy based on concerns with how social media might interact with legacy IT systems.
- Filtering/aggregation/validation software systems can be utilized for data analysis but these tools are not widely understood.
- Education and Training is necessary for staff:
- both basic and advanced training is needed
- staff with social media skills could be used to help educate others (even if they aren’t in the communications/PIO shop).
- Some noted, however, that we often work in silos, which makes this suggestion a challenge.
- Clear plans, policies, procedures goals and objectives are necessary. You need to: “Have a bloody good policy” first [before implementation].
- both basic and advanced training is needed
- Extra staff is necessary to help filter, monitor and analyze social media during a crisis.
- Some on the American chat asked if the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) could be used as volunteers to help during times of crisis–but that idea didn’t seem to have much traction.
- (I mistakenly stated that the QPS media unit in Australia used 25 social media staff, when in fact they have 25 media staff with only 1 devoted full-time social media person. They did in fact use volunteers to help bolster their social media staff in order to operate 24/7 during the recent flooding and cyclone disasters).
Overcoming Barriers Since the Brits listed senior management buy-in as the biggest impediment, they discussed how to overcome this problem; the Americans mostly discussed getting other emergency managers on board, although getting senior management buy-in was also seen as important. Both groups, however, essentially said that when talking to either one-person or a group about social media: “Start with the benefits rather than the technology.”
There were many suggestions regarding how benefits/value could be demonstrated:
- Demonstrate added value based on added situational awareness: “we wouldn’t have known ‘xyz’ if we weren’t engaged in social media.”
- Participants suggested using these tools and ideas:
- Do a Google Realtime search to show what is happening now.
- Send out a tweet asking for your social media circle to respond.
- Use “trendsmap” to show a visualization of twitter trends of a map platform.
- Send tweets in emails to “the boss” or skeptics before the same news is announced by the media. “Early notice before news-media demonstrates value” of social media.
- Demonstrate other handy tricks:
- 40404 twitter quick follow.
- Facebook fan follow: text (url vanity name) to 32665.
Some people focused on how non-users could learn from communities already using social media by reading case studies. Some suggested that type of information is currently being collected on sites like the newly created Sm4em.org (social media for emergency management). It was also recommended that that site host forums for people to ask questions of early adopters (e.g. how do you…) People also focused on some of the lessons learned from social media’s current use. For instance, in Australia, the Queensland state government’s social media presence survived under the pressure of thousands of hits a day (450 hits per second on facebook during the height of the flooding disaster). One QPS tweet stated: “Other sites were crashing with overload.” Most local governments use locally hosted servers for their websites, which can’t withstand that kind of influx, whereas, social media on third-party platforms, can handle spikes in traffic. Although, some noted the “fail whale” on twitter, which shows up when the site is over capacity.
(As an aside, in an email and not part of the chat, the QPS social media specialist was essentially shocked that people doubt the value of social media:
Are the ROI questions really coming from comms departments???
Our Facebook page was serving an average of 450 story views a second in the peak day of the floods (and in population terms we are a relatively small state with roughly the same size as Louisiana). We averaged a post/tweet every 10 minutes. The national TV networks all regularly ran our tweets on their news crawlers and radio stations read them out over the air the moment we posted them.
Ask them how much it would cost and how long it would take to get that kind of exposure not using social media. ;)
Another suggestion for demonstrating value was to provide non-users with examples of how the people in their own community are using social media and to introduce them to local power users who could also potentially be mentors. Chat participants said that not only should new government users get to know these people virtually, but should also go meet them in person (in tweet-ups) in order to realize that “there are real people behind the electrons/avatars… [it] goes a long way.” Also, getting people to understand value could be accomplished by “just having them monitor social media for a while (2-3 months) to get comfortable with the medium.”
With regard to resources, there are examples that could be provided of how social media can actually save time, money and help rather than hinder reputations.”
- Demonstrate citizen expectations: citizens of the future will expect/demand their local governments use social media (we are seeing a bit of that now).
- Demonstrate how social media is one of the tools that can amplify your message.
And finally, in the emergency management world, including social media in an exercise/table-top drill would be a great way to demonstrate value.
In the American discussion the question was posed: Who are your advocates? Even though FEMA was noted as being a huge advocate, it was also stated that FEMA should create more training modules on social media, which could help lend credibility for those who remain skeptical. Others noted that having their own community members as their advocates, citizens and elected officials alike, is the best avenue to success.
I think that’s a great note to end on–if you have the backing of your community, you will succeed!
Some other resources mentioned on one or the other chats: