Tag Archives: Google

Social Networking Trends of 2013 and Implications for #SMEM

Post by: Kim Stephens

December is a month of reflection and I, along with Patrice Cloutier and James Garrow are using our blogs to highlight interesting  social media and emergency management trends from the year and note future possibilities for improvement. 2013 could be seen as a pivot point for quite a few organizations: social networking graduated from being novel and experimental, to just one of the tools in the communication’s toolbox. That being said, however, we still have a long way to go before full integration is realized throughout the response community.

Social Networks: The Stats 

We’ve all seen the statistics–social networks have millions and millions of users, except Facebook which sits at 1.11 billion. A deeper look at these stats, however,  can help create a more informed communication’s strategy, for instance,  is this the year to get G+ and Pinterest accounts? Here are a few noteworthy stats I’ve collected from a variety of sources, along with some possible implications.

  • Twitter boasts over 500 millions users, but one interesting note is what these users are talking about. According to Nielsen, 33% of Twitter users tweet about television shows. Implication:   Why not schedule tweets that appear during shows that discuss disasters with links to information about how people can prepare–or where they could turn for help if that type of event happened in their community? If you are uncomfortable promoting a show that you did not create and have no quality control over, then simply add qualifiers, or correct misinformation, if necessary.

  • Research by Pew finds that Twitter news consumers are younger, access content via mobile devices and are more educated than the general population: 45%, of Twitter news consumers are 18-29 years old, compared to 34% for Facebook.  What this stat excludes, however, is the role the news media plays in relaying Twitter content  from both citizens on the scene and response organizations. Therefore, I’d argue that everyone receives their news via Twitter.  The recent New York train derailment is a case in point. See this interaction:

The Boston Police Department understood, in the aftermath of the Marathon Bombing, that posting relevant, timely content to social media was the equivalent of an old-fashioned press release–but much more immediate. Television news organizations literally read BPD tweets to their audiences seconds after they were posted. Implication: Processes need to be in place to post content as quickly as it can be vetted.

  • YouTube reaches more adults 18-34 than any cable network and increasingly, these consumers are watching that content on mobile devices. Youtube boasts more than one billion views a day. Implication: Get out your camera.  (See Patrice’s post today on this topic, see also my post here about Missouri’s YouTube channel.) If you don’t have the resources to create your own videos, then repurpose content created by others. My absolute favorite preparedness/safety video from this year was created by State Farm Insurance with the actors from Duck Dynasty.

Screenshot 2013-12-04 09.48.33

  • According to Nielsen, Pinterest had a 1047% year over year change rate in the number of users, and  80% of those users are women. What are they pinning?  Content relates mostly to food/ recipes and clothing.  However, public agencies have made some in-roads. The CDC, which has always been a leader in social networking, has over 2000 followers on their page. Implication: If you decide to use this site, know your audience–after all, women are probably the ones getting the preparedness kit together!
  • And lastly, Google + had a banner year and according to SearchMetrics social sharing on G+ will surpass Facebook by 2016.  Screenshot 2013-12-04 10.11.41The power of Google itself seems to be at play here. For instance, I’ve noticed when searching news events, Google will display relevant content from G+ in an interactive sidebar. Early adopters to the platform, such as the American Red Cross, are doing well. The ARC has 274, 751 people following their page. Implication: Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket!

It will be interesting to see who the big winners are next year, but social networking as a whole has proven, once again, that it is not just a passing fad. Is there an interesting stat I missed? Let me know!

Is Your Social Media Presence Accessible?

Post by: Kim Stephens


Open (Photo credit: tribalicious)

Accessibility of emergency information should be a top-tier concern for organizations, but, I know trying to understand what is required can be a little overwhelming.  There are, however, some simple things you can do ensure everyone in your community has access to the vital emergency preparedness and protective action information you are providing via social networks. For help, HowTo.gov’s site Improving Access to Social Media in Government is a fantastic resource that lists and describes very implementable actions you can take right now. For instance, they suggest that prefixes should be added before tweets that have photos, videos, or audio. “This allows people using screen readers to know what to expect before it’s read out loud. The uppercase formats are for further clarity to sighted users.”

  • Photos: [PIC]
  • Videos: [VIDEO]
  • Audio: [AUDIO]

This site also has links to more in-depth educational tools, including video tutorials. If you have 20 minutes I highly recommend watching the recorded webinar, embedded below. The description states:

Join us for a 20-minute sprint where you’ll learn specific tips for making your agency’s social media content more accessible. We’ll go through tools and tactics you can use to help make sure your social media engagements are readable for all your communities.

What You’ll Learn:

 Participants will learn tips to make your content more accessible on:

  • Google+
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Video, Audio, Images

About the Presenter  

Scott Horvath, Web and Social Media Chief, U.S. Geological Survey, is an active member of the Federal Social Media Community of Practice who curated a list of key takeaways from the recent #SocialGov Summit on accessibility.

Tell me, have you incorporated any of these features into your social networking posts?

Fighting Influenza with Data

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Boston Mayor has declared a public health emergency due to the deadly flu outbreak that has killed 18 people to date.  Public Health organizations are pulling out the stops to communicate protective action information to the public and social media is just one of the tools in the toolbox. The public, however, is also using social media to talk about the flu. They state such things as whether or not they are sick; whether or not they had a shot; and “Google” what they should do after they become ill, just to name a few of the topics of conversation. People can even download a new Facebook app titled “Help, My Friend Gave me the Flu” to figure out who they need to blame for feeling miserable. (As an aside the app is actually quite cool. After you give it permission to access your newsfeed it looks for key words from friends that have posted content related to feeling sick. From a public health standpoint, if people know some of their friends are ill they might be spurred to get a flu shot, or at a minimum keep their distance. I’m happy to report all of my friends are healthy!)

All of this web and social data, in turn, is being “mined” by public health organizations and researchers in order to determine both the geographic spread of the virus, as well as the rate of infection. Some organizations are also asking the public to self-report how they are feeling. Below I outline five tools that are interesting aggregators of social flu data.

flunearyou1. FluNearYou is a tool that allows the public to participate in tracking the spread of flu by filling out a survey each week. The survey is quite simple and asks the respondent if they have had any symptoms during the past week and whether or not they have had the flu shot either this year or last year. Respondents can include family members and the questions are asked about each person individually. This user contributed data is then aggregated and displayed on a map with pins that are either green for no symptoms, yellow for some  and red for “at least one person with Influenza-like” symptoms. The pins are clickable and display the number of users in that zipcode that have reported their condition, but no personal information whatsoever. The number of participants in the state is displayed (1294 in Massachusetts) as well as locations and addresses where people can get vaccinated. Links to local public health agencies are also provided. People can also sign up to receive location-based disease alerts via email. Social sharing of the site and its content is encouraged by the addition of prominently placed social media buttons.

This site is administered by Healthmap of Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

2. Google Flu Trends is another site that provides geographically based information about the spread of the influenza virus. Their data is aggregated from the search terms people are using versus self-reporting. In fact, the graph of the tracked searches (see below) related to the flu compared to the actual reported cases of the virus is so close that they almost overlap.


Google explains how this works:

Each week, millions of users around the world search for health information online. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season… You can explore all of these phenomena using Google Insights for Search. But can search query trends provide the basis for an accurate, reliable model of real-world phenomena?

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together. We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in different countries and regions around the world. Our results have been published in the journal Nature.

In fact, the current flu trend data for Massachusetts reflects the declared state of emergency. (See also this article: Widespread Flu has public logging online.)


3.  MappyHealth is another tool that tracks keywords related to health but instead of using data from searches in Google, this system utilizes the Twitter data stream. Their stated reason for the site: “It is hypothesized that social data could be a predictor to outbreaks of disease. We track disease terms and associated qualifiers to present these social trends.” Although this blog post is focused on influenza, the MappyHealth site tracks 27 different categories of illness. They explain how all of this is done on their FAQ page.

The graph below displays Tweets by the hour and day that are related to influenza. The last full day on the chart is January 9, which shows a significant spike in the number of Tweets on the topic.


What is everyone talking about? The user can actually see the individual Tweets by clicking on any point on the graph. The associated Tweets then populate a table beneath the graph (profanity and all). The table includes the time, tweeter, complete text of the tweet, location (if available) condition match and qualifier match. The last two terms need a little bit of explanation. If someone states “I don’t have the flu” the condition match will state “flu” but the qualifier will state “don’t.” Location data is not included in all Tweets, however, MappyHealth does provide a sorting mechanism by location for those that do, and this content is displayed on a map.

Another feature on the site includes a link to a “Realtime Twitter Search.” This link takes the user to an advanced search MappyHealth has already created that includes many different keywords Tweeters  might use when talking about influenza, including: flu, influenza, h1n1, h5n1, H3N2, adenovirus, etc. This search is available for every illness category. This feature alone is worthy of a bookmark.

cdcapp4. Not to be outdone, the Center for Disease Control has released a Influenza smartphone application. The intended audience is clinicians and other health care professionals, with a stated purpose of making it easier to find CDC’s latest recommendations and influenza activity updates. Some of the reviews, however, point to a few problems, such as dated information on flu activity.

5. HealthMap.org was involved in the design and development of “FluNearYou” and therefore has a similar look and feel to it. However, the site does have a very different process for gathering data. HealthMap states that they

“…bring together disparate data sources, including online news aggregators, eyewitness reports, expert-curated discussions and validated official reports, to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health. Through an automated process, updating 24/7/365, the system monitors, organizes, integrates, filters, visualizes and disseminates online information about emerging diseases in nine languages, facilitating early detection of global public health threats.”

HealthMap.org also has a mobile application that includes all of the features found on their website, but I actually find the app easier to use. Using the smartphone’s touch-screen-zooming capability makes it is easy to hone in on specific locations and view all of the associated alerts. The alert content, however, is a bit heavy with information from traditional media.

+1#FluChat: News organizations are not only providing the public with information about the effects of the influenza virus this year, some are also providing a public health awareness function via their presence on social networks. On Thursday, January 10th, for example, a #FluChat was sponsored by @USATodayHealth.

Health based Twitter chats offer the public the opportunity to post questions that are addressed by healthcare professionals or researchers. The CDC, for instance, has conducted many chats on a wide variety of topics. Watching the questions that are posted in these chats offers local public health organizations an opportunity to “hear” the concerns of the public. Knowing this information can help with message formulation and coordination. Here are a few questions posted to the #fluchat:



Bonus: Reviewing the #fluchat stream I found “A Flu With a View” from Sickweather.com. This visualization of flu data comes from a process they use to filter Tweets, Facebook updates as well as self-reporting on their website. They state: “This amount of real-time data, combined with historical data from the CDC and Google Flu Trends, is what gave us a crystal-ball-like view of the flu this year. In fact, our data of flu season to date shows that we are still near the peak of flu season, but possibly (hopefully) starting to level off.”

See this visualization:

None of these tools will help people feel better once they are already stricken with the virus, but they might alert the public to how prevalent the virus is in their community and possibly persuade folks to take preventive measures. Tell me what you think. How could your agency put this information to use?

This post was also placed on the WMASMEM.wordpress.com blog.

Recovers.Org Reflects on their Hurricane Sandy Effort

Caitria O’Neill of Recovers.org passed this information along to me detailing their efforts during Hurricane Sandy. Recovers.org defines themselves as an organization that “…helps towns organize disaster recovery with mobile and web-based technology.”  The statistics presented below are as of November 10, 2012.  I like her conclusions so much I’m going to put them first:

This experience, more than any other in our history, has convinced me of the need for this type of platform. We need coordination between government, nonprofit and grassroots efforts. We need fewer forms, smarter tools, and cleaner data. We need simple, accessible information BEFORE a disaster, letting ordinary people know how to get involved in a safe, efficient manner.

Guest Post by: Caitria O’Neill

Here’s a check in from the team at Recovers.org. We had a whirlwind week after Hurricane Sandy, launching software for four neighborhoods in the city. This is an update from the software on the front line. 

Three successes:

1.) We bridged the interest/aid gap: In the first week, we were able to database over 23,000 skilled volunteers and item donors. These resources are now meeting needs. 

Reported needs are steadily increasing as more and more residents return home and assess the damage. While these volunteers could not all be used in the immediate aftermath, they are needed more than ever now.1.) We bridged the gap: In the first week, we were able to database over 23,000 skilled volunteers and item donors.

Google Search “Volunteer Sandy”
Recovers.org site traffic

Local organizations in impacted areas did not have the capacity to do this in the first week. Thanks to our site. We’ve taken the peak of interest in the disaster, and given it to them for long-term recovery. These organizers have already met over 100 needs reported through the site, with more coming in daily. Many more needs were met through posting public calls for volunteers on the front page of the site.

Compare the graphs for the Google search “Volunteer Hurricane Sandy” and a graph of our site traffic in the same time. Local churches and nonprofits operating in the deadzone could not translate this interest into aid in real time. We did – and effectively translated these web searches by motivated volunteers into a database record of skills and items that local churches and nonprofits can continue to leverage far into the future.

2.) The community owned their own recovery: While our tool kit contributed greatly to the initial capacity, this effort was completely owned and operated by local organizers on the ground. This wasn’t Recovers.org riding in on a white horse, this was application of a tool kit, by neighborhoods that needed it.

In NYC, we launched sites for the Lower East Side,  Red Hook, Astoria and Staten Island in partnership with the burgeoning Occupy Sandy movement. Our understanding was that each of these sites belonged to the communities they were named for, would remain there long-term, but that the people providing aid quickly should have the means to do so. Occupy Sandy was able to jumpstart recovery across the city – moving masses of people and goods from where they showed up to where they were needed most.

Now, we are seeing more and more community leaders and local organizations begin to take ownership of these tools. Pet shelters seeking pet-specific skills in volunteers. Local nonprofits looking for translators. Organizations with remote volunteers who want to help by matching needs and aid as administrators. Know any? Have them email support@recovers.org.

3.) We’ve learned: I’m not sure we were ready for Hurricane Sandy – but we now know we can handle a landscape scale disaster in the largest city in the US. We’ve also learned exactly how hard this is.

It is imperative that these systems be implemented BEFORE a disaster. Trying to reach and train administrators in a dead-zone, to teach them how to use an unfamiliar system during a disaster is unworkable. Here, it only worked through blood, sweat, tears, and dedicated volunteers. We were unable to provide additional sites for areas like Coney Island, the Rockaways, and Lindenhurst NY that also sustained damage.

We also learned a great deal about the way our tools are seen and used in the absence of training. We’ve built a long list of changes to implement, and have been responding to feedback in real time to make the site easier to use. Keep it coming.

Next Steps: 

This experience, more than any other in our history, has convinced me of the need for this type of platform. We need coordination between government, nonprofit and grassroots efforts. We need fewer forms, smarter tools, and cleaner data. We need simple, accessible information BEFORE a disaster, letting ordinary people know how to get involved in a safe, efficient manner.

Update: This organization was featured on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/16/recoversorg-founders-buil_n_2143642.html

Crisis data, it’s not just for response organizations.

Post By: Kim Stephens

Recently, Jeannette Sutton wrote a brief article about what they are finding in New Zealand regarding the use of social media and data in general in the ChristChurch earthquake disaster. Her title: “Competing information, complementary information, coordinating information” sums up some of the problems citizens have with regard to understanding where to find accurate and trustworthy info on social media and other online platforms.  “Without a central, authoritative site members of the public must make serious evaluations about which information will lead to their decision-making and actions.” She noticed, however, that quite a bit of this online info, including social media, isn’t a restatement of official info, or even a contradiction as some might assume, but rather serves as a complement. She states:

For instance, volunteer technical communities that mobilize resources early on aggregate and map information from the crowd. This is a complementary activity to those serving in official capacities that are responsible for critical infrastructure and emergency response. There are other examples that also show this complementary nature of efforts that may or may not duplicate data sources, but serve specific populations and needs at varying points of the response.

The nature of this complementary data was discussed a bit in a conversation this weekend about the upcoming National Level Exercise ’11 with Heather Blanchard of CrisisCommons. We talked about the importance of everyone–citizens, government response organizations and NGOs, having access to data that she calls community indicator dataCommunity Indicator Data could be defined as any data regarding the location and state of the infrastructure that serve the affected community. This could include: shelters, grocery store availability, communications (i.e. state of cell phone towers and telecoms) hospitals, banking/ATMs, water, fuel, power, etc. Some of this data can be highly localized and can fluctuate often during the recovery. But as Ms. Sutton also points out in her article, for citizens, it is important to be able to access this information in a meaningful format.

The “ownership” of this data varies widely. Some of the information is from the private sector (e.g. grocery stores, fuel, power); some is from non-governmental organizations (e.g. shelters and feeding centers); and some is citizen or user-generated (e.g.”I’m willing to open my well of clean water for those who live nearby). User-generated data can be curated by volunteers from social media feeds such as twitter, news feeds, and/or blogs, etc or can even be sent directly to those curators via text message or email. The crisismapping community understands that citizens need access to all of this information–not just response organizations.  Their contribution is to analyze, sort, validate and format this data into visualization platform–the picture above is of a Ushahidi map from Christchurch, NZ of available fresh water after the quake.

Google has also taken up the role of sorting, filtering, and visualizing crisis data as is evident in their expanding and ongoing role in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake . Their public policy blog details the resources they have made available to all involved: impacted citizens, concerned family members, news media, first responders, and volunteer organizations. The person-finder application has now been deployed for many disasters, and it was up and running with two hours of the earthquake. It seems they have learned from each deployment, and for this event, for example, they have made the service a little easier to use for people without smartphones.

Low-tech meets high-tech:

I’ve seen several news reporters standing in shelters next to a wall of paper with lists of names people missing. Google has reached out to shelter occupants and asked them to take pictures of those lists and email them to the company. The article explains: “Those photos are automatically uploaded to a public Picasa Web Album. We use scanning technology to help us manually add these names to Person Finder; but it’s a big job that can’t be done automatically by computers alone, so we welcome volunteers with Japanese language skills who want to help out.”

Google understands the need for citizens to have access to community indicator data which is why they are providing timely updates of  rolling blackouts.  They are importing data from Honda, to display a map of impassable roads. Other data available:

…a Google Earth mashup with new satellite imagery. We’re also constantly updating a master map (in Japanese and English) with other data such as epicenter locations and evacuation shelters. And with information from the newspaper Mainichi, we’ve published a partial list of shelters.

Satellite images
We’re also working with our satellite partners GeoEye and DigitalGlobe to provide frequent updates to our imagery of the hardest-hit areas to first responders as well as the general public. You can view this imagery in this Google Earth KML, browse it online through Google Maps or look through our Picasa album of before-and-after images of such places asMinamisanriku and Kesennuma.

Since Japan has a very robust emergency response system, and their citizens are very resourceful, it is interesting to see what role this non-traditional response organization– Google– is playing during the crisis. But in general, I think this year has taught us the importance of having publicly available data. Although Dr. Sutton was talking about New Zealand, I think some of her findings apply to the Japan situation as well. She states: “…this complementary nature of efforts may or may not duplicate data sources, but serve specific populations and needs at varying points of the response.”

Monitoring Social Media during a crisis: What tools are available?

Social Media Monitoring Wordle

Image by Eric Schwartzman via Flickr

Post by: Kim Stephens

Monitoring social media has become a big business. In the corporate world, companies have come to realize that in order to protect their brand they need to monitor what people are saying about them in real time. The emergency management community is beginning to understand the importance of monitoring social media as well. Over a year ago Jeannette Sutton wrote a prophetic piece in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management entitled: Social Media Monitoring and the Democratic National Convention.” In the piece she outlined 3 key reasons why monitoring social media is important for emergency managers:

1. Monitor Communication Effectiveness: “If all disasters are local, local perceptions about the effectiveness of a response, the ability of an organization to meet needs, and the emergence of new problems will become the major thrust of news coverage. New strategies will need to be developed to monitor breaking news that is driven by local citizens using a variety of communication systems. Attention must be given to social media communications at all phases of disaster to assess the effectiveness of risk communication, public protective action taking, and ongoing community recovery.”

2.In future disaster events those who sit in the media monitoring seat will become a key source of information for both public relations and operations in disaster.

3. By monitoring social media, emergency response organizations should be able to respond more quickly to misinformation. Current processes are “slow and cumbersome.

Monitoring tools are available for purchase through numerous vendors: Radian6, Sysomos, PIER, Jive, Telligent, Awareness, LiveWorld and many others; but for local communities with limited budgets there are alternatives that are completely free. Most of the free tools do not provide analytics, but they do provide the user with an opportunity to see numerous newsfeeds, twitter searches and blog posts all on one page called a dashboard. Four dashboards that might be of use:

1. Netvibes: Describes themselves as “Dashboard everything”. This is a customizable homepage that you can tailor by subject. It works by adding your choice of widgets to your page; for example,  a newsfeed from a national news service, your twitter account, your facebook account, your email account, RSS Feeds from your local newspaper if they are online (just add the URL). Search engines are also available through the page so you don’t have to leave the site in order to search for additional content. They boast a choice of 180,000 widgets. The system does not have an “alerts” feature such as Google alerts, but by live-streaming content by topic, you might not miss the feature. You can also update your social media accounts directly from the page.

2. Addictomatic: This service allows you to type in a key word, I tried Haiti, and see all of the results from the various live sites on the web. Information is available from news organizations, blog posts, video services such as YouTube and Vimeo, etc., as well as images from Flickr and other pictures sharing sites. Addictomatic doesn’t have near as many widgets to choose from as Netvibes and isn’t really as customizable–I couldn’t find a way to add my own twitter feed, facebook account or even RSS feeds. However, it can give you a quick look at a specific topic from many sources. Not being able to add password protected sites might also be a plus from some organizations worried about security.

3. iGoogle–Of course google is going to be part of this game. This dashboard is similar to Netvibes, but has just a few less features. They call “widgets” gadgets for some reason. Their description: “iGoogle lets you create a personalized homepage that contains a Google search box at the top, and your choice of any number of gadgets below. Gadgets come in lots of different forms and provide access to activities and information from all across the web, without ever having to leave your iGoogle page. Here are some things you can do with gadgets:

  • View your latest Gmail messages
  • Read headlines from Google News and other top news sources
  • Check out weather forecasts, stock quotes, and movie showtimes
  • Store bookmarks for quick access to your favorite sites from any computer
  • Design your own gadget.”

Some have complained that it is labor intensive to set up.  I just found iGoogle more limiting that Netvibes and less visually pleasing.

4. HootSuite: Called a social networking “client”, HootSuite allows users to manage their major social networking sites and track statistics. Being able to update facebook and twitter on one page is a plus, and this is available “on the go” for smart phone users. As far as monitoring is concerned, you can track “mentions” and key words. The free version only allows for 5 social networks and 2 RSS feeds, but for $6.00/month users can upgrade to unlimited networks and unlimited RSS and stats. Some people swear by the service, but I’m not a fan of the user interface.

None of these sites are the complete answer, but since they are free its worth a try to see if any of them work your organization. There are others I didn’t mention, see some of the stories below for more info.

See also “How to Build Your Own Social Media Monitoring On a Shoestring.”