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.


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Who and What is SMEMChat

If you work in the Emergency Management field and have an interest in social media, you may have run across SMEMChat (Social Media and Emergency Management Chat) on Twitter.  Every Friday, from 12:30 to 1:30pm EST, Twitter users who are interested in emergency management follow tweets that contain the hashtag #smemchat.  AWARE readers will be interested in the lively conversations relating to the intersection of emergency management and social media.  Chats are open to anyone to contribute to or to just watch.

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Today's incident at Virginia Tech – More to come

On December 8, 2011, in News, by with SRA International

The news coming out of Virginia Tech today is clearly shocking. At the time of this post, two people, including one police officer, have been killed on the campus. This comes four years after 32 people were killed by a gunman on campus.

More information is coming out by the hour about what happened today. However, what we do know in the few hours since the first reports of the shooting is that social media has been one of the primary platforms for sharing and obtaining real-time information on the emergency. Continue reading »

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When Seconds Count: The Challenge of Slow Social Media Alerts

On December 1, 2011, in Social Media, by with Altus Emergency Management

As readers will know, I have been a huge fan of social media when it is used as part of a plan in part of the toolbox (I most recently talked about it here). As a stand-alone tool, it has shown value and failure.

A 2009 study from Germany, titled A Measurement-driven Analysis of Information Propagation in the Flickr Social Networktraces messages as they “propagate” around the Internet. Continue reading »


Yesterday morning, I was alarmed to find out via my Facebook newsfeed that a gunman carrying an assault rifle had been reported at East Carolina University, causing a lockdown across the campus.  I was reminded of the horrific April 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre in which a gunman killed 32 people and injured many others. Many of my terrified Facebook friends were posting real-time updates from locked-down areas around campus including classrooms, office buildings, and the athletic department.  Continue reading »

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