Tag Archives: Social Networking

What’s in Your Tweet?

Post by: Kim Stephens

The thumbnail for The Station. Used as their d...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Social Media and Emergency Management chat devolved a little bit today into a debate about what to include in a tweet, specifically hyperlinks, and whether or not it was good practice to cross post between Facebook and Twitter.  The conversation reminded me of a blog post from last year entitled: All in a tweet. The author [no name is given] notes his observations about official twitter accounts during the January 2011 record flooding event  in Australia, as well as people’s reactions and interactions with those accounts. I wrote about this last year,  but wanted to revisit this story since it provides some great lessons on how to design tweets in order to ensure your customers and/or citizens are not only happy, but actually able to understand the information you are trying to convey.

The author describes one particular “channel” on twitter, the TransLink SEQ–the twitter feed for the rail and bus service, and states that they were “an example of how not to use [twitter].” His biggest complaint was how TransLink stated very generic information in their tweets and expected people to go their website for details. The content of this tweet is illustrative: “Services are running throughout this afternoon. Expect delays & some cancellations. Check the website for service status info.” However, as the author notes, this presented numerous problems, especially since most of the users were accessing the information on mobile devices, literally standing on train platforms:

  1. Going to a website on a smartphone doesn’t always work, especially if the user doesn’t have a great signal;
  2. Reading a website on a smartphone is not always easy, especially if the site is not optimized for mobile and;
  3. Since so many users were directed to the website, it eventually crashed.

Another aspect of the story is simply Translink’s non-responsiveness to users.

There was every indication that they were explicitly refusing to respond to direct messages or any sort of feedback.  “The height of their lunacy on Tuesday was when many, many people were asking if the rumour that public transport was halting at 2PM was true, and the *only* response in return was to keep repeating that they had a [web]page with service statuses on it. At no point did they respond to the simple question “are services halting at 2pm.” The only rebuttal of that rumour came from the QPS Media service [Queensland Police Service].

A direct consequence of their inability or lack of desire to tweet out the information was huge spikes in the number of calls to their call center.”Our call centre is receiving a high number of calls, causing delays in answering. Check website for info to help us manage the call volume.”

Two interesting points from the author:

  • relevant information-rich messages are spread further and live longer than information-poor messages;
  • the service is inherently a two-way information flow, and questions and criticisms that flow back are indicators of errors or inadequacies in the outgoing flow.

In sum, organizations that are using social networks during a crisis really need to consider in their content strategy not only what the message is, but what kinds of devices people are using to access that content. Let me know if that is a consideration you have taken into account.


Social Media Lessons from Hurricane Irene

Post by: Kim Stephens

As Hurricane Irene made her way up the coast I prepared my own family for the potential impact and anxiously monitored social media traffic with an eye towards how it was being utilized by citizens,  government agencies and volunteer organizations. Unfortunately, we lost power on Saturday night (see above pic) and did not get service back until late Tuesday. This, however, did provide me the opportunity to view social media content using the one communication devise I had left: my smartphone.

Patrice Cloutier will be leading a team which will conduct a more comprehensive after action review, and I’m hoping to contribute to that effort; but for now, these are a few personal observations. I apologize in advance to my local and state EMA for what might be perceived as being hyper-critical of their efforts. I do appreciate that we are all learning how to operate in this very new medium.

1. Be leerily of hot button issues when retweeting. A disaster, like a surgeon’s knife, can rip holes in a community, figuratively and literally exposing existing problems under the surface. Social media reveals these issues to the world.  I discovered this when I retweeted a plea to help to take in animals from a shelter in North Carolina.  The alarming tweet stated: “All of the animals will be ‘euthanized immediately’. The pics of the puppies made me do it. 

After digging into the issue a little deeper, however, I found that the local government was also using social media to counter this claim with a “Rumor Control” message on their own Facebook page. They stated “This is NOT true. Our shelter is located very close to the Tar River, and a significant storm may cuase some flooding….therefore we may need to transport the animals…to other local shelters.”  The comments, however, tell the real story. The facility does euthanize animals after they have been deemed un-adoptable, and people with a concern for animal rights used the event to highlight this issue.  For my part, I simply tweeted the local government’s position and left it at that.

2. Understand how people access information. Once citizens loose power they more than likely have slow or no access to the internet. The cell towers in my community had no issues during the storm, but I live in an area that gets poor reception without an electric-powered repeater in my home. Although I only had 1 measly bar on my smartphone, I was still able to see a slow creeping tweeter feed. I found it frustrating, however, when government agencies sent out content that required me to visit a website. This tweet is a case-in-point. “County to distribute MRE’s tomorrow to families without power.” Which county? What’s the address of the point of distribution? Who’s eligible? All of these items could have been included in a tweet or two, but requiring the user to go to a website (normally a good practice) ensured that people in most need of the information were the most likely not to see it.

3. Keep track of comments and remove those that violate your decency policy. People can be ugly–that’s a fact, but don’t let them mar your social media presence–delete inappropriate content and do so quickly!

 To my readers, I apologize for leaving the foul language exposed in the picture, but I think it makes my point.

4. Repeat valid, important content from other organizations. From my perspective it seemed that local and state government EMAs did a pretty good job distributing information regarding their own activities (e.g. road closure, pics of people working hard in the EOC) but failed to retweet or even repeat information from other entities. For example, my local EMA never once tweeted that schools had cancelled classes.

Furthermore, EMAs should find out what organizations in their community are also using social media, before a crisis, and create a “community twitter list”. This list would not only help them keep track of those organization’s efforts, but would be a great resource for community members as well.  EMAs should also use their own twitter or facebook feeds to amplify volunteer efforts and government information, e.g. ‘Follow @ourlocalredcross’ for information on their activities during the storm”–a virtual JIC, if you will. Also, as an aside, remind people how to fast- follow you so that they receive your content as a text message.

The State EMA did a better job, but again, directed people to State and local websites, not twitter accounts. Do both.

5. Reverse 911 does not work for a large segment of the community when the power is out. Power outages left communities, not only without lights, but without phone service as well, especially for those of us using cable- based phone service. Our community relies very heavily on reverse 911 for both school and emergency information. This service, however, was only able to reach people with traditional land-lines. News spread quickly, nonetheless– via texting. Our teens knew school was cancelled by receiving texts from friends almost as soon as it was announced. But relying on important information to be distributed via word-of-mouth is really not a good contingency plan.

I look forward to really analyzing more information about social media’s use during this event–which continues to unfold in Vermont even as we write our after actions. Even though it wasn’t as big of a disaster as expected (for some), it can serve as a great learning opportunity:  MSELs compliments of mother-nature.

Goodnight Irene.

Using Corporate Social Media Lessons for Emergency Management “Marketing”

Post by: Kim Stephens

What lessons can we borrow from corporate use of social media? Following information about social media often gets you 10 articles about corporate use to every 1 about the public sector. I think there are some interesting lessons we can glean from the private sector, but there are unique aspects in the use of social media in emergency management.

Using social media in the preparedness phase seems very similar to how the corporate world participates in social technologies –to sell a product and develop brand identity (see Diet Coke’s facebook page with 773,805 fans). By contrast, we have to work very very hard to “sell” preparedness information. However, during the response phase people line up around the virtual corner to “buy” our product because information becomes a precious commodity. Here are a few concepts, however, that I think we can borrow to help make us more successful.

1. Create a sense of community–be personal

In terms of gaining an audience, it’s the preparedness phase that’s the most difficult. So how can we improve our presence during this phase?  Corporations are beginning to understand that social media, at it’s best, creates a community.  A recent article by Chris Syme, “Twitter Rules, Are they Changing?” also describes social media as evolving into community building and how people’s expectations of content has changed. This quote is particularly salient: “Marketers who lack sophistication are still functioning like megaphones. This was okay when Twitter was in its infancy, much like the crying baby who needs to be changed, but now that sort of blatant broadcasting is offensive to most Twitter communities. Scheduling tweets that are identical day after day asking us to come in to your flooring store is not a good use of Twitter.”

The same could be said for the emergency management community: scheduling tweets that say: “change the batteries in your smoke detector” day after day, also stand the risk of being dismissed or ignored. What’s missing is any personal connection. A scheduled tweet that is the exact same message on the facebook page leaves no room for real dialog, and its difficult to be personal without ever having a conversation.

2. Create goals and objectives for your social media presence that include network building.

In an article by Amber Naslund   “9 Ways to Build a Twitter Community With Substance”, she says

“Remember: Twitter is just the medium. These same principles apply across many things, online and off. It all–always–comes down to your honest intent to build a network of people to talk to, to learn from, to share with. ALL of this depends on your desire to use Twitter that way, and not just to amass a collection of people that you can pimp your junk to.”

Maybe this is what makes the emergency management community uncomfortable–although we don’t really have “junk to pimp” we still have a preparedness message to sell. People who use social media are not just passive consumers of information. In order to really gain an audience we have to ask:

  • Are we really ready to talk to people not at them?
  • Are we ready to learn from citizens, not expect them to only learn from us?
  • Are we ready to share information open and honestly, including our mistakes?

3. Create a community that leverages the “wisdom of the crowd”.

People expect to learn from EACH OTHER on social media platforms. So, are we ready to allow for a free flow of information in our own managed online communities that allows people to exchange information?

The Arkansas Game and Fish Facebook page is a great example of this concept.  People ask questions and others answer. Q: Is the fishing good? A: been fishing really hard but ain’t really getting any bites… The “official” on the page also answers the question, but it’s the answers from the other citizens that make the question worth asking. (And I also got to use the words “ain’t and wisdom in the same paragraph!)

4. During the Response and Recovery Phases, adjust messaging accordingly; and expect new members to join your virtual community.

The response phase is probably the most dissimilar to corporate brand messaging on social media platforms. For example, broadcast-type messages are usually expected and even desired during a crisis, but, people also still expect to have the opportunity to offer their own point of view on these participatory platforms. Here is my comparison of recommendations for messaging during the preparedness phase versus the response phase. Some of these are based on the experiences and recommendations from the Australian Queensland Police social media manager:

Finally, creating a virtual community will benefit both the EM agency as well as the citizens.

Here’s a tweet from Jeff Philips, whom I follow loyally. “Engagement, for me, is the only viable social media and emergency management strategy.” He mentions “fascinating & wonderful people.” The online community he has created is real.

Corporations are concerned about loyalty because they want you to buy Diet Coke, not Diet Pepsi for the rest of your life. Loyalty in the public sector is almost as important. Creating advocates for your efforts during the preparedness phase is key to your success in the medium during the response and recovery phase. These people can be called upon and will:

  1. help spread your message
  2. provide information/situational awareness
  3. support the recovery and response by showing up when asked, either virtually or physically.

Selling a product and selling a “concept” obviously present different challenges. But if we can apply some of these corporate strategies, it just might help us reach our goal of creating more resilient communities.

Just something to think about.

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