Carrie Bean is a Consultant at SRA International Strategy and Performance Group currently providing communications and outreach support for the First Responders' Group of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. She has extensive experience in developing and executing strategic internal and external communication initiatives. Her contribution to AWARE focus on social media and disaster preparedness and response.
She is a graduate of James Madison University and is currently pursuing a certificate in Digital Media Marketing through New York University.
Since 2004, September has been observed as National Preparedness Month. This was sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and aims to encourage American citizens to be proactive in preparations for emergencies in every environment that touches their lives including homes, businesses, schools, and local communities. By doing so, Americans will be better equipped in the face of small or large disaster in their localities such as house fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes.
I have heard numerous times that paying attention to social media best practices from industries completely different than the one you operate in can be remarkably valuable. I’ve seen this at work in several blog/opinion pieces focused on lessons emergency managers (EMs) using social media can learn from some of the epic social media fails during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. What separates EMs from big broadcasters like NBC is that most EMs don’t have the same luxury as NBC in handling a public relations nightmare and adapting for the future. Can EMs avoid hitches in using social media by taking a hard look at where NBC went wrong, though? Absolutely!
First, let’s explore the historical implications of the relationship between the Olympic Games and social media. The last Summer Olympic in 2008 in Beijing during which time the use of social media was not as pervasive as it is today. As such, guidance on online behavior was not a high-priority topic and substantially fewer guidelines existed. Social media blogging and internet guidelines were introduced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this year. This serves as a testament to the exponential growth in social media use since 2008. Social media connected Olympics fans and athletes just as it connects government and citizens in the emergency management space. Wonderful connections, like these, though are not without complications.
Olympic observers were asked to limit use of social media channels to “urgent updates” only. This was a result of some technical difficulties during the initial events, where Olympic broadcasters grappled with GPS and other wireless technologies aimed to deliver information during an event (e.g., distance between bike riders). The issue did not stem from a typical technological failure, but rather from the public overusing social media channels like Twitter and text messaging. Olympics broadcasters were noticeably not prepared for these big social media changes. After all, how do you balance the seemingly infinite possibilities of social media updates which may offer information that is true or false, timely or irrelevant, close hold or meant for wide dissemination? Like many of us, I think the broadcasters are learning how their audiences use social media and how to connect back while being sensitive to the outcomes. It is quite the new age sociology lesson, isn’t it?
How does this translate in the emergency management environment? Picture this: A state is facing some type of disaster, such as an impending tropical storm like the recent Hurricane Isaac. EMs are coordinating response and recovery efforts as they typically would and citizens are heavily taking to social media channels like they did during the Olympic Games. What could be the outcome if the citizenry were asked to ease up on social media use – posting only urgent updates? What exactly does urgent update actually mean? In the midst of a disaster, that guidance is extremely vague, and as such, could you really expect compliance? The IOC developed guidelines for social media that were short-sighted and considerably restrictive given that social media offers a forum for uninhibited public voice to many people. Social media is here to stay, so a social media strategy and objectives that address how social media is integrated before, during, and after events/incidents is a must. Citizens will expand the reach of messages and will be empowered to work together and with government assuming a proper, well thought-out, and explicit strategy is in place. The big takeaways here are to develop a proactive strategy and keep up with emerging trends and platforms and how your audience is using them.
We have recognized a great deal of chatter and interest in the SMEM community around FEMA’s recently deployed Social Media in Emergency Management training course. So given this, we thought we’d take the course and provide some takeaways that might be helpful to those who are considering taking the training. If you have already taken the course, we would love to hear your thoughts as well. Continue reading »