Learning from Other Industries’ Social Media Blunders

On September 7, 2012, in Social Media, by with SRA International


Photo Credit: http://dvice.com/archives/2012/07/infographic-of-32.php

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.


Tagged with:

This post is Part 2 of 3 in a series of reports on the recent annual conference of the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) held November 13-16 in Clark County, Nevada. See also Part 1 on CAP and Part 3 on Federal presentations at IAEM.

The Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) is a service coming online in April 2012 that will broadcast emergency alerts to all cell phones in an affected area without the need for prior sign-up. The FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) booth had a significant focus on CMAS, noting that while the full deployment will be in April there will be an early rollout of CMAS in NYC and DC.
Continue reading »

Tagged with:

FLO TV? We Hardly Knew You…

On December 21, 2010, in CMAS & Mobile Alerts, General, IPAWS, by with SRA International

Yesterday’s announcement by AT&T to acquire spectrum from Qualcomm for $1.9 billion suggests yet another move towards the inevitable smartphone-ization of America.  The spectrum is in the posh 700 MHz band, noted both for good propagation across long distances as well as effective penetration into buildings.  It covers 300 million users across the country, including 70 million people in the tech hungry cities of New York, LA, Boston, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.  Once the deal is approved, AT&T will devote this spectrum to its 4G LTE network build, in an effort to keep up with the torrid growth of seemingly infinite data demand (We’re looking at you, iPhone addicts).

A few thoughts:

1) General is better than specific: Qualcomm was using this spectrum for its FLO TV offering.  Although we love the idea of watching the latest episode of The Jersey Shore or The Young and the Restless on a mobile device, does this offering really require a separate wireless data infrastructure?  Was Qualcomm really planning to spend $800 million dollars building out a nationwide network to stream The Deadliest Catch to guys watching 3 inch televisions in waiting rooms?  (Answer: YES.)  Can’t we just watch TV with a smartphone app using the Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile cellular networks?  (Answer: YES.)  AT&T’s 4G network on this spectrum will allow for not only the mobile consumption of internet TV, but also video chatting, internet radio, email, social networking, office applications, and whatever else the dotcom gnomes are dreaming up.  Even with FLO TV’s death, will we still be able to get CSI: Miami in the palm of our hands?  (Answer: YES.)

2) Growing data demand requires growing data supply requires growing $$$: Qualcomm paid $683 million in FCC auctions between 2003 and 2008 for this spectrum, which had previously been allocated for use by analog TV broadcast channel 55.  They just sold it yesterday for $1.9 billion.  We’ll let the Qualcomm shareholders worry about their ROI and if FLO TV was a good idea or not, but this suggests that the spectrum is much more valuable in 2010 than it was in 2008.  With technology analysts like Mary Meeker predicting that mobile internet users will overtake desktop internet users in the next five years, there is no wonder that this valuable 700 MHz block appreciated like crazy in the last few years.  Forget gold, the savvy bulls are chasing spectrum to cash in on the mobile revolution.  When it comes to social value, 4G mobile data is worth much more than dedicated mobile TV, which was worth much more than TV broadcast channel 55.

Given where the chess pieces are moving in telephony, and how fast they are moving there, where does CMAS fit?  Will Cell Broadcast based text alerts make any sense at all in 2012?  Are we building a carrier-pigeon infrastructure in a telegraph world?  The industry is making big bets that you’ll have a high-bandwidth, multimedia-enabled smartphone by your side all day.  What a great platform to deliver a time-critical, content-rich emergency alert.  Hopefully, we won’t be so engrossed watching Dancing With the Stars on our BlackBerries to get the message.

Tagged with:

New Technology Helping Disaster Victims

On September 8, 2010, in Featured Posts, General, News, by with SRA International

This one falls under the Response to Emergencies aspect of AWARE. Many of us are aware of the role EDXL-HAVE played in the Haiti disaster. The article below has more insights into how modern technology is helping disaster victims through texting, interactive maps and remote language translation services.

Recent disaster relief efforts involve not only the traditional, on-site help of responders and volunteers, but also remote groups of tech-savvy people.

In an article on the BBC website, Jamillah Knowles says Crisis Commons is one such organization that used new technologies, such as texting and interactive mapping, to help with this year’s Haiti earthquake relief effort. “For instance, it has helped beef up the search capacity of the Open Street Map project,” says the article.

Open Street Map is a project that aims to become a world map that anyone and everyone can contribute to. Following January’s earthquake in Haiti, an Open Street Map of capital city Port Au Prince “was so comprehensive that urban search and rescue teams on the ground started to download it as it suited their needs so well,” Knowles writes. The map allowed volunteers to identify hospitals, roads, or damaged buildings, the kind of information that first responders on the ground find invaluable.

Crisis Commons also helped out by finding a whole global network of Creole-speaking people to help communicate with Haitians during the crisis. And their “Mission 4636” project allowed people to submit requests for emergency aid and report their location simply by sending a text message to 4636.

The recent floods in Pakistan have generated requests for people to translate for Pakistan, via Crisis Commons and Open Street Map. Meanwhile, short-term projects known as Crisis Camps have allowed Crisis Commons to help provide developers for the Sahana disaster management system, Drupal development for the Disaster Accountability Project, and has helped locate information and translate messages, says the article.

To read the BBC article click here:


Non-profit social media expert Beth Kanter posted an interesting analysis of social media’s role in emergencies on her blog yesterday.

Indeed, the geo-platform Ushahidi, which allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile devices, assisted many survivors, aid workers, and organizations during the Haiti crisis (most would say it played a critical role). AWARE Forum did a spotlight on the crowdsourcing phenomenon back in June.

However, the question is whether or not social media is becoming a viable outlet for all sorts of other disasters, crises, or emergencies? Can the Ushahidi effect extend to our daily lives?

According to a new American Red Cross survey, 49 percent of web users would either “probably” or “definitely” use social media to “let loved ones know they are safe.” Also, 69 percent of web users expected emergency responders to be “monitoring social media sites” to send help; in fact, 74 percent expected help within an hour of their tweet or Facebook post.

This is a brand new phenomenon, and it’ll be interesting to see how emergency responders adapt within the next couple of years (especially in conjunction with traditional 9-1-1 calls). The rise of social media has given the general public a viable and extremely fast way of broadcasting their status—good or bad—to their family and friends, but there are few cases where such status updates have been used for such utilitarian purposes.

Twitter was originally started as a quick SMS service within small groups, to the great benefit of fire departments: now are they ready to listen outward?

For the original article on Beth’s blog, go here.

Let us know in the comments what you think: is social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) a viable option for emergencies updates and responses in your daily life?

Tagged with: