Post by: Kim Stephens
An Independent Review was undertaken to study the use of social media by the City Council of Brisbane, Australia during the historic flooding events of January, 2011. Thanks to Patrice Cloutier and his daily “picks” for alerting me to the story. I recommend the report be bookmarked for ready reference by any emergency management organization either already engaged in social media or considering using the medium. Another important social media case study was also recently completed by the Queensland Police Service, which I highlighted last week. The findings are similar, but the Brisbane report does touch on a few different insights I’d like to draw attention to here.
Strategy for information flow to the public and FROM the public.
Several of the keys to the Council’s success mentioned in the report were items that I think most of us really understand and are comfortable with.
- It is important to have an established social media presence before a crisis occur.
- It is important to have staff redundancy, e.g. more than one person knows and understands how to use the platforms.
- Communications to the public via these mediums should include items such as information regarding how to stay safe, evacuation centers and routes, staging areas for relief supplies, and public relations info including details about response activities–often designed to instill confidence in the public that we are doing a good job (the latter, in my opinion, is often overly emphasized).
But with regard to obtaining information from the public via social media, our comfort level decreases, markedly. The review of the Brisbane Council’s activities includes an entire section on how they monitored social media channels and then were able to quickly feed that information back to decision makers.
Council’s social media channels were monitored continuously and the information was provided back to the (Local Disaster Coordination Center) LDCC where appropriate. Using a system of ‘hot topics’, the most common queries from the public via social media channels were fed back hourly to the LDCC to obtain the correct responses which could then be shared publicly.
Another theme throughout the report, similar to the QPS review, is the importance of relationship building with the community “to ensure that they trusted Council as an authority in the space.” This includes everything from the tone of the postings which should be open and conversational, to the speed of answering enquiries. This of course, can present challenges as well:
For overcoming difficulties, the main issue was the rapid speed of information flowing and managing this effectively. Due to the nature of social media, regular response times that might be found in traditional media weren’t acceptable, and it was important to streamline existing communication processes.
The report indicated that the Council has a Digital Communications Team which “devised and implemented a highly successful social media campaign to communicate vital flood information to the community.” The Digital Team was already in place pre-event and had identified four overarching objectives for their social media communications: Audience reach (raising awareness of the SM channels), information management, information sharing, and community and business mobilization. Once the crisis began to unfold they planned for four key communication areas: evacuation center locations, waste disposal info, health and safety, and volunteering information.
Almost the instant a crisis occurs people are already asking where they can volunteer and what they can donate. Using social media channels to communicate this information seems like a natural fit, especially since quite a few of these request occur on the platforms and since people will organize to volunteer with or without you.
One of the biggest social media successes for Council involved co-ordination of volunteers from early on in the flood event and the aftermath. Council social media channels were used as the main communication tool to ask for volunteers to help in clean up efforts. On Friday 14 January around 5pm, the Lord Mayor announced that there would be Volunteering Clean-Up weekend.
By 6am the next day, more than 10,000 volunteers arrived at designated meeting points and had registered to help the community. Facebook and Twitter were used as primary means of coordinating volunteers at the volunteer areas and in the coming weeks, Councillors also used these channels to ask for help. On many occasions, Councillors asked for help from 100-250 volunteers with only 24 hours notice, and upwards of 700 showed up.
Great stuff, and some great lessons for all of us.
- QPS Media: Social Media Case Study (idisaster.wordpress.com)
- Social Media Mobilizes Clean-Up After UK Riots (psfk.com)
- Aussies Establish a Wiki to Distribute Social Media Best Practices (idisaster.wordpress.com)
- Brisbane to overhaul flood response (news.theage.com.au)