Post by: Kim Stephens
I was asked to contribute a top 10 list about social media to the “EMPOWER” newsletter: Emergency Management Professional Organization for Women’s Enrichment. I decided not to write a list about why the emergency management community should use social media. I think increasingly EMs understand the benefits of participating on social media platforms in order to engage the public with information about planning for a disaster, mitigating against hazards, crisis communications, and recovering from an event. Instead, I chose to write about considerations for organizations if they have already decided to participate or already are using the medium. I wrote the list in a question format and have addressed most of these topics on numerous occasions in past blog posts. However, some of the questions can only be answered by the EM organization themselves; for the others, I have provided my suggestions.
1. What are your goals and objectives for your social media presence? Is your objective to post information during a crisis or will you just be posting information regarding disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery? Is your goal to engage the public in a conversation and seek their opinion? Or, is your goal simply to provide one-way information?
2. What other related organizations in your community have a social media presence: law enforcement, fire, public health, and/or public safety? Should you join forces with these organizations (or even with the entire county government if your community is small) and have one Facebook page, for example? Or does your organization prefer to go it alone? (See this blog post for more info.)
3. Who in your organization is or will be responsible for posting to social media sites? If you do not have a PIO, are there people that would like to take on the responsibility? It is prudent to ensure that multiple people have access to the accounts.
4. What policies do you have in place for both the public who access your social media sites (e.g. comment policies on Facebook) and your employees participating in social media? Do any of your current policies need adjusting? Does your organization understand State laws that impact your social media activities, in particular records retention?
5. Who will monitor your social media sites during a crisis when comments and interest could spike to unimaginable levels? Do you have volunteers that would be interested in helping monitor comments on Facebook or @ messages on Twitter. (Remember, those volunteers do NOT have to be in your EOC, or even in your State.) Will you be using social media to gain situational awareness? If so, how will that data be incorporated back into the response effort? (See this paper by Patrice Cloutier and Barry Radford for more info.)
6. If you are already participating on social media platforms have you included injects from these sites into your exercise scenarios? Actually, this should be true even if your organization is not participating in social media directly because you can no longer assume you have control of the message. Every citizen with a smart phone that witnesses a crisis has the ability to report images, video, and real-time information from the scene. (As I was writing this someone tweeted about the role citizen reporters played during the Oslo attacks. Every new event brings fresh examples of this point.)
7. In which platforms should you participate? There are many different kinds of social media sites, twitter and Facebook are the biggest in the U.S. but new ones do emerge including the increasingly popular Tumblr and now Google + (a service similar to Facebook). It is important for your organization to know and understand your community in order to make this determination. If, for example, you have a large number of college students in your county, then you probably need to be well versed in what’s popular amongst that age group.
8. Do you have a marketing strategy to promote your social media presence? Merely putting up a page on Facebook or opening a twitter account does not ensure that the public will become your fan—you have to work for that. What, when, where and how will you promote your presence? As a side note, organizations should understand that after a crisis the interest in their site will skyrocket: Hawaii’s EM Facebook page grew 700 percent the day of the tsunami after the Japan earthquake. It is also important to understand that national and international media will be looking at your social media postings for information after an event.
9. Do you have content strategy? Looking for content to post to these sites day-after-day can get tedious. Some organizations have simply started posting the weather automatically, which doesn’t make for a very interactive environment. If citizen engagement is one of your goals, then it is important to find ways to involve the community, including games and requests for photos etc. It is also important to plan ahead. For example, I tell organization that since there are 12 months of the year, each month could have a different preparedness theme. Don’t be afraid to be creative, but have a content plan in place.
10. What does success look like? Success or return on investment (ROI) of a social media presence is a difficult thing to measure, even for private companies. However, success can be measured against your defined goals and objectives. I also caution organizations to be patient and consistent. If you continually provide good content and interesting posts, people in your community will respond and appreciate the effort, and certainly that should be one of your goals.
Some communities have found it helpful to create Web 2.0 committees in order to discuss the pros and cons of various approaches and to address concerns and issues that arise from some of the questions listed above. I think that is a wise approach. For more information, including a long list of model policies, look to my curated bibliography. Another great resource is sm4em.org. You can also join a discussion about social media and emergency management that takes place every Friday at 1230 EST on twitter. Follow the stream of tweets tagged #smemchat. Questions are posted (I often moderate the chat) and people active in the emergency management community post their thoughts and opinions. Join us! It’s quite fun.