Objective: To provide information about how and why to write a social media communications strategy.
City governments employees are often blocked from having access to social networks on work computers. One official in Western Massachusetts told me that access was denied to almost all employees due to an outcry and ensuing brouhaha at a city council meeting: citizens complained that they didn’t want government employees to use social media–seemingly because it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars (I’m guessing they were envisioning employees posting pictures of their grandchildren and chatting the day away with friends). This type of conflict illustrates why city and government agencies not only need an overarching communications strategy, but, if they choose to include social media, how these tools fit in that strategy. This document could then be held up at public meetings and officials could state, without equivocation, not only why access is important, but how it is a part of their overall plan to serve the community.
In order to develop a strategy, it is important that key city or organization leaders are involved. Without buy-in from leadership, the strategy will never have a chance to succeed. This document, however, can be written even if your organization is already using social tools: having a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish is key–how else will you be able to measure success?
CDC’s Strategy Worksheet
The good news is that this isn’t something that has to be done completely from scratch. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has developed a social media toolkit for health communicators, which can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of any public safety organization. Included in the kit, on page 47, is the Social Media Communications Strategy Worksheet. This worksheet outlines the key elements and considerations– and is included it in its entirety below. We have added language to assist emergency managers and first responders.
1. Target Audience
Describe the person(s) you want to reach with your communication; be as specific as possible. More than one audience may be listed. Include a primary and secondary (influencers) audience if appropriate. (Examples: University students living in the Northampton area–see number 3 for why this is important; or racially diverse populations living in Springfield or West Springfield.)
2. Determine your objectives:
Define what you want to achieve through social media outreach and communication. This could include something you want your target audience to do as a direct result of experiencing the communication. Objectives may include (but are not limited to) the following:
a) Provide information during the emergency preparedness phase:
- Highlight a campaign
- Encourage a health /emergency preparedness behavior
- Reinforce health messages/citizen safety
- Encourage interaction
- Obtain feedback/exchange ideas
- Collaborate with partners (Example: Increase awareness of immunization campaign.) or
- Provide a forum for CERT members to coordinate/collaborate
b) Provide a way to communicate (or push information) to citizens after a crisis:
- Provide redundancy in our communications after a crisis (web-based communications can be more resilient that land-lines)
- Provide protective action information to people via mobile networks using free tools (such as twitter)
- Provide text based communication to the deaf and hard of hearing community
c) Provide opportunity to listen/monitor (pull information) what is being said on social networks after a crisis. Example of what organizations can learn from listening:
- Are citizens confused about what protective actions need to be taken?
- Are citizens communicating false information that should be corrected?
- Are spontaneous volunteers and organizations soliciting donations for distribution to first response organizations?
- Are spontaneous volunteers asking where and how they can contribute?
- Are citizens confused about or demanding more information on certain topics (e.g. debris collection)?
d) Provide opportunity for staff to connect to other professionals. Travel budgets for conference attendance is tight–social networks provide interaction and communication with other professionals across the country. Examples:
- Facebook Emergency Management Issues Group. Groups goals: “This site is made for all EM practitioners from anywhere, serving any jurisdiction, with any specialzation, to have a place to float ideas, ask advice, or start a discussion about areas of concern.”
- Live Twitter “chats”
- Social Media and Emergency Management Twitter chat (#smemchat) which takes place every Friday (of note, the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency often participates)
- Center for Disease Control chats such as the “Live chat on Injury Prevention & Control: Traumatic Brain Injury“
- LinkedIn’s Community Emergency Response Team group with over 5000 members.
3. Define Audience Communication Needs (Describe your audiences and their health or emergency preparedness and crisis communication information needs.)
People access information in various ways, at different times of the day, and for different reasons. If possible, define your audience needs by using market research and other data. You can use the following resources: (see newly release July 31, 2012 Pew Research Center Internet Study on Twitter users).
This is an example of the data:
Twitter use among 18-24 year olds increased dramatically between May 2011 and February 2012, both overall and on a “typical day” basis.
Resource: Tools of Change Planning Guide. (This link does not imply endorsement.)
4. Goal Integration
- Describe how your social media objectives support your organization’s mission and/or overall communications plan.
- How does it support other online or offline components – what events (either national/state/local) present communication opportunities?
5. Message Development
Develop the key messages based on the target audience and objectives identified. (Example: for moms of young children to encourage late season flu vaccination, “It’s not too late to vaccinate.” Example: for homeowners, YouTvideo to encourage proper debris collection after a severe weather event “how to sort debris for collection”)
6. Resources and Capacity
Determine who in your organization will be responsible for implementation, and determine the number of hours they can allocate for content creation and maintenance. (Make sure to increase this number for content creation and social media monitoring during a crisis.)
7. Identify Social Media Tools
Determine what tools will effectively reach your target audience. Match the needs of the target audience with the tools that best support your objectives and resources. (Example: Because Facebook has a large population of young women who have children, is free, and requires minimal technical expertise, it may be a good tool for a mom-centered program while only requiring a small amount of funding for social media activities.)
8. Define Activities
Based on all of the elements above, list the specific activities you will undertake to reach your communication goals and objectives. (Example: Develop and promote Facebook page for emergency preparedness education which can be used for crisis communications after a disaster or emergency.)
9. Identify your key partners and their roles and responsibilities
Example: Community Emergency Response Team members will be responsible for developing their own group pages on Facebook.
10. Define Success for Evaluation
What are your measures of success? Your measures of success may be different depending on your goals and objectives.
(For public safety organizations, the real value of your social presence isn’t necessarily obvious until after a crisis. Experience shows that people might not become a fan of your emergency preparedness page or follow your twitter account until a crisis is imminent or has already occurred, at that point, a 500-700% increase in views is common. )
Create an evaluation plan: how often will goals be measured?
- Module 1: Top Five Reasons to Use Social Media for Emergency Management (westernmasssmem.wordpress.com)
- Module 2: What are Social Media Anyway? (westernmasssmem.wordpress.com)
- Module 3: Social Media Policy – Citizen Conduct and Comments (westernmasssmem.wordpress.com)
- Module 4: Social Media Policy, Personal Use-Public Job (westernmasssmem.wordpress.com)