Using Corporate Social Media Lessons for Emergency Management “Marketing”

Post by: Kim Stephens

What lessons can we borrow from corporate use of social media? Following information about social media often gets you 10 articles about corporate use to every 1 about the public sector. I think there are some interesting lessons we can glean from the private sector, but there are unique aspects in the use of social media in emergency management.

Using social media in the preparedness phase seems very similar to how the corporate world participates in social technologies –to sell a product and develop brand identity (see Diet Coke’s facebook page with 773,805 fans). By contrast, we have to work very very hard to “sell” preparedness information. However, during the response phase people line up around the virtual corner to “buy” our product because information becomes a precious commodity. Here are a few concepts, however, that I think we can borrow to help make us more successful.

1. Create a sense of community–be personal

In terms of gaining an audience, it’s the preparedness phase that’s the most difficult. So how can we improve our presence during this phase?  Corporations are beginning to understand that social media, at it’s best, creates a community.  A recent article by Chris Syme, “Twitter Rules, Are they Changing?” also describes social media as evolving into community building and how people’s expectations of content has changed. This quote is particularly salient: “Marketers who lack sophistication are still functioning like megaphones. This was okay when Twitter was in its infancy, much like the crying baby who needs to be changed, but now that sort of blatant broadcasting is offensive to most Twitter communities. Scheduling tweets that are identical day after day asking us to come in to your flooring store is not a good use of Twitter.”

The same could be said for the emergency management community: scheduling tweets that say: “change the batteries in your smoke detector” day after day, also stand the risk of being dismissed or ignored. What’s missing is any personal connection. A scheduled tweet that is the exact same message on the facebook page leaves no room for real dialog, and its difficult to be personal without ever having a conversation.

2. Create goals and objectives for your social media presence that include network building.

In an article by Amber Naslund   “9 Ways to Build a Twitter Community With Substance”, she says

“Remember: Twitter is just the medium. These same principles apply across many things, online and off. It all–always–comes down to your honest intent to build a network of people to talk to, to learn from, to share with. ALL of this depends on your desire to use Twitter that way, and not just to amass a collection of people that you can pimp your junk to.”

Maybe this is what makes the emergency management community uncomfortable–although we don’t really have “junk to pimp” we still have a preparedness message to sell. People who use social media are not just passive consumers of information. In order to really gain an audience we have to ask:

  • Are we really ready to talk to people not at them?
  • Are we ready to learn from citizens, not expect them to only learn from us?
  • Are we ready to share information open and honestly, including our mistakes?

3. Create a community that leverages the “wisdom of the crowd”.

People expect to learn from EACH OTHER on social media platforms. So, are we ready to allow for a free flow of information in our own managed online communities that allows people to exchange information?

The Arkansas Game and Fish Facebook page is a great example of this concept.  People ask questions and others answer. Q: Is the fishing good? A: been fishing really hard but ain’t really getting any bites… The “official” on the page also answers the question, but it’s the answers from the other citizens that make the question worth asking. (And I also got to use the words “ain’t and wisdom in the same paragraph!)

4. During the Response and Recovery Phases, adjust messaging accordingly; and expect new members to join your virtual community.

The response phase is probably the most dissimilar to corporate brand messaging on social media platforms. For example, broadcast-type messages are usually expected and even desired during a crisis, but, people also still expect to have the opportunity to offer their own point of view on these participatory platforms. Here is my comparison of recommendations for messaging during the preparedness phase versus the response phase. Some of these are based on the experiences and recommendations from the Australian Queensland Police social media manager:

Finally, creating a virtual community will benefit both the EM agency as well as the citizens.

Here’s a tweet from Jeff Philips, whom I follow loyally. “Engagement, for me, is the only viable social media and emergency management strategy.” He mentions “fascinating & wonderful people.” The online community he has created is real.

Corporations are concerned about loyalty because they want you to buy Diet Coke, not Diet Pepsi for the rest of your life. Loyalty in the public sector is almost as important. Creating advocates for your efforts during the preparedness phase is key to your success in the medium during the response and recovery phase. These people can be called upon and will:

  1. help spread your message
  2. provide information/situational awareness
  3. support the recovery and response by showing up when asked, either virtually or physically.

Selling a product and selling a “concept” obviously present different challenges. But if we can apply some of these corporate strategies, it just might help us reach our goal of creating more resilient communities.

Just something to think about.

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4 responses to “Using Corporate Social Media Lessons for Emergency Management “Marketing”

  1. I’d like to have a discussion about metrics for social media used in emergency management. How does the emergency manager evaluate the effectiveness of social media? Unlike businesses, they can’t measure the increase in sales, which is the bottom line metric for a business. What is the bottom line metric for an emergency manager?

  2. Ah, the old ROI discussion. Measuring public outreach is difficult no matter what the medium. But let’s make a comparison: Emergency management agencies often distribute printed pamphlets for disaster preparedness: “Get Ready”; “Have you Prepared?”. I’ve carted those materials to high schools and passed them out at fairs from a booth–no one ever asked me “Hey, what’s your ROI on these materials?” or “How many hours have you spent passing out and developing these slips of paper?” But I can tell you that I often see those papers in trash cans, just steps away from where people willing took them.

    You’re right, unlike businesses we can’t really measure “the bottom line”–that’s why emergency management is a public service and not a private venture to begin with. I guess we could survey people to ask how many have checked their batteries in their smoke detectors, or how many have stored bottled water in their basements as a result of our literature, but at the local level in particular, that’s not going to happen.

    But what can we measure? If you look at the flooding and subsequent cyclone in Australia, the public safety organizations and local governments had a very active social media presence. The low number of causalities and overall preparedness of the citizenry was attributed to those efforts. If you read through the comments on those pages, particularly now that the danger has passed, most of the comments are along the lines of “Thank you…you make me proud to be Australian.” Although that doesn’t equate to “an increase in sales”, it surely counts for something.
    The other thing I think you can measure is the level of engagement. Take public meetings for example where you seek the public’s input. I heard one planner in Florida complain that they literally had one person show up at one such event. However, I’ve heard of great success with public agencies using the chats feature in facebook–this allows for public participation at the convenience of the citizens–they can “show-up” and remain in their living room.

    I could blather on, but I hope that addresses your question. I don’t mean to be flippant, but I honestly don’t think public organizations and their out reach efforts have ever been compared to the private sector and the sales generated by advertising. Why would we treat social media outreach any differently?

    • Some emergency managers have not adopted social media. The common reasons boil down to: Not worth the effort; We’ve never done it before. I’m working on the “Not worth the effort” aspect.

      I agree that the value of social media in emergency management should be counted the same way we count the value of other preparation and mitigation efforts. What is the value of stockpiling food? What is the value of securing your water heater? Both are wasted effort if there is never an emergency, but may be invaluable if there is an earthquake.

      We can, however, evaluate the use of social media the same way we evaluate other mitigation and preparation efforts: we look at lessons learned to find ways to prevent problems or to make things better.

      You have been documenting how social media has worked to prevent problems and make things better. You have also pointed out problems caused by not using social media. Great work on your part. But I am not sure the right audience is listening.

      At some point, like the emergency counsel in Australia you wrote about, NOT using social media becomes more painful for emergency managers than using it. How can we help them avoid the pain?

  3. Pingback: Social Media and Emergency Management « Geospatial Science and Technology Policy

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