Social Media and #NEMO in Massachusetts

Post by: Kim Stephens

The blizzard of 2013 is still causing problems from New Jersey to Maine at the time of writing. Although recovery form the storm is far from over, I like to look at Massachusetts specifically and make some observations about the role social media and web-based communications played (and continues to play) during this event.

1. Public organizations as well as elected officials provided great service announcements to encourage people to help one another. My favorite was a Tweet from the Mayor of Boston asking people to be a snow angel, not just make one.

They even took it  a step further by asking “How are you being a Snow Angel today? Use#BOSnowAngel to share a photo of your good deed.”

2. Sometimes the message was simple: “I don’t know.”  This post on Facebook was from Mass 2-1-1 who defines themselves as “an easy to remember, toll-free telephone number that connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

mass211

One thing Mass 2-1-1 might have done is linked to the private utility company’s Facebook page, which brings me to #3.

3. Utility companies definitely bear the brunt of much of the public’s ire in the aftermath of disaster events, and this one is proving to be no exception.  This storm also provides an age-old lesson in how to handle some of that anger: no comment. One look at the Nstar’s page will give you an idea of some of the vitriol that can be spewed when the power is out, even for a day or two.  This simple statement on their page elicited over 200 responses, quite a lot of them angry.

We expect to have all customers restored by Thursday night and will have community by community restoration times available tomorrow. Our crews will continue to work around the clock until all affected customers are restored. Please stay away from downed power lines and assume all lines are live. Thanks for your patience as we repair the damage from this devastating blizzard

Although this post seems innocuous, people felt that the restoration rate was way too slow. One person started a fire storm by stating the following:

I just observed TWENTY SEVEN trucks parked at Dunkin donuts in Falmouth. I have an infant and no power for 48 hours with no end in sight. Some sort of estimate would be extremely appreciated. I am a healthcare worker that’s been working for 30 of the past 48 hours I’m cold, hungry and cranky. My patience is wearing very thin…”

I think they handled it well, however, by letting the public defend them versus jumping into the argument. Often it is a worker’s family member that is the most animated with statements along the lines of “Hey–they are working hard, I haven’t seen my husband in three days!” An example of someone coming to their defense is provided below. This somewhat inelegant statement both defends the company but also points out what everyone would like…more information.

nstar

4. If you build it, they will come…and maybe crash your site. The International Business Times reported before the storm that Boston was promoting their snowplow tracking website called SnowOps Viewer that would allow citizens to track snow removal by location by zooming in on the map as well as by inputting an address. This is possible because all city plows are equipped with GPS devices.  Other major cities including New York  (PlowNYC) and Washington DC have similar systems. The problem, however, was that so many people went to the site it crashed under the weight.

This is the message even today, Feb. 11: We are experiencing significant traffic and the site is currently unavailable. We are working to resolve these issues. Please check back later. Thank you for your patience. 

Every disaster seems to teach us that sending large amounts of people to your website is not a great idea, unless you have done significant load testing beforehand. I hope they sort out what went wrong soon!

5. Boston has operationalized Twitter. Twitter, unlike their snowplow website, remains up with no problem and Bostonians have been encouraged to send a Tweet to @NotifyBoston to report problems such as unshoveled sidewalks or disabled vehicles. One look at the exchanges taking place there shows that it is obvious the city is taking the citizen-reported information very seriously and wants to hear about problems (see an example below). The @NotifyBoston feed also includes information for citizens as well, including advisories, closures, and storm updates.  (I wonder if or how Mass 2-1-1 and @NotifyBoston are coordinating their efforts and sharing information? That will be a question for future posts.)

What are your observations, let me know.

Fighting Influenza: Web 2.0 Tools for Public Health Professionals and the Public

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Boston Mayor has declared a public health emergency due to the deadly flu outbreak that has killed 18 people to date.  Public Health organizations are pulling out the stops to communicate protective action information to the public and social media is just one of the tools in the toolbox. The public, however, is also using social media to talk about the flu. They state such things as whether or not they are sick; whether or not they had a shot; and “Google” what they should do after they become ill, just to name a few of the topics of conversation. People can even download a new Facebook app titled “Help, My Friend Gave me the Flu” to figure out who they need to blame for feeling miserable. (As an aside the app is actually quite cool. After you give it permission to access your newsfeed it looks for key words from friends that have posted content related to feeling sick. From a public health standpoint, if people know some of their friends are ill they might be spurred to get a flu shot, or at a minimum keep their distance. I’m happy to report all of my friends are healthy!)

All of this web and social data, in turn, is being “mined” by public health organizations and researchers in order to determine both the geographic spread of the virus, as well as the rate of infection. Some organizations are also asking the public to self-report how they are feeling. Below I outline five tools that are interesting aggregators of social flu data.

flunearyou1. FluNearYou is a tool that allows the public to participate in tracking the spread of flu by filling out a survey each week. The survey is quite simple and asks the respondent if they have had any symptoms during the past week and whether or not they have had the flu shot either this year or last year. Respondents can include family members and the questions are asked about each person individually. This user contributed data is then aggregated and displayed on a map with pins that are either green for no symptoms, yellow for some  and red for “at least one person with Influenza-like” symptoms. The pins are clickable and display the number of users in that zipcode that have reported their condition, but no personal information whatsoever. The number of participants in the state is displayed (1294 in Massachusetts) as well as locations and addresses where people can get vaccinated. Links to local public health agencies are also provided. People can also sign up to receive location-based disease alerts via email. Social sharing of the site and its content is encouraged by the addition of prominently social media buttons.

This site is administered by Healthmap of Boston Children’s Hospital in partnership with the American Public Health Association and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

2. Google Flu Trends is another site that provides geographically based information about the spread of the influenza virus. Their data is aggregated from the search terms people are using versus self-reporting. In fact, the graph of the tracked searches (see below) related to the flu compared to the actual reported cases of the virus is so close that they almost overlap.

google2

Google explains how this works:

Each week, millions of users around the world search for health information online. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season… You can explore all of these phenomena using Google Insights for Search. But can search query trends provide the basis for an accurate, reliable model of real-world phenomena?

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together. We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in different countries and regions around the world. Our results have been published in the journal Nature.

In fact, the current flu trend data for Massachusetts reflects the declared state of emergency.

google

3.  MappyHealth is another tool that tracks keywords related to health but instead of using data from searches in Google, this system utilizes the Twitter data stream. Their stated reason for the site: “It is hypothesized that social data could be a predictor to outbreaks of disease. We track disease terms and associated qualifiers to present these social trends.” Although this blog post is focused on influenza, the MappyHealth site tracks 27 different categories of illness. They explain how all of this is done on their FAQ page.

The graph below displays Tweets by the hour and day that are related to influenza. The last full day on the chart is January 9, which shows a significant spike in the number of tweets on the topic.

mappyhealth

What is everyone talking about? The user can actually see the individual Tweets by clicking on any point on the graph. The associated Tweets then populate a table beneath the graph (profanity and all). The table includes the time, tweeter, complete text of the tweet, location (if available) condition match and qualifier match. The last two terms need a little bit of explanation. If someone states “I don’t have the flu” the condition match will state “flu” but the qualifier will state “don’t.” Location data is not included in all Tweets, however, MappyHealth does provide a sorting mechanism by location and this content is displayed on a map.

Another feature on the site includes a link to a “Realtime Twitter Search.” This link takes the user to an advanced search MappyHealth has already created that includes many different keywords Tweeters  might use when talking about influenza, including: flu, influenza, h1n1, h5n1, H3N2, adenovirus, etc. This search is available for every illness category. This feature alone is worthy of a bookmark.

cdcapp4. Not to be outdone, the Center for Disease Control has released a Influenza smartphone application. The intended audience is clinicians and other health care professionals, with a stated purpose of making it easier to find CDC’s latest recommendations and influenza activity updates. Some of the reviews, however, point to a few problems, such as dated information on flu activity.

5. HealthMap.org was involved in the design and development of “FluNearYou” and therefore has a similar look and feel to it. However, the site does have a very different process for gathering data. HealthMap states that they
photo-8

“…bring together disparate data sources, including online news aggregators, eyewitness reports, expert-curated discussions and validated official reports, to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health. Through an automated process, updating 24/7/365, the system monitors, organizes, integrates, filters, visualizes and disseminates online information about emerging diseases in nine languages, facilitating early detection of global public health threats.”

HealthMap.org also has a mobile application that includes all of the features found on their website, but I actually find the app easier to use. Using the smartphone’s touch screen zooming capability it is easy to hone in on specific locations and view all of the associated alerts. The alert content, however, is a bit heavy with information from traditional media.

+1. #FluChat: News organizations are not only providing the public with information about the effects of the influenza virus this year, some are also providing a public health awareness function via their presence on social networks. On Thursday, January 10th, for example, a #FluChat was sponsored by @USATodayHealth.

Health based Twitter chats offer the public the opportunity to post questions that are addressed by healthcare professionals or researchers. The CDC, for instance, has conducted many chats on a wide variety of topics. Watching the questions that are posted in these chats offers local public health organizations an opportunity to “hear” the concerns of the public. Knowing this information can help with message formulation and coordination. Here are a few questions posted to the #fluchat:

https://twitter.com/SellOrElse/status/289423264302895104

https://twitter.com/sgt1917/status/289424324937527296

Bonus: Reviewing the #fluchat stream I found “A Flu With a View” from Sickweather.com. This visualization of flu data comes from a process they use to filter Tweets, Facebook updates and self-reporting on their website. They state: “This amount of real-time data, combined with historical data from the CDC and Google Flu Trends, is what gave us a crystal-ball-like view of the flu this year. In fact, our data of flu season to date shows that we are still near the peak of flu season, but possibly (hopefully) starting to level off.”

See this visualization:

None of these tools will help people feel better once they are already stricken with the virus, but they might alert the public to how prevalent the virus is in their community and possibly persuade folks to take preventive measures. Tell me what you think. How could your agency put this information to use?

Content Strategies: What do I Post?

Post by: Kim Stephens

MC900442000It is easy for emergency managers to learn   social media in terms of the purely technical aspects–these platforms are pretty straightforward to use. However, one of the complaints I often hear, is “Now what?” Never before has the EM community been expected to communicate with the public on an almost daily basis. Once an emergency manager has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page they  understand that they have to post something so that it doesn’t look like a ghost town, but what?

Deciding what to post is not usually a problem during an emergency or a disaster situation, but social communication during the preparedness phase can be  challenging (even after an organization has determined they will invest time and resources to the effort). There are several inter-related issues to consider:

  1. Coordination with response partners. 
  2. Managing Public Expectations.
  3. Being creative enough to get the public’s attention.

COORDINATION WITH RESPONSE PARTNERS

In bigger communities it is increasingly common for almost every department or agency to have their own social media account.  The Department of Transportation is likely to be posting information road closures, traffic problems, and real-time road conditions during storms:

Police Departments tend to post content about  a wide range of activities from car crashes, to arrests, to the weather, as well as safety tips.

Fire Departments often provide updates about where they are responding, fire prevention tips, and general safety information as well.

So, where does that leave the Office of Emergency Management?  If all of the “sexy” up-to-the minute content is being reported by other agencies, what’s left to be said? Even once your agency decides what “lane” you should be posting in, it’s still possible that other city or county agencies will infringe on your territory. I have heard statements from some annoyed EMs such as: Why did the Fire Department post emergency preparedness content? That’s my job!

Solution:  In order to prevent “social-media envy” coordination and collaboration are key. The results of coordination could manifest in a city or county-wide written content strategy or simply in a verbal agreement regarding expectations. However, it is important to keep in mind that in the social media world, repetition of a message is NOT a bad thing. Your Tweets and Facebook updates  are never seen by everyone that follows you (see Jim Garrow’s article “The Demise of Facebook” in which he points out how few people actually do see what you are posting in their feed). Therefore, amplifying each other’s messages should be an overarching goal.  Here are two great examples of how this is done and communicated to the public in Baltimore.

MANAGING PUBLIC EXPECTATIONS

I like the Tweet immediate above this paragraph because it also denotes  the type of content OEM will provide and when. I have heard concerns from emergency managers that once they start posting something, such as road closures or the weather, the public complains when they stop. One social media admin told me “The public now thinks I’m the weather man.”  However, continuing to post the same information daily can turn your feed into a very boring presence, ultimately reducing the amount of community engagement and interactions.

Solution: There are two ideas to consider:

  1. Pre-determine your thresholds for when your office will post emergency content (e.g. not every road closure, but only major incidents; not every fire warning, but only “red-flag” events; not every day it rains, but only severe weather ). You can publicize your intentions, however, by simply staying consist, the public will learn what to expect.
  2. Make it very well known, either via your website and/or Facebook page, the types of content your response partners are posting on social networks and where people can find that information. See the National Capital Region ”News Feeds” as an example of this.

BEING CREATIVE

Whether or not we want to admit it, the ”Be Ready” message gets very little traction when there isn’t an emergency.  Posting “Are you Prepared?” along with a few tips to your Facebook page does not mean your community is now more resilient.  In fact, they are probably ignoring this message altogether. Why? Frankly, it is boring.

What works? Storytelling. Stories  do many things: reshape knowledge into something meaningful; make people care, transcend one’s current environment; motivate; and give meaning, among other things.  In a blog post titled “The Importance of Storytelling in a Digital World”  the author discusses why TED Talks (the ultimate in digital storytelling) work. His logic applies to all digital communication:

I believe that storytelling is critical for public engagement on the web. Storytelling is a fundamentally human and social practice that allows individuals to connect through mutual cooperation and shared empathy. Storytelling inspires. Storytelling moves. It is a timeless practice that is the future for public engagement on the web.

A great example of storytelling in emergency management this year was from  ”Ready Houston” with the video: “Run. Hide. Fight,” embedded below. This 5 minute video holds viewers attention and has received over 1.8 million hits. The protective action measures the public should take during a shooting incident are demonstrated via the story of an attack in an office building. It was also successful because, unfortunately, it is all too relevant for the times we live in.

In contrast, the Ready Houston Facebook page has only 208 “likes” and features typical “Be Ready” content.

ready1

Solution: What are we trying to do here? We are trying to change behavior, which is not an easy task. Posting “Get Prepared–here’s your list” is probably not going to get anyone off the couch. A little more work might have to be involved. (For some reason I’m reminded of kid in the movie The Incredibles who’s asked “What are you waiting for?” and he says, “I don’t know. Something amazing, I guess.”) See the video clip below, just for grins.

What can you do? You don’t have to invest thousands in producing slick videos, but you can find a family in Home Depot shopping for winter supplies and take a pic. Ask them why they are getting prepared and post that. Or repeat news stories (even older ones) about someone that almost died in their car during a snowstorm because they didn’t have food or blankets in their car.

Storytelling can also be short and sweet. The Brimfield Police Department, whom I’ve written about previously, tells little stories that amuse, and get people to act and engage. Below are two posts from their Facebook page. The second one had almost 1500 “Likes” and many comments.

brimdogs

brimdogs2

Let me know, are you ready to provide good content for 2013? What’s your plan to be amazing?

Bonus Video #1:
See this video which demonstrates how boring “data” can be enthralling when given meaning and context.

Bonus Video #2:

This post was also posted to iDisaster.wordpress.com.

See also: Module 9 Content Strategy Development 

Simple Strategies and How-To’s for Monitoring Social Media

Post by: Kim Stephens

Monitoring social media seems like a daunting task. In fact, during large-scale emergency events millions of new posts, pictures and videos  are added to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. every day. How could a small local public health or emergency management agency sort through all of that! Because this seems so overwhelming it might be easy to decide that it is too difficult and therefore not worth doing at all. However,  your agency doesn’t have to read and catalog every update. In fact, what you monitor on social media depends first and foremost on what you want to accomplish. Once you determine that, monitoring doesn’t seem so intimidating after all.

In this post I will talk about setting realistic objectives for monitoring social media and point to some simple steps that can be employed.

Setting your objectives

Learning to monitor social networks does demand a change in mindset. No longer is your organization simply pushing information to the public, but now you are also actively listening. You might have several objectives in terms of why you want to monitor and  what you want to listen for:

  1.  To see if your organization’s message is getting across or if conflicting information (rumors) is being conveyed: Are people  confused about what to do (e.g. how long to boil water)?
  2. To determine public sentiment regarding your organization or, during a crisis, about the overall government’s response efforts: Are people angry about something that is happening?
  3. To determine the most commonly asked questions and concerns.
  4. To quickly answer direct questions, or questions directed at the community political leadership, on topics that involve your organization: Are people asking when debris will be picked up in their neighborhood?
  5. To determine what other organizations are saying, in order to both ensure messages are coordinated, and to amplify mission related content.
  6. To determine the extent of damage and impact of the event. (Advanced)

How To

Of course, part of the strategy for listening or monitoring social media has to include determining who will be responsible for doing these tasks. I recommend you also read the post on VOST (Virtual Operations Support Teams) for some ideas on how you can expand your efforts when it is required. Nonetheless, there are many things that can be done to make monitoring social media a bit easier, especially if some of it is completed before a crisis.

1. Create Lists and Like Pages(Objective: To determine what other organizations are saying, in order to both ensure messages are coordinated, and to amplify mission related content.) It is important to know and keep track of what other response organizations are saying on social networks, even if they are in a neighboring county. If you put out conflicting content, believe me, the public will notice. (This happens in quickly moving events–road closures are a prime example.) It should be noted that in addition to doing the work online, every government official responsible for posting to social networks  should participate in recurring meetings to talk about strategies and coordination when there is not a crisis. (How can we ensure all road closures are updated simultaneously?)

(Note: See the list of organizations on this WMASMEM blog for a good start  of who is in the social space. Look for the tab “Web-Based Communications by County.”)

On Twitter, set up a list of all “trusted sources” including government agencies, first responders, political leaders,  volunteer organizations and local news media–don’t forget to include federal agencies such as FEMA, EPA and HUD. You can make more than one list. It is important to update your lists when a disaster strikes because, as we all know, new volunteer groups tend to pop up. Twitter.com explains how to create a list in 4 simple steps:

To create a list:

  • Go to your Lists page. This can be done via the gear icon drop down menu in the top right navigation bar or by going to your profile page and clicking on Lists.
  • Click Create list.
  • Enter the name of your list, a short description of the list (if it is too long it won’t save), and select if you want the list to be private (only accessible to you) or public (anyone can subscribe to the list).
  • Click Save list.

To view Tweets from a list:

  • Go to your profile page.
  • Click on the Lists tab.
  • Click on the list you’d like to view.
  • You’ll see a timeline of Tweets from the users included in that list.

On Facebook, “Like” all of these same organizations; once you “Like” them, you can see what they are posting and also share that content from your “Home” tab.

2. Invest in a smart phone for the person monitoring social media (Objective: To quickly answer direct questions, or questions directed at the community political leadership, on topics that involve your organization.)

Smart phones are a great way to monitor your social media presence when you are away from your computer. Both Twitter and Facebook can provide notifications to the administrator every time your organization is mentioned, replied to, re-tweeted, etc.. You can also set up a way to receive notifications when other organizations post updates as well. Again, Twitter.com has a great help page on this topic, but I’ve listed the steps here as well.

  1. notificationsLog in to Twitter.com.
  2. Go to your Settings.
  3. Go to the Mobile tab.
  4. If your mobile device is connected to your Twitter account, you’ll see options to change your Mobile notifications preferences.
  5. Click on the box next to the mobile notifications you want to receive and/or turn off.
  6. Click Save changes at the bottom of the page.

notifications2You can also turn on notifications when specific person(s) or organization(s) send out a message (maybe you want to do this for your local Red Cross Chapter or utility company, for instance). Again, Twitter’s help page show us how. On the web:

  1. Visit your Settings page (click the gear symbol to the right of the search box).
  2. Click the Mobile tab.
  3. Look for the area labeled Text notifications.
  4. Check the box for Tweets from people you’ve enabled for mobile notifications to receive text message notifications any time a specific person Tweets.
  5. Visit the profile page or click on the username of the user whose updates you want to receive via SMS (try typing https://twitter.com/username in your browser’s URL bar, or click through from your following page).
  6. Click the person icon on the user’s profile and select Turn on mobile notifications from the drop-down menu.
  7. If you no longer wish to receive text message updates from this user, select Turn off mobile notifications, from the same drop-down menu.

Facebook has similarly helpful “How-To” page about how to receive push notifications on a mobile device. Facebook states:

Manage push notifications for Close Friends List Activity or Group Posts and Comments from within the Facebook app:

  1. Tap  
  2. Account > Account Settings
  3. Facebook Notifications > Push Notifications
  4. Check the boxes to turn on either Group Posts and Comments and Close Friends List Activity

There is also information here about the Page Manager App that lets admins check on their Page activity, view insights and respond to their audience from their mobile device. This app is only currently available for iPhone and iPad. 

3. Read

I once asked the social media manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency how he monitored social media and he simply stated: I read.  Reading what is happening can be done strategically based on the human resources and time that you have available. You can limit what you read to all or one of the following:

  •  Read comments and questions directed to your organization. (Objective: To determine public sentiment regarding your organization or, during a crisis, about the overall government’s response efforts.) This step is probably the most important because if your organization is actively posting content more than likely, people will be posting comments and questions…AND they will expect a response. They will also be talking about your agency, maybe even indirectly. Reading comments will allow you to gauge how your efforts are being received.
    • How? On Twitter when someone mentions you directly you will receive an “@” message. You can find these messages by simply clicking @Connect on the menu bar on the home page of your Twitter account. You can also receive these notifications as an email and as a message on your phone.
    • Facebook also sends notifications (mentioned in #2) when you receive a new comment.  Not all of the comments will require a response, however, it is important that people know a person is “listening.” Simply posting a quick “Thanks for the comment” can go a long way to fostering goodwill with your community.
  • Read what is being posted on the lists that you created.
    • How? Go to your home page. Click “View my profile page” and then click on “Lists”. All the tweets from the various organizations and individuals will be revealed. You can only view one list at a time on Twitter.com but can see multiple lists side-by-side on tools such as Tweetdeck and Hootesuite.
  •  Read information based on keywords and hashtags. (Objective: To see if your organization’s message is getting across or if conflicting information/rumors is being conveyed. And/or  To determine the extent of damage and impact of the event.)  This strategy involves searching for key words, such as the name of the event, in order to find pertinent information.
    • For instance, is the local radio station using their Twitter account and Facebook page to ask people to bring clothing and other items to a specific donation drop-off location using a hashtag such as #tornadohelp?
    • During an active event, people often post pictures and video to Twitter (more so than other platforms) and mention the location and /or name of the town. (For specific instructions see Twitter advanced search and the “How-To“).  It is important to note, however, that any early pictures should be treated cautiously. Some folks think it is quite funny to post fake images.
    • Possible search terms: name of agency, name of event, name of municipality.

Whomever is monitoring social media will also need to be empowered to answer questions and provide content back to the operations division or whomever needs to address any issues brought to the organization’s attention.  Again, it is important to make these decisions before a disaster event. 

Conclusion

The strategies listed above all use free tools that do require either volunteers, staff or contractors to manage.   There are many different tools that are coming onto the market such as Agility and Radian 6 that lessen the amount of human resources required but increase the software price tag.  For small organizations, these advanced tools aren’t absolutely necessary, but again, it depends on your objectives.

Let us know, what are your objectives and/or your listening strategy?  Tell us in the comments section.

Related articles

Using Storify to Monitor Social Media

Post by: Kim Stephens

In this post I will discuss what information can be found on social networks during a crisis or emergency event, and one tool that can help make sense of it all.

Image representing Storify as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Storify

Storify is a free website people can use to curate posts from many social media platforms, add their own commentary, and then publish that collection as a story. This site only became open to the public in 2011, but it has emerged as go-to source for some journalist during emergency or disaster events.  Just the ability to search multiple social networks in one place makes it worth investigating.  (Curation might be a new term for some folks in the context of social media, but it simply refers to the act of choosing the best example(s) to represent the mass.) The Storify website explains the process:

1. Search for content: In the Storify editor, the user can search social media networks to find media elements about the topic they want to “Storify”. The user can look through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram and more to gather material for the stories.

2. Curate the elements: Drag and drop status updates, photos or videos to bring together the social media elements that will best illustrate the story. The user can always reorder elements, or delete them if they find something better.  More items can easily be added later on. The story is always editable, so you can pull in the latest from the social web.

3. Write your own narrative: A Storify story [gives the author the] opportunity to make sense of what you’ve pulled together. You can write a headline, introduction and insert text anywhere inside your story. You can add headers, hyperlinks and styled text. Build a narrative and give context to your readers.

Content: Southern Storms Provide an Example

The December 20th, 2012 weather event that impacted some areas of southern Alabama and western Florida provide a good example of not only what can be seen on various social media platforms,  but also how to find and collate that information…even while an event is unfolding. You can view the Storify that I created about the storm here: http://storify.com/kim26stephens/tornado-damage-images-shared-on-twitter

Before the Storm

On the Storify site content  is sorted in chronological order with the most recent posts appearing on the top of the list.  By scrolling back in time one can see that in the alert and warning phase information is posted about the whereabouts of the storm, its strength, as well as what protective action measures should be taken. On the 20th, this content was disseminated via Twitter  and  Facebook  from official organizations, but it was also amplified by the news organizations as well as concerned citizens.

Twitter posts are short and to the point, but Facebook allows many more characters to describe what citizens should do. The City of Brewton, Alabama provides an example:

Recommended actions: A Tornado Watch remains in effect until noon CST Thursday for Southwestern Alabama and Northwest Florida and Southeast Mississippi. Excerpted from ready.gov: Before: Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan. Be alert to changing weather conditions. Look for approaching storms. Look for the following danger signs…. (This post goes on and on about what to do and what to look for. It is worth noting that sometimes shorter is better since people under stress have a hard time processing information).

radiostationAs the storm approached, radio stations posted on Facebook the locations that could be impacted. Stations use social media to promote their business but also to provide pertinent  content, such as alert and warning information, in written form. This could be a resource for people that are deaf or hard of hearing.

As I stated in my Storify, maps were also tweeted and posted to Facebook. Once a map is on a social network people can view it on a smartphone app–no longer do they have to make their way to a TV screen to see what is happening. (Years ago, before Twitter existed, while living in Tennessee I spent many days huddled in my basement during tornado weather wondering what was going on.  I’d run up to check the TV and then run back down to safety. Why? Radio announcements mention place names, but I was new to the state and the location names, absent a point of reference, were lost on me.)

After the Storm

As the storm passed a location, citizens, volunteer organizations and news outlets immediately posted images and reports of damage. Even a local Red Cross chapter reported being struck and a citizen provided a picture.

redcross

This was a fairly fast moving system so it was interesting to see watches and warnings cancelled in one area and then quickly posted in others.

The Tweet below was sent out by the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Although I’m sure it is not his job description to warn citizens of impending weather events, the fact that he is amplifying emergency information from his account is interesting.

Conclusion:

Storify is tool that can not only help you or your organization find information, but collect and organize pertinent content from all over the social web. This resource can be quite handy during an emergency event to quickly surmise what people are seeing.  You don’t even have to create your own story to take advantage of the service. As I mentioned, journalist use Storify and often, as I found on the 20th, are creating stories of the situation that anyone can view. Other similar websites that pull content from multiple social sources are Paper.Li and Scoop.it.

Give these curation tools a look and tell me what you think.

Western Mass First Twitter Chat

Post by: Kim Stephens

On Monday Jeff Phillips and I  facilitated a Twitter chat and simultaneous phone discussion with WRHSAC stakeholders (the tweet below includes the hyperlink to the archive).

Although we only had a few folks participate, the conversation was quite good. Bob Labrie (@goshenBob on Twitter) who is both a first responder and the social media director with the Goshen Fire Department, asked this question:

He stated that he didn’t see how he could use this tool, which from his perspective seems geared for real-time information dissemination,  while he is responding. Jeff, who is also the Emergency Manager for Los Ranchos, New Mexico, noted how he has seen Fire Departments  use Twitter.

WRHSAC also tweeted about how they are using the platform:

In other words, Twitter does not have to be used every minute you are responding, but it can be utilized before and after an event to provide information to the community. But who has time to post to both Twitter and Facebook? The good news is that you CAN automate your Facebook and Twitter posts (although I don’t think this is ideal since the culture of the platforms is a bit different–no one puts hashtags in Facebook posts, for instance). However, it can be useful service for resource-strapped agencies.

The Lay of the Land

The discussion turned to another concern,  the usefulness of Twitter in general in Western Massachusetts: is there an audience?  This is an excellent point. It is really important to determine what Jeff calls “The Lay of the Land” which means not only finding who might be “listening” but also who the active social media users are in the community. Word of caution, don’t dismiss people based on their profession listed in their profiles. I’ve found that it often doesn’t matter if a person is a realtor, for instance; if they are active social media users they WILL be posting information after a crisis.

WRHSAC  made a great point about how to find local users.

@HilltwnFamilies  (Hilltown Families) is  “an online, grassroots communication network for families in Western Massachusetts. Connecting & supporting community through the common thread of our children.” I encourage readers to click on the hyperlink of their name to see the type of content they are providing to their 1802 followers. So who is following them? In order to find out who their follower are, go to their full profile and click on “followers,” although the word does not appear at first blush to be a hyperlink, it is.

Another approach to find who is actively tweeting in Western Mass is search through lists. For instance, click on Hilltown’s Lists and then click on List members. (Side note: Click here for a tutorial on how to use Twitter lists.) The Hilltown Families account is a member of 6 lists. One list, WesternMA_local, yields some great information about who is active in the area. Here is a tweet from one of the members:

I also found that someone in Western Mass is using PaperLi. Paper.li is defined by the company as a content curation service that enables anyone become Editor-in-Chief of their own news site and publish material  from content they find anywhere on the web. So your tweet could become their next headline. The title of the PaperLi in Western Mass is simply: “The Folks of #westernma Daily.” Click on the link, is there a story about your agency?

Why?

It is important to connect with these active Twitter users because they can become a great asset. During the preparedness phase, when not much is happening, it is harder to get people interested in your content.  For instance, if you want people to know about a public meeting to discuss hazards and vulnerabilities, active social media users in your community might repeat your message to their  large following…but only if you ask them to. During a crisis, you can enlist these active users to repeat your vetted and official content.

The next conference call will be this Thursday, December 20 at 11:00am. The call-in information has been emailed to all participants of the September 21 social media summit. If you need the number, let us know. The topic: how to monitor social media and why it is important. See you then!

Understanding VOSTs (Virtual Operations Support Teams) Hint: It’s All About Trust

Post by: Kim Stephens

voicebroadcast_graphic1Virtual Operations Support Team(s) or VOSTs is a concept created by Jeff Phillips and it was explained in detail in “Module 20: Who Can Help your organization with social media?” Jeff will be available on two conference calls for WRHSAC stakeholders: Thursday, December 13th at 11:00EST and again on Friday, December 14th at 1:00EST. If you would like information about how to dial in, just provide a comment to this post.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept please take a moment to review the Module 20 post. This current post is intended to provide even more context and examples of how VOSTs can be used by emergency management and public safety organizations. In general, it should be noted that VOSTs are typically deployed during a crisis or disaster event, and are generally not utilized for day-to-day preparedness communications.

VOST Defined

For just a bit of background, repeating content from Module 20, a VOST can be defined as a team that accomplishes some or all of the following:

  • Establishes a social media presence for an organization that previously did not use social networking tools to communicate with the public;
  • Monitors social media communications;
  • Handles matters that can be executed remotely through digital means such as assisting with the management of donations or volunteers;
  • Follows social media and traditional media trends and reports back to the organization what is being seen;
  • Communicates issues and concerns being expressed by the public (e.g. represents the citizen’s perspective;
  • Identifies misinformation or angry postings that need to be corrected or dealt with;
  • Provides a supportive voice for the organization and its efforts;
  • Amplifies the organization’s message by repeating content  (via personal and/or official social media accounts);
  • Compiles media coverage (traditional and non-traditional) by date;
  • Document the social media conversations – especially if something big happens.

Trust and Trust: The Incident Management Team Model

There are two huge issues here: trust and trust. Who do you/would you trust to potentially be the voice of your organization and  to answer questions from the public?  Although this concept  may initially seem like a stretch–I would never allow someone else to be our voice!–there is a perfect example of how “outsourcing” can work: Incident Management Teams. When an IMT comes into your community you do trust them to do what is required/asked.  However, this delegation is not without strings attached–a  “Delegation of Authority” agreement is signed between the two parties detailing expectations. Below is an excerpt from a sample DoA:

You have full authority and responsibility for managing incident operations within the framework of legal statute, current policy, and the broad direction provided in both your verbal and written briefing materials. You are accountable to me. A formal evaluation of your performance will be conducted prior to your departure. This formal evaluation may be followed up within sixty days after your departure once the Agency has had the opportunity to review accountability, claims, financial matters, and other items, which require time to evaluate.

Although IMTs do include public information officers, it is not realistic to assume that communities will have the opportunity to tap an IMT every time there is an incident. Even small, localized events can stretch resources and limit your organization’s ability to “deal” with social media. Which is why you might want to consider using a VOST. However, an agreement, that borrows from the IMT or Mutual Aid agreements, could be utilized.

Who serves on the VOST?

Unlike IMTs, VOSTs are not pre-formed, nationally trained teams. One current misperception is that the “VOST”  will swoop into your community after a disaster.  Although there are people who work on VOSTs for specific communities, those folks have been pre-identified by the community or organization (I cannot emphasize that enough).

In other words, if you are interested in having a group (or even just one person) ready help with social media after a disaster, you have to take responsibility to foster that relationship and come to a terms of agreement before the disaster. Communities have done this in several different ways (explained in more detail below). Some have turned to CERT members (e.g. Anaheim California’s Office of Emergency Management); others have tapped  savvy social media community members (e.g. Cecil County, Maryland); and still others, including the NYC Public Health Department, have developed a VOST from within their agency by training their own employees–e.g. people willing to add additional duties for the opportunity to do something unique during a disaster response.

Like an IMT, VOST members can supplement resources and potentially even bring in a new set of skills.

VOST Models 

From my perspective, three models have emerged for the use and structure of VOSTs. Interestingly, the model or category an organization falls into seems to be a reflection of the both the level of trust with VOST members as well as the level of trust and knowledge/comfort with social media in general. The models I have identified are

  1. External Support (Amplify and Monitor Only)
  2. Hybrid Support (Amplify, Monitor, and Respond on behalf of the organization, but with specific limits)
  3. Internal/Embedded (Full range of social media duties and support)

1. External VOST Support:

Organizations that are both new to social media and the concept of a “VOST” might consider using support from team members in a more conservative manner. In this model the following support might be provided:

  • Follow social media and traditional media trends and reports back to the organization what is being seen;
  • Communicate issues and concerns being expressed by the public (e.g. represents the citizen’s perspective);
  • Identify misinformation or angry postings that need to be corrected or dealt with;
  • Provide a supportive voice for the organization and its efforts;
  • Amplify the organization’s message by repeating content  (via personal and/or established community VOST social accounts).

Team members could provide this support from afar–in fact, getting this type of assistance from folks outside of your community might be a great option since they would be out of the impacted area and would therefore have power in their home, or office, etc. Remember, monitoring social media does not have to happen in your EOC.

  • But who? Team members could be emergency managers from the other side of the state,  for instance.
  • But how? It is important to note that with any of these models, communication between the team members and the organization is vital for success. For example, if the team identifies a potential issue that needs to be addressed quickly (e.g. people posting angry comments on Mayor’s Facebook page about conditions in the shelters) they need assurance that the “customer” has seen their “red flag”.

2. Hybrid Support

In this model, the team does everything identified in the external support model, but also responds to questions from community members and posts content on behalf of the organization.  Unlike the model above, these individuals would be made administrators of those accounts. In this approach, however, there are specific limitations placed on the team members. For instance, they are allowed to post on behalf of the organization, but only information that has already been cleared by their organization’s PIO or posted on other official government accounts.

  • But who? I have seen this model used with CERT volunteers.
  • But how? Similar to the way 311 employees use pre-scripted responses to citizen’s questions, the social media volunteers are provided answers to frequently asked questions that they can type into the Facebook page, or post to the Twitter account. They would be responsible for monitoring these accounts and flagging any out-of-ordinary questions and obtaining quick answers: e.g. Is Elkton Road flooded?

3. Internal/Embedded

In this model, the VOST team leader  is given the full range of social media duties. This model is often utilized by small communities that do not have a full-time (or even part-time PIO) and the Agency’s staff person, responsible for social media communications, has many other duties during the response to a crisis or disaster.

  • But who? Often this type of arrangement is made with people very familiar with the organization and maybe even retired PIOs. The organization has an established, trusted relationship with the person or team members.
  • But how? In order to provide this type of support, it is often best to have the team, or a least the team leader, embedded at the Emergency Operations Center.

There are many examples of what VOST members have accomplished during the past two years. Click on the links below to see some of the social media pages they have built. Sorry for the extra-long post. I hope you have made it to the end! If you have any questions about this concept please let us know.

http://barrypointorfire.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/barrypoint-orfire-814-morning-briefing-pics-jp/
www.twitter.com/barrypointfire
http://www.facebook.com/BarryPointOrFire

http://longdrawfire.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/photos-from-longdraw-orfire-jp/
https://twitter.com/LongDrawORFire
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Long-Draw-ORFire/123506971124484?ref=hl

http://tablemountainwafire.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/tablemountain-wafire-photo-mop-up-at-table-mountain-fire-st/
https://twitter.com/TableMtnWAFire
http://www.facebook.com/TableMountainWAFire?ref=hl

http://trinityridgefire.wordpress.com/2012/09/08/trinityridge-idfire-public-information-map-nh/
https://twitter.com/TrinityRidgeID
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Trinity-Ridge-IDFire/355697117846919?ref=hl

http://wenatcheecomplexfire.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/wenatcheecomplex-wafire-information-station-photo-marh/https://twitter.com/WenatcheeWAFire
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wenatchee-Complex-WAFire/522867564394287?ref=hl

http://wildlandfires.wordpress.com/rma/
https://twitter.com/#!/WildlandFires
http://www.facebook.com/WildlandFiresinfo?ref=hl

http://nyvost.vosg.us/about/
https://twitter.com/nyvost
http://www.facebook.com/NYVOST?fref=ts