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. 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, has a great help page on this topic, but I’ve listed the steps here as well.

  1. notificationsLog in to
  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 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 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. 


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.

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