Social Media are about Engagement, not Control


Post by: Kim Stephens

I’ve been in two meetings this week where public officials have stated that their job was in some way  to “control social media”.  One person stated that in an upcoming exercise “We are going to ‘play’ some social media and learn how to control that…”. In the another conversation a public information officer indicated that their office didn’t mind interaction and public comments on their social media platforms “…as long as people write things that don’t reflect negatively on our organization.” Whoa! Both of those statement had me floored because they demonstrated how those folks misunderstood the power of the medium. Fire Chief Bill Boyd, a longtime social media evangelist and a person who “gets it” stated in a post today that it is about “community engagement, not public communication”.  Exactly.

The power of using social platforms for engagement is important during every phase of emergency management but particularly in the preparedness phase when your organization is trying to cultivate and build relationships with the entire stakeholder community: volunteer organizations, CERT members, advisory committees, other agencies, etc, the list is long. If you are simply pushing information to these groups via your social platforms without any hope, desire or expectation of input, then, believe it or not… you won’t get any input!


There are numerous articles that describe how to create social media engagement/content strategies; what’s interesting to me is that they detail NOT how to push your organization’s information (e.g. “What we do and Who we are”) but rather how to LISTEN to your citizens and stakeholders to discover who they are and what they want from you.  I like this list from  the SocialMedia Examiner , even though it is related to business marketing, that details the three important elements to creating an effective content strategy:

To see how this is done right in the public sector, one of the best examples is NASA. This newsletter, “IT Talk: Social Media at NASA“, explores their use of the tools. The social media manager, Stephanie L. Schierholz, states that pushing NASA “news” is one component, however

“…the real value of NASA’s use of social media can be seen in the level of engagement and the communities that form around them. It is called social media because our fans and followers have a reasonable expectation that their questions may be answered and their comments heard.”

For More info: The IACP Center for Social Media has an entire tab devoted to the subject of “Community Outreach and Citizen Engagement“. Explore the case studies listed as well as the fact sheets and publications.

4 responses to “Social Media are about Engagement, not Control

  1. You get the point. It is not possible to get any sort of input if you don’t care what people say about you. How could you do so it you don’t engage ?It sounds unbelievable to me that there are still PIOs who think that they can control social media. That game is over, and new rules seem to be out of their comprehension.

  2. One more great blogpost! I spontaneously can tell a number of people who should read it!

  3. Reblogged this on Puella Ludens and commented:
    Some great references about social media ethos/ethics.

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