Tag Archives: Facebook

Getting Folks to “ShakeOut” via Social Media: Lessons for all Hazards

Post by: Kim Stephens
shakeout
 The Great ShakeOut (not to be confused with the Harlem Shake)  started in California but has now become a multi-state as well as international earthquake drill. The objective is to get citizens to practice the recommended action to take during an earthquake. The protective action mantra that is repeated in almost all of  the messaging is simple to remember: “Drop, Cover and Hold-On.”
Drop, cover and hold-on for ShakeOut BC

Drop, cover and hold-on for ShakeOut BC (Photo credit: BC Gov Photos)

The ShakeOut has become a bit of petri dish for those in the social sciences who study citizen engagement and participation in disaster preparedness activities–as well as the effectiveness of preparedness messaging. In turn, the outreach efforts have been fine tuned throughout the years in order to take advantage of lessons learned from each year of the event.

A key aspect of the Great ShakeOut is the integration of comprehensive science-based earthquake research and the lessons learned from decades of social science research about why people get prepared. The result is a “teachable moment” on par with having an actual earthquake (often followed by increased interest in getting ready for earthquakes). The Great ShakeOut creates the sense of urgency that is needed for people, organizations, and communities to get prepared, to practice what to do to be safe, and to learn what plans need to be improved.
               Quote via: http://www.washington.edu/emergency/shakeout

Marketing

This event is promoted through a variety of methods that are centered on websites designed  for each region. Citizens are encouraged to register via the website and make a pledge to participate in the drill.  Once registered, they are asked to use resources on the sites such as drill manuals, broadcasts, scenarios, and safety information to help develop their plans in order to be more prepared for an earthquake.

How do you keep interest year-round?

Even though the ShakeOut is planned for one day out of the year, community outreach  is a job for all 12-months; and reaching people via social media has increasingly become an important piece of the “ShakeOut” communications strategy.  Jason Ballmann, (@JasonBallmann) the Social Media Strategist of the Southern California Earthquake Center told me how they keep people’s attention.
“I think what makes us special is that we are already extremely relevant. We’re based in Earthquake Country. Yet, we try to make preparedness and recovery fresh, interesting, and fun. Social media is a great way for us to do that, and I think our sincerity and wish to keep people safe and ready is obvious.”

Define Your Strategy

Being “fresh, interesting and fun” however, is not something that can be done in an ad hoc fashion.  According to Jason, their social media strategy includes the following 5 main points:
  • Define the best platforms for our audiences and ways to use them, notably Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Google Plus, and Vine App;
  • Identify key players and read/share/retweet their content (Twitter lists, like them as our Facebook Page, follow them on Pinterest, etc…);
  • Listen to how audiences are participating in ShakeOut, staying prepared, and practicing Drop, Cover, and Hold On with their shared content;
  • Create innovative, unique content that will engage and inspire our audiences to be better prepared and informed;
  • Attend live events (expos, fairs) and post event/news-related content to engage people on social media while staying true to our mission.
Their social presence, as mentioned above, include the big 3 (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) but also they have added the Vine App, Pinterest and Google Plus. Their presence is robust with over 7,000 thumbs up on Facebook and over 4,o00 followers on Twitter. I really like the way they have taken full advantage of adding other social apps to their Facebook page–making it a bit of a one-stop social stop: fans can readily see their YouTube videos and their Pinterest page without leaving Facebook.
I’m also loving that they are experimenting with humor. The video: “Don’t fight a brick–the brick will win” (see below)  is something that teenagers might actually share. Why is that important? Getting people to share the message is always one of the main goals of any social media strategy. Also, it is important to keep in mind that even though an older person might not find the video humorous, not all content can connect with all people. That is the beauty of social media–it allows the messenger to reach all segments of the audience with tailored content with the knowledge that one size does not fit all.
Don’t forget–the ShakeOut is on 10/17 at 10:17AM–no what your location. See the California ShakeOut website here: http://shakeout.org.
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Should Your Emergency Management Agency be on Vine?

Post by: Kim Stephens

vine-logoSome consideration ought to be given to adding the new video-sharing-mobile-application from Twitter called “Vine” to your Public Safety Organization’s communications toolbox. However, if you don’t have teenagers in your house you might not be sure what Vine is or what it could do for your organization. Currently, Vine is one of fastest growing video-sharing apps and tops Apple’s app download chart. Some Federal entities have noticed: the White House is already taking advantage of this new means of connecting to their audience and GovLoop recently posted an article titled “Vine: Government’s 6 seconds to Shine.”

What is it?

For detailed  background information on this new social sharing application, see Twitter’s FAQ page here, but in a nutshell, Vine allows users to post very short (only 6 seconds) of video content to the application via a smartphone. Other Vine users can follow you to see your posts, however, content is easily shared via either Facebook or Twitter and can also be embedded in a blog (as demonstrated below). In fact, “A post on Vine cannot be viewed outside of the Vine app unless it is shared on Twitter or Facebook, in which case a link for the video will be made publicly available.” The Vines loop–so unless you click away from the video it continues to play over and over, although this can be a bit annoying, it is actually pretty good feature for getting your point across.

Why?

Public Safety and Emergency Management organizations are having a hard enough time finding resources to post interesting content to the “big 3” social media sites–YouTube, Facebook and Twitter–so thinking about adding responsibility for another social network might seem ludicrous. However, in my opinion, the forced brevity of Vine actually makes it a great tool for preparedness messages and maybe even for protective action information/demonstrations. In terms of preparedness messaging, this video below is intended to be funny versus instructional, but it inspired me, nonetheless. (Click the x to hear the sound–otherwise it is muted.)

Although the Vine above is shot all at once, a great feature of the app is the ability to stop the action. Once recording from within the Vine app, to stop the scene you simply tap the screen of your smartphone and then tap again to restart.  This feature makes it a great way to create instructional snippets without having to edit the content post-production. See this cringe-worthy “How to Fail” video below by the same slapstick comedian from above (I hope this young man has a good relationship with his local EMTs).

Adding very short video content to your Agency’s Tweets and Facebook posts could be a very valuable asset. Instead of saying: If you catch on fire remember to “Stop Drop and Roll” you could actually demonstrate what to do. Similar demonstrations could be done for “Duck, Cover and Hold On” or  “Don’t drown–Turn Around.” Increasingly this is an image driven society–this tool provides another way to insert ourselves into the conversation.

Let me know–is your Agency considering Vine or have you already started using this tool? I’d love to see some public safety examples.

Researchers Review Boston Bombing Social Media Activity

Post by: Kim Stephens

800px-2013_Boston_Marathon_aftermath_peopleProject HEROIC–which stands for Hazards, Emergency Response, and Online Informal Communications (see footnote)–took a close look at the online activity of official organizations during the recent domestic terrorist event in Boston and the ensuing suspect chase–that seemed like a marathon in itself.  They released a report today (May 10) titled “Following the Bombing” which I have summarize below.

Their Methodology and Findings

In order to understand  what types of information was provided to the public and how broadly it was distributed, the project team reviewed 29 different government agency or related Twitter accounts. The first question might be: why only Twitter? Researchers like Twitter–the data is easy to grab and analyze.

The project team reviewed two main items: 1. Rate of posting by the selected organizations and elected officials;  and 2. The percent change in followers  (spoiler alert: Boston PD had a 500% increase and the Boston PD PIO Cheryl Fiandaca had a 2291% increase).  The rate that these organizations posted was tied to their increase in followers, which is no surprise, however, there was a notable exception–Boston Fire Department.

Boston FD gained a 25% increase in followers without posting once the day of the attack. Their absence  was not lost on the Twittersphere, and the Boston FD even felt it necessary to defend their decision the next day.  They Tweeted that they deliberately did not post any Tweets from the scene because it is their policy not to “…show any injured person or discuss our treatment.” Quite a few people, however, thought their decision was unfortunate; at a minimum they could have simply ReTweeted the Boston PD account. As the researchers pointed out:  “…organizations that have increased their network size must provide information of value and to be aware that the public is watching.” Honestly, its about trust. People who follow official accounts do so because they know they can trust the content. The public followers also have a notion that they will provided information in timely manner-especially during incidents such as this one where everyone was looking for any tidbit  they could find in order to make sense out of the chaos.  It is not a stretch to see why people were upset.

Read the whole report here. I like some of their questions they pose at the end:  What can organizations do to ensure their newfound followers stick around? and What educational preparedness-type information should organizations provide to take advantage of the narrow window of attention they have? Let me know your thoughts.

Footnote: “Project HEROIC is a collaborative, NSF funded effort by researchers at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the University of California-Irvine to better understand the dynamics of informal online communication in response to extreme events. Through a combination of data collection and modeling of conversation dynamics, the project team aims to understand the relationship between hazard events, informal communication and emergency response.” (via: http://heroicproject.org/)

Anaheim CERT Plays a Social Game

Post by: Kim Stephens

acertMary Jo Flynn, the Assistant Director of the Emergency Management Division in Anaheim California, consistently surprises me with her creative use of social media and new technologies to engage CERT members. For instance, just a couple of months ago she Tweeted about how she integrated the use of QR codes into a CERT exercise.

Ms Flynn promoted the idea on her “CERT Exercise Idea” Pinterest page and indicated that the QR code exercise was played by adding images, descriptions and/or video to the links in a type of scavenger hunt where each decision got volunteers to the next QR Code Station. What a great way to add a layer of interest!

Social Media Exercise

This month she is taking the concept of adding game-type elements into training to a new level. Intuitively we all know that the best way to learn something is by actually doing it. For this exercise, the learning objectives Ms Flynn would like to accomplish are for CERT members to not only understand social media but also to increase their competency in the use of the tools. In order for team members to learn how to use social networking in a real-world, face-paced environment she has created a game of sorts for them to participate in during the California State CERT conference. The game/exercise requires participants to use social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instragram, and points will be awarded based on activity level, measured by their use of live-Tweeting, Facebook posting, Retweeting, and getting ReTweed, for example. Additionally, a team element has been incorporated–which is important, people tend to participate more if they feel they are a part of a group. She  created this video (embedded below) in order to prepare CERT members to participate as soon as they arrive at the conference.
I asked Ms Flynn for more information about the “how and why” of the exercise and she provided me the written answers below. I wanted to post her responses in full so that others could emulate this great example.
Nature of the exercise:
This is a dynamic exercise in which conference participants will utilize social media to generate live social web data.  Their entries simulate making contact with family members or posting pictures as neighborhood situation status updates.  A second part of the exercise includes the identification and analysis of the web data simulating a virtual EOC environment. While the exercise may seem like nothing more than a scavenger hunt or silly networking game, it is an intricately layered opportunity to build team work, practice technical skills, collect and share information and be that much closer and ready to deploy for an actual event.
Why I pursued this exercise:
I’ve been looking to plan small exercises locally for my team that utilized live data but without the fear of sparking controversy or panic when using simulated data in a public forum and I believe as emergency managers we must first do no harm in social media.  I’ve not been satisfied in adding “Exercise” or “Drill” to a live tweet for fear it would be eliminated on re-tweet and lose effectiveness and potentially lose trust from my audience.
Why Now, how this came about:
I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.  My colleagues using the #smemchat have been talking about exercising using events like the Inauguration or Superbowl to practice safely with live data.  I wanted something smaller scale.  When approached by California Volunteers to speak at the conference, I inquired as to whether or not they would promote live tweeting.  Once we agreed on using live tweeting and a scavenger hunt as a mechanism to encourage networking, the rest of the exercise fell into place.  Since then I’ve just been having fun refining some of the “injects” like the video.
Why this exercise is important to me:
Lately I’ve become concerned that the Social Media Emergency Management community has only encouraged adoption of social media without providing enough detail in training, exercising and strategic planning.  I believe we will continue to face challenges from opponents [people who don’t believe social media is important] if we don’t also demonstrate the ability to train and exercise in such a manner as to build community trust.
I’m happy that we can accommodate so many pieces of the puzzle and pull together such a strong national VOST [Virtual Operations Support Team] along with local volunteers and conference attendees to hopefully see success through this exercise.
What to expect after the conference:
I’m a very big believer in capturing lessons learned and I’ll be incorporating feedback into an After Action Report and sharing with Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS).
Thank you Mary Jo! If you have any questions for her, she is on Twitter @AnaheimCERT or @MaryJoFly.

Smartphone Apps, the Next Step for Social Media and Emergency Management?

Post by: Kim Stephens

bushfire

bushfire (Photo credit: theangrypenguin)

One thing we are hearing loud and clear from the January, 2013 Australian bushfire disaster is that people are turning to social media for information. This is demonstrated by a quote from Stuart Howie of “The Border Mail” in an article titled “Opinion: Social media a life saver.”

Indeed yesterday, as bushfires swept across large tracts of land in New South Wales and destroyed properties in Victoria, social media helped save lives. Just as it is hard to predict what the winds of change will do during these infernos, it may be dangerous to hazard a guess at how many lives. A few? Dozens? Perhaps many more. However, I have no doubt that the ability of social media in conjunction with established media outlets to spread emergency information to scattered communities meant residents were, in many circumstances, kept as well informed as the fire crews battling the constantly changing circumstances. And they got out of the path of annihilation.

But believe it or not, I don’t think the lesson to be learned from this event will be that social media can help spread information. Numerous disasters, including SuperStorm Sandy, have made this use of social networking almost self-evident. One thing we might learn, however, is the increasing power and usefulness of mobile applications, provided they are done well. The private sector is also learning this lesson, see the article “Forget social media, smartphone apps are the new customer service tool.”

The Need to Provide Mobile-Ready Information 

During a crisis, organizations are increasingly comfortable with providing critical information and emergency updates via social media. However, one of the lessons we have learned as an SMEM community, is that the people who most need the information are also the least likely to be viewing it on a computer screen.  Therefore, when a hyperlink is included in a Tweet or a Facebook post it should link to information that is mobile ready. Some would even argue that in low bandwidth situations, a link shouldn’t be included at all.

The  Country Fire Authority (CFA) of Victoria, Australia or @CFA_Updates on Twitter, seems to have learned the mobile-ready lesson. According to their Facebook page, the CFA  is one of the largest volunteer-based emergency management organizations in the world and are one of the main agencies involved in bushfire fighting. Via their social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, during this recent disaster, they have been providing a constant stream of official emergency warnings, incident updates and media releases.

This Tweet, however, really impressed me:

Why? I clicked on the link in the Tweet on my smartphone, because the Tweet itself made no sense to me, and I expected a long delay for a website to download. Instead, I was directed to their mobile-ready content. Furthermore, once there I had the choice of downloading their mobile app, which I did.

MFA Mobile App What’s in the App?

The content of the App is very impressive, even though, as they state on their website, some people have experienced problems with the latest version–which is really unfortunate timing. An article titled “CFA website can’t handle the heat” noted how the CFA website and phone app had to be placed on separate servers after both had problems during the worst of the heatwave due to extremely high user demand. There’s a lesson learned–or re-learned–there are well! Nonetheless, I was able to navigate through the most of the app without too many issues.

There are many things I found useful, but I’d like to highlight 5 items.

  1. Incident Information The application has a very handy map interface that allows users to quickly see  where fires are located as well as the fire’s current status. People can even sign up to get alerts of warnings when fires are within a specified radius of the user-defined “Watch Zone.”
  2. Each fire symbol is clickable which takes the user to a screen that provides detailed information about that event, including how many trucks are on scene and the percent contained.
  3. One thing I LOVE about the “Incident Detail” screen is that users can share the details of an incident to their social networks straight from the app. Providing an easy way for citizens to share your content should be a goal of every organization:  the more information is shared the more it is seen. photo-7
  4. The app does not squelch the sharing of user-generated content, in fact it encourages it. A tab for “photos” reveals contributions from citizens who have uploaded images to the app. The purpose is to provide situational awareness content from the perspective of the community, but the unstated purpose is more psychological. People like to feel that they are contributing in emergency situations, even if it is a small act such as uploading a picture. This feature sends a huge signal to the community that says: “We are all in this together.”
  5. SocialTheir social media streams are embedded in the app. This means that the user does not have to leave the environment of the app in order to view this content. This makes for a handy one-stop shop for all of their streams of communication. I noticed, however, that this feature seems to be where some of their current bugs are occurring.

What’s Next?

Despite the little hiccups with the app during this current disaster, I see it as the future. What I also see, however, are other issues that will need to be resolved. For example, during a crisis whose app will the community be encouraged to use?The one from the American Red Cross, FEMA, the local Fire Service, Emergency Management Office, or the local City or County Government? Or will citizens be forced to download all of them and then go from app to app to gain all of the particulars they need, from protective action measures to recovery information. Open data is probably they answer, but that’s another post!

Let me know what you think? Is your organization developing a mobile app?

Related articles

#SMEM Challenge for 2013: What do I post? Are you ready to be amazing?

Post by: Kim Stephens

MC900442000It is easy for emergency managers to learn   social media in terms of the purely technical aspects–these platforms are pretty straightforward to use. However, one of the complaints I often hear, is “Now what?” Never before has the EM community been expected to communicate with the public on an almost daily basis. Once an emergency manager has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page they  understand that they have to post something so that it doesn’t look like a ghost town, but what?

Deciding what to post is not usually a problem during an emergency or a disaster situation, but social communication during the preparedness phase can be  challenging (even after an organization has determined they will invest time and resources to the effort). There are several inter-related issues to consider:

  1. Coordination with response partners.
  2. Managing Public Expectations.
  3. Being creative enough to get the public’s attention.

Coordination with response partners

In bigger communities it is increasingly common for almost every department or agency to have their own social media account.  The Department of Transportation is likely to be posting information road closures, traffic problems, and real-time road conditions during storms:

Police Departments tend to post content about  a wide range of activities from car crashes, to arrests, to the weather, as well as safety tips.

Fire Departments often provide updates about where they are responding, fire prevention tips, and general safety information as well.

So, where does that leave the Office of Emergency Management?  If all of the “sexy” up-to-the minute content is being reported by other agencies, what’s left to be said? Even once your agency decides what “lane” you should be posting in, it’s still possible that other city or county agencies will infringe on your territory. I have heard statements from some annoyed EMs such as: Why did the Fire Department post emergency preparedness content? That’s my job!

Solution:  In order to prevent “social-media envy” coordination and collaboration are key. The results of coordination could manifest in a city or county-wide written content strategy or simply in a verbal agreement regarding expectations. However, it is important to keep in mind that in the social media world, repetition of a message is NOT a bad thing. Your Tweets and Facebook updates  are never seen by everyone that follows you (see Jim Garrow’s article “The Demise of Facebook” in which he points out how few people actually do see what you are posting in their feed). Therefore, amplifying each other’s messages should be an overarching goal.  Here are two great examples of how this is done and communicated to the public in Baltimore.

Managing Public Expectations

I like the Tweet immediate above this paragraph because it also denotes  the type of content OEM will provide and when. I have heard concerns from emergency managers that once they start posting something, such as road closures or the weather, the public complains when they stop. One social media admin told me “The public now thinks I’m the weather man.”  However, continuing to post the same information daily can turn your feed into a very boring presence, ultimately reducing the amount of community engagement and interactions.

Solution: There are two ideas to consider:

  1. Pre-determine your thresholds for when your office will post emergency content (e.g. not every road closure, but only major incidents; not every fire warning, but only “red-flag” events; not every day it rains, but only severe weather ). You can publicize your intentions, however, by simply staying consist, the public will learn what to expect.
  2. Make it very well known, either via your website and/or Facebook page, the types of content your response partners are posting on social networks and where people can find that information. See the National Capital Region “News Feeds” as an example of this.

Being creative

Whether or not we want to admit it, the “Be Ready” message gets very little traction when there isn’t an emergency.  Posting “Are you Prepared?” along with a few tips to your Facebook page does not mean your community is now more resilient.  In fact, they are probably ignoring this message altogether. Why? Frankly, it is boring.

What works? Storytelling. Stories  do many things: reshape knowledge into something meaningful; make people care, transcend one’s current environment; motivate; and give meaning, among other things.  In a blog post titled “The Importance of Storytelling in a Digital World”  the author discusses why TED Talks (the ultimate in digital storytelling) work. His logic applies to all digital communication:

 I believe that storytelling is critical for public engagement on the web. Storytelling is a fundamentally human and social practice that allows individuals to connect through mutual cooperation and shared empathy. Storytelling inspires. Storytelling moves. It is a timeless practice that is the future for public engagement on the web.

A great example of storytelling in emergency management this year was from  “Ready Houston” with the video: “Run. Hide. Fight,” embedded below. This 5 minute video holds viewers attention and has received over 1.8 million hits. The protective action measures the public should take during a shooting incident are demonstrated via the story of an attack in an office building. It was also successful because, unfortunately, it is all too relevant for the times we live in.

In contrast, the Ready Houston Facebook page has only 208 “likes” and features typical “Be Ready” content.

ready1

Solution: What are we trying to do here? We are trying to change behavior, which is not an easy task.  Posting “Get Prepared–here’s your list” is probably not going to get anyone off the couch. A little more work might have to be involved.  (For some reason I’m reminded of  kid in the movie The Incredibles who’s asked “What are you waiting for?” and he says, “I don’t know. Something amazing, I guess.”) See the video clip below, just for grins.

What can you do? You don’t have to invest thousands in producing slick videos, but you can find a family in Home Depot shopping for winter supplies and take a pic. Ask them why they are getting prepared and post that. Or repeat news stories (even older ones) about someone that almost died in their car during a snowstorm because they didn’t have food or blankets in their car.

Storytelling can also be short and sweet.  The Brimfield Police Department, whom I’ve written about previously, tells little stories that amuse, and get people to act and engage. Below are two posts from their Facebook page. The second one had almost 1500 “Likes” and many comments.

brimdogs

brimdogs2

Let me know, are you ready to provide good content for 2013? What’s your plan to be amazing?

Bonus Video #1:

See this video which demonstrates how boring “data” can be enthralling when given meaning and context.

Bonus Video #2:

#SMEM Challenge for 2013: Strategically Monitoring Social Media

Post by: Kim  Stephens

Eye on Flat Panel MonitorOne of the biggest #SMEM challenges for emergency management and public safety organizations is determining whether or not, and increasingly how, they will monitor social media. In the past year we saw a change in mindset: a desire to actively listen versus simply push content to the public. Yet, monitoring can seem like a daunting task.  During large-scale emergency events millions of new posts, pictures and videos  are added to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. every day. How can a small local public health, first response, or emergency management agency sort through all of that? In this post I will outline strategies I have seen employed to effectively deal with this seemingly insurmountable task.

Where do we start?

Numerous questions come to mind when considering monitoring social networks:

  • How ? What software do I need, if any? (And relatedly, how much will that cost?)
  • Who? Who will be doing this work?  Will this only be done when the  EOC is stood up and resources can be shared by all response agencies? or  Will resources be required to monitor social media all the time if we have social accounts?
  •  What is done with the information gleaned from monitoring social media? How is the information shared (if at all) with response partners when there isn’t an EOC or JIC?

Establishing objectives

Each of the questions above are dependent on the objective(s) established by your organization.  The first step is to determine why: Why are we listening? What is the expected outcome? Only then can you  decide what resources you will need, how you will share that information with response partners, and what tools are required.

Your emergency management organization might decide to specify a number of objectives. Some of the more common ones include:

  1.  To determine if the organization’s message is getting across or if conflicting information (rumors) is being conveyed: Are people  confused about what to do (e.g. how long to boil water)?
  2. To determine public sentiment regarding the organization or, during a crisis, about the overall government’s response effort: Are people angry about something that is happening?
  3. To determine the most commonly asked questions and concerns.
  4. To quickly answer direct questions, or questions directed at the community political leadership on topics that involve your organization: Are people asking the Twitter-happy Mayor when debris will be picked up in their neighborhood?
  5. To determine what other organizations are saying, in order to both ensure messages are coordinated, and to amplify mission related content.
  6. To determine the extent of damage and impact of the disaster event. (Advanced)

It should be noted that law enforcement officials might have completely different set of objectives. They might monitor social media to actively look for people (or evidence) from those who have been involved in a crime as well as to enlist their followers in helping them identify suspects. They could also monitor the accounts of a person that has been brought to their attention by members of the community (e.g. a person has been posting strange comments that point to criminal intentions). In this post, however, I will stick to emergency management concepts since that is much more familiar territory for me.

Low Budget Solutions

Of course, part of the strategy for listening or monitoring social media has to include determining who will be responsible for doing these tasks. I recommend you also read the post that describes VOST (Virtual Operations Support Teams) for some ideas on how you can expand your efforts when required. Nonetheless, there are many things that can be done by an organization to make monitoring social media a bit easier, especially if some of it is completed before a crisis.

The following simple steps are based on processes described by emergency managers who have made the most of the free tools at their disposal. Even though these items might seem like obvious courses of action, I have cited them here for a reason.    I have included some basic 101-type info since people often ask these questions.

1. Create Lists and Like Pages of Response Partners: It is important to know and keep track of what other response organizations are saying on social networks, even if (maybe especially if) they are in a neighboring county. If you and your neighbor put out conflicting content, believe me, the public will notice. (This happens in quickly moving events–road closures are a prime example.)

  • On Twitter, set up a list(s) of all “trusted sources” including government agencies, first responders, political leaders,  volunteer organizations and local news media–don’t forget to include federal agencies such as FEMA, EPA and HUD.  Twitter.com explains how to create a list in 4 simple steps.
  • Include social streams of all response partners on your website or Facebook page, so the public can easily find them as well. See a best practice example from Australia: Queensland Police Service Alert, which has the embedded Twitter feeds from their response partners organized by sector: transportation, power and water, etc.
  • On Facebook, “Like” all of these same organizations.

Coordinate Offline: It should be noted that in addition to doing the work online, a good practice is to have every government official responsible for posting to social networks  participate in recurring meetings to talk about strategies and coordination before a disaster event. (How can we ensure information is updated on our social media accounts, simultaneously? How can we share content/intel that we are seeing from the public ?) The speed of social media might require new, or at a minimum, faster coordination processes. 

2. Invest in a smart phone for the person monitoring social media: Smart phones are a great way to monitor your social media presence when you are away from a computer. Both Twitter and Facebook can provide smart phone notifications to the administrator every time the account is mentioned, replied to, re-tweeted, etc. You can also set up a way to receive notifications when other organizations post updates as well.

  • Twitter.com has a great help page on this topic.
  • Facebook has similarly helpful “How-To” page about how to receive push notifications on a mobile device. There is also information here about the Page Manager App that lets admins check on their Page activity, view insights and respond to their audience from their mobile device. This app is only currently available for iPhone and iPad.

3. Read

I once asked the social media manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency how he monitored the agency’s social stream, he simply stated: I read.  Surprisingly, keeping up with what is happening on social media does not necessarily take complicated software, especially if reading is done strategically.   In order to prevent being overwhelmed,  you can limit the content that you look at to some or all of the following:

  •  Read comments and questions directed to your organization. This step is probably the most important: if your organization is actively posting content, more than likely, people will be posting comments and questions…AND they will expect a response.  Reading comments and “@” messages will also allow you to gauge how your efforts are being received.
  • Read what is being posted by your trusted-sources on the list(s) you have created.
  • Read comments and questions posed from the public to your response partners and elected officials.
  • Read information based on keyword searches and hashtags.   This strategy involves searching for key words, such as the name of the event, in order to find pertinent content.
    • During an active event, people often post pictures and video to Twitter (more so than other platforms) and mention the location and /or name of the town. (For specific instructions see Twitter advanced search and the “How-To“).  It is important to note, however, that any early pictures should be treated cautiously. Some folks think it is quite funny to post fake images.
    • Possible search terms: name of agency, name of event, name of municipality.

4. Actively ask for information

There is nothing wrong with asking your followers or the general public for information via your social networks. People often provide valuable situational awareness information to you anyway, for example, posting on your Facebook page: “There are power lines down on Elk Road.” Some organizations have tried to give the public a way to provide information in a more structured way. Good examples of this are the not-so-new USGS’s earthquake detection program  “Did you Feel it?” and the recent Fairfax County Hurricane Sandy Crowdmap that allowed people to post their observations.

Soliciting information is almost the opposite of  “data mining.” Data mining involves  automated computer processes  intended to make sense of or find patterns in vast amounts of content posted to social networks (see this post by Patrick Meier for more info). I suspect that this process will be one of the hottest topics for 2013 as more of these tools (discussed in this previous post)  come online. Nevertheless, if your organization is simply trying to keep up with mentions and comments, then advanced software is probably not necessary…although highly coveted. Coordination and collaboration with your response partners,  however, continue to be some of the best tools in your toolbox.

If you are still reading, let me know if you have established objectives or listening strategies.

Note: A majority of this content came from a post I did for WRHSAC.org.