Social media is often only discussed from the point of view of how to reach the public with emergency preparedness, response and recovery information. It is true that the tools are well suited for community outreach, but what is missing from that conversation is how great these tools are for reaching other professionals responsible for public health and safety.
Conversations about your profession are happening on Twitter all day, everyday. Public health professionals often tag their tweets with hashtag (#) #PublicHealth. Law Enforcement personnel often use #LESM (law enforcement social media).
For emergency managers, the active tag is #SMEM, or social media and emergency management. This tag was formed organically by practitioners who wanted a place to discuss rapid changes in emergency management caused by emerging social networking technology. One participant notes: “One strength of a hashtag based discussion is that it occurs continuously so people around the world can participate regardless of time zone.”
Why should you care? These conversations can turn into connections that provide access to information you might not otherwise see, and also allow you the opportunity to ask and answer questions. For instance, in one week you might see content that addresses these questions:
What information is available about vulnerable populations?
What new tools or software solutions are available?
What creative ideas are out there for National Preparedness Month?
Who posts content?
Firefighters, local emergency managers, PIOs, police captains, as well as luminaries, such as the director of social strategy for the American Red Cross, all participate on the #smem hashtag. Here is how a few of these folks appear in their personal profiles.
Fire chief, crisis communicator, planner…
It is likely emergency response personnel and/or interested public information officers might not have the time to watch the tag very often. This is why the concept of a coordinated scheduled weekly chat was proposed (Fridays 12:30-1:30 EST) using the tag #smemchat. The very first chat, which occured in January 2011, was quite fun for all involved since the director of FEMA, Craig Fugate, spontaneously posed a question to the group: “Branding issues and use of other hashtags, is there a need for the EM community to have a common way to share info?” This prompted a long (and ongoing) discussion about hashtag use during disasters–but that’s another story!
Administrator Fugate’s participation does, however, illustrate how the chats have broken down walls for federal officials to interact with locals on an ongoing basis. Due to this regular participation from feds, there is a misperception that the chat and the tag were created by FEMA, but both were started by people acting outside of their official capacities only with the interest of moving the conversation about social media further down the road. That is partly why it has been so successful. Below, one EM describes the experience:
“The SMEMchat has provided the ability to bring together many silos of excellence and experience. Meeting together unifies our profession geographically without having to be a formal conference. SMEMchat is a 24 hour 7 days a week virtual conference/thinktank of mindshare. I have taken many great comments, needs, recommendations and hopefully provided many ideas, answers and innovation during the our weekly chats.” -Pascal Schuback, EM Seattle
How does this work?
This is the absolute best part, in order to participate all that is required is literally adding the #smem tag to something you tweet, or the tag #smemchat on Fridays at 1230. You can simply watch what is being said, without posting anything, by entering #smem into the search box at the top of your twitter page–or into one of the columns, if you are using Tweetdeck.
Be mindful, however, that anything you post with the tag #smem will reach other professionals, NOT your hometown community members. For instance:
“Weather warning for Springfield, MA. Be prepared! #smem”
Someone might send you a message like this:
“Read this great article (URLhere.com) on how to better communicate emergency preparedness info with non-English speaking members of your community. #smem”
Learning the language and the culture of twitter does take a little time, I won’t lie. But there’s no better place to start than with the very supportive group you can find on the #smem tag.
One more thing…for this project, and potentially for use in the future by the emergency management community in Western Massachusetts, we have started using the tag #WMASMEM, which stands for Western Mass Social Media and Emergency Management. Take the plunge, share an idea there, or two.