Emergency Management Agencies Don’t Use Facebook Effectively

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Post by: Kim Stephens

An article entitled “Hospitals not Leveraging Facebook” discussed a study by Verasoni Worldwide which analyzed whether or not  the platform was used effectively by hospitals to engage their patients and the surrounding communities. They measured the following: how often hospitals posted to the walls, whether or not there were discussions on the discussion board, engagement opportunities like games and photo sharing, and links to other social media such as twitter accounts, etc. They looked at 120 hospitals.

This got me thinking about how emergency management organizations’ social media presence might be measured. I did a quick analysis of 34 randomly selected EMAs’ facebook accounts (8 states and 26 locals) and I included similar criteria as the hospital study cited above. I looked at the following:

  • number of fans
  • how often they posted to the wall
  • are pictures in the postings or on the page
  • are there  engagement opportunities (other than surveys)–e.g. games, apps
  • is other social media integrated
  • is posting to the wall allowed (which, by the way, is not recommended)
  • are comments allowed
  • do they respond to comments
  • are there any comments from the public
  • is there a policy statement posted regarding about public use of the page?

Community engagement is important for many reasons. At a minimum, it is identified as a priority in the National Target Capabilities List. The list was developed by the Department of Homeland Security after 911 in an effort to “organize and synchronize national efforts to strengthen preparedness”. It identifies and describes “the collective national capabilities required to prevent, protect against, respond to and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies.” Community preparedness/participation is listed as a top priority. Social Media provide the perfect avenue for this type of engagement; but it appears based on my quick analysis, that even those using the medium are not taking full advantage of the technology and therefore, the opportunity.

What I found:

Number of Fans: There is a difference between how the states vs the locals are using facebook as a tool for engagement.  It might be obvious that states would have a little more robust presence since they probably have more resources, including, for example, personnel. Indeed, the States average number of fans was 1941, and the local EMAs number of fans was only 630. After excluding the two outlier numbers– NY’s EMA with 4161 fans and another local EMA with only 4– the local EMA average number of fans drops to 505–which actually isn’t too shabby.

How often they post to the wall: Daily posting to the wall is not the norm, only 23% of local communities post daily and only 12.5% of the states post daily. One of the 8 states only posted sporadically, and 10% of the locals posted sporadically. Most of the EMAs (state and local) post new content at least weekly.

Pictures: The states tended to do a better job posting pictures (which is important because it livens up your page and people do like them). One-hundred percent of the states had good images on their pages but only 53% of the locals had pictures at all.

Games/Apps: Only one state had a “game”, and it was “vote for the top video”, which can’t really qualify for a game per se, but since it required participation by the viewer, I counted it. Only 1 local EMA, NY,  had a “game”. Two other locals had surveys about how people would like to receive emergency notifications.

Other Social Media integrated: 24% of the states and 20% of the locals had integrated any other kind of social media into their facebook page. Most of the integration included a YouTube video, rarely did it include a linked twitter account.

Comments: Comments are a good way to measure engagement. Every single state and locality allowed comments and 74% of the locals and 100% of the states had comments on the page. However, when looking at whether the comments were answered the numbers drop a bit. Only 30% of the locals addressed comments on their page, and 50% of the states addressed comments. Some of the comments that went unanswered were direct questions–e.g. “How do I get assistance for damage caused by the storm?” or “How do I apply for a job at your EMA?”.

Allow Posting to the Wall: A full 50% of the states and 34% of the locals allowed people to post to the wall. In my opinion, this is not a good thing. Citizen postings clutter up your message and can sometimes contain unacceptable content. For example, on two of the 34 pages “Uncle Bob” posted a link on the wall to his online store for “go-bags”. Really? In my opinion, you don’t want advertisements like that in the comments, much less on the wall.

Posted Policies: This was a little frustrating to find–only 1 state had policies posted (or 12.5%) and zero locals 0% had any policies posted at all. The info page was almost always used to identify the purpose of an EMA (one EMA had no “info” posted at all) but none of them described what was expected of the user or what kind of content would be removed. I didn’t even find policies stating something along the lines of  “this is not a page that should be used to seek help if you have an emergency.” Nothing. I know that some EMAs do have this type of policy statement posted, but there were no examples of that in my small sample.

Content: Although this wasn’t something I could measure with a yes or no answer,  I did count how many agencies just posted weather forecast: an astonishing 26% of the local EMA facebook pages. This wasn’t just an occasional weather warning, but for some, the content was solely weather forecasts–every single day.


What does all of this mean? Well, for me, it means that we in the emergency management community really need to understand marketing better. In the next couple of days I’ll look at some facebook pages for private companies and analyze what they are doing right and how we can borrow from their strategies. Surely we can do a better job than just posting the weather.

If you want access to the raw data, let me know.

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12 responses to “Emergency Management Agencies Don’t Use Facebook Effectively

  1. Pingback: Emergency Management Agencies Don't Use Facebook Effectively … | Follow News

  2. Another great post Kim. Thanks for sharing.

    This will be helpful as we move more into the integrated use of SM as an emergency info tool in my jurisdiction.

    See you soon!

  3. Thanks Patrice. I didn’t find what I thought I would, which I guess is why this kind of analysis is important.

  4. Great post! This is what you do so well: find meaningful data and examples that illustrate what’s happening, then help us see what needs to be done.

  5. Allowing fans to post to the wall is not necessarily a bad thing if you are prepared to deal with it. Allowing postings shows that your agency is open to the public, which is what it should be on a site such as Facebook. Too many times, we have one-way communications telling the public what to do. Messages through the traditional media, printed materials, reverse-911 (when needed), Twitter, and agency web sites are ways to get messages OUT, yet we rely on USPS mail and phone calls for messages going IN. Sure, there’s e-mail, but the citizen needs to know the e-mail address. Engaging the citizenry through Facebook allows for open dialogue. Once one person posts a question or comment, it informs other “fans” of the issue while giving the agency to either set the record straight or confirm it.

    Policies are needed to deal with comments and postings. Our agency has a social media policy that outlines a deadline for responses to postings; a threshold for the deletion of posting when necessary; and it blocks the posting of photos and videos.

    Allowing postings by fans increases the level of trust during this time that many distrust government.

  6. Great point. Thanks for your comment. I guess I would argue that posting to the wall should mainly not be allowed during a crisis, when people might have your facebook page linked to their cell phones to receive crisis updates as text messages. Otherwise it might be OK as long as the agency is vigilant in ensuring the content is appropriate. For example, I was disappointed to see advertisements posted on some of the pages I examined.
    But even if you don’t allow people to post to your wall, there should be ample opportunity for conversation in the comments section. I would never advocate turning off that feature.
    Thanks again for your comment.

  7. And you make a great point, too, by limiting posts during a crisis. That may be a time that we may be pressed for time and resources, and monitoring posts would have to take a back seat to managing the event.

    One other thing I did not mention is that we have our FB page set to open on the “info” page, where our posting/comment policy is visible. Perhaps people won’t actually read it, but at least it is in print.

  8. Opening the page to the comment policy is a good idea. You’re right, people might not read it, but having the policy prominently displayed will help if you ever have to use the delete key.

  9. Great post Kim, I plan on learning from you and implementing some of this through our COAD page.

    • Thanks so much. I’m glad you found it helpful. We are all pretty new at this and can learn from each other!

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

  11. I just read your blog and found it very informative and interesting. Keep it up!
    Local Business Information Center

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