Tag Archives: social media monitoring

Data, data everywhere…Monitoring Social Media During a Crisis

Post by: Kim Stephens

When it comes to social media, monitoring these networks is the biggest concern of emergency management organizations, and for good reason: the stream of user-generated content becomes a torrent the second a crisis happens. I’ve blogged about this numerous times, but I’d like to mention a couple of resources and articles that have recently been brought to my attention.

1. Social Media Monitoring Tools Wiki  This wiki has an extensive list of over 100 free and for fee monitoring tools and services. Each item is hyperlinked, and you can sort each column, even by category. Although there isn’t an opportunity for users to rate the services or provide feedback, it is one of the few places I’ve seen such an exhaustive list.  (As an aside, I’ve toyed with the idea of a user-rated website for all tools used by emergency managers. The consumer would be asked to rate their experience with the tool and discuss what they liked and didn’t like about it, similar to ratings for merchandise on Amazon.com or restaurants on Yelp.)

Of note,  most of the tools on the wiki are designed for business clients or individuals and are probably sufficient for performing sentiment analysis. However,  these same tools have distinct limitations when they are used for the purposes of gaining situational awareness after a disaster. This brings me to#2 on my list.

2.  Mark Cameron, et. al, in the paper Emergency Situation Awareness from Twitter for Crisis Management break down social media monitoring needs of emergency managers and first responders into 5 distinct areas.

The need to:

  • Detect unexpected or unusual incidents, possibly ahead of official communications;
  •  Condense and summarise messages about an incident maintaining awareness of aggregated content without having to read individual messages;
  • Classify and review high-value messages during an incident (e.g. messages describing infrastructure damage or cries for help); and understand the impact of an incident on people and infrastructure;
  • Identify, track, and manage issues within an incident as they arise, develop, and conclude; pro-actively identify and manage issues that may last for hours, days or weeks;
  • Perform forensic analysis of incidents by analysing social media content from before, during, and after an incident.

Their solution is the “Emergency Situation Awareness–Automated Web Text Mining” (ESA-AWTM) system. The paper and this power point describes the system’s functionality as well as the trial deployment with the Media and Crisis Communication team within the Strategic Communication Branch (SCB) of the Australian Government.  The ability to classify high value messages alone would be a significant improvement. Overall the system looks extremely promising, but unfortunately they do not indicate when it will be available for broader distribution.

3. Computer aided analytics is one solution, another is crowdsourcing. This paper, “Towards Real-time Emergency Response, Using Crowd Supported Analysis of Social Media”  was written by researchers at the University of Madeira in collaboration with the IBM T.J Watson Research Center. They propose an architecture for  how crowdsourcing can be incorporated as part of an emergency response system in order to “analyze and structure social media content posted by micro-bloggers and service users, including emergency response coordinators and victims.” The key to crowdsourcing, they state, is ensuring that the crowd is given appropriate tasks to accomplish, and ultimately, that their analysis is fed back into the response community’s knowledge base in a structured way. This diagram illustrates their concept:

This is just a short list, today, but there is a lot going on in this realm. If you know of other interesting studies please post them in the comments section and I’ll add them to the resource tab of the blog.


Anaheim CERT to Monitor Social Media During a Disaster

Post by: Kim Stephens

It has been documented that government agencies often experience a 500% increase in the number of followers and “fans” to their social media sites during a disaster. Monitoring those sites and responding to requests for information can become overwhelming: at a minimum it is most certainly labor intensive. Emergency management organizations, both government and non-governmental alike, are starting to understand how enormous this task could be and are looking for innovative solutions to solve the problem.  Anaheim, California has turned to their CERT members.

This tweet by Craig Fugate is over a year old, suggesting that the concept of CERT members playing a role in monitoring social networks or even in reporting observations through those platforms, is not necessarily a new idea. The concept is built on the notion that these folks are “trusted agents,” already trained in basic emergency skills, and  known quantities by the response organization. However, I have yet to really see many CERTs move in this direction, making the Anaheim CERT a really interesting test case.  I interviewed the CERT coordinator in order to determine what was necessary in order to accomplish this goal. (I appreciate their candidness!) Below are the results from that interview.


Roles and Responsibilities: CERT volunteers already serve in a community outreach capacity by supplementing staff in the “hotline room” by answer questions on the phone. The concept is to extend these responsibilities to social networks. The social media monitoring volunteers will be used primarily to keep track of comments and social data posted to the communities’ social platforms. They will also be allowed to retweet (repeat a message on twitter) anything that has already been put out by the Public Information Officer (PIO).  They currently have 3 laptops dedicated for volunteers, loaded with an enhanced excel capability called “Pivot Table”. Pivot table will allow the digital volunteers to record the event and do real-time data-mining, including listing frequently asked questions, etc.  CERT members will be required to monitor the social stream in the EOC hotline room.

Training: The CERT coordinator is planning to do training for social media monitoring and use of the “pivot table” tool (she is planning to share this training with regional partners). The training  will include: hot-line room standard operating procedures; reporting protocols; rules regarding what they can and cannot say; and, potentially, will require participation in a monthly twitter chat. Volunteers will also be taught “how” to monitor including which search terms to use etc., as well as which platforms to monitor. However, volunteers will be given some latitude to keep track of all the platforms they see fit.  The training currently does not include a module on how to verify information, however, that is a consideration for future efforts.

Linking to Operations: Specifically, regarding reporting protocols and procedures, pertinent information the monitoring team discovers will loop back into the EOC planning and operations section via the PIO. Any life threatening information will be sent directly to the dispatcher and non-life threatening info will get written down on paper or in an email and is sent to the PIO to review then decide which section it should go to. Currently, CERT “digital volunteers” do not have access to WebEOC, but they have discussed granting limited access so that they can input the information directly. (The CERT coordinator supplied the graphic below.) She states: “Depending upon the platform, some steps may require modification.  For example individual [citizens] may post to YouTube which may require a response post or a comment directing individuals to a website or blog with more information. “  She indicated that a determination would also be made whether or not the YouTube video provided helpful content that should be disseminated using other platforms.

What concerns people? The biggest concern of emergency management professionals in Anaheim regarding this new monitoring program is liability: “What if messages are not addressed and then the agency gets sued?”

Thank you @AnaheimCERT for the interview and great responses.

Are you looking to do anything similar with your CERT? Please let me know.

[1] Stephens, Kim, “SMEM chat: Monitoring Social Networks—How do we Listen?”  March, 2011, https://idisaster.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/smem-chat-monitoring-social-networks-how-do-we-listen/.

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.”