Tag Archives: social media

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 

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.

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

Social Media Teleconferences: Learn how to Enhance Your Organization’s Presence

social-media-buttonsJeff Phillips and Kim Stephens (contract support to WRHSAC) are available during the month of December to help your organization with social media. This support is intented to build on what was learned during the September in-person conference. To start, there will be a conference call on Thursday, December 6th at 11:00am EST and again on Friday, December 7th at 1:00EST to address any questions you might have about either the technology or the processes that you have put in place since September. You can choose to attend one or both of the calls.
More “info” calls will occur during the month of December including:
  • What is a Virtual Operations Support Team? (Dec 13 at 1100 EST and December 14 at 1:00 EST)
  • Twitter round-a-bout–Including the why’s and what’s of Twitter as well as a simultaneous Twitter “chat” to get users used to the technology (Dec 17th at 1100EST and December 18th at 1:00 EST)
  • What tools are available to monitor Social Media? (December 20 1100 EST)
The dial in for each of the seven calls this month is (409) 777-9000 using the pin 4021675#.
We realize the month of December is a tough one to reach everyone, so we haven’t scheduled anything between Christmas and New Year’s. However, if you are interested in having a call during that time, please let us know (you can either provide a comment to this post or send an email to jksmtraining@gmail.com). Also, please answer this survey so we can gauge interest in specific topics: https://westernmasssmem.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/develop-your-social-media-presence/.
Participation in this learning experience is free and open to any WRHSAC stakeholders. Please feel free pass information about this training opportunity to your colleagues.

WRHSAC Workshop Summary and Feedback Form

The Massachusetts Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council, or WRHSAC, sponsored a social media training event Friday, September 21, 2012 in Northampton, MA. Below is a summary of the event, including Tweets from the  tag #WMASMEM.  If you attended please be sure to fill in the comment form at the end of this post.

The agenda was packed with information from the perspective of the community members themselves, and facilitators Jeff Phillips and Kim Stephens led the way. We started the day with a “check-in” regarding what attendees thought was the biggest obstacle for their use of social media. Each table reported one item they felt was the biggest impediment. They came up with the list below, and interestingly, 3 different groups thought “time” or resources was the biggest issue.

  • comfort using tools- legality (how far does it go? where does it end)
  • governance
  • SOPs (message control, etc)
  • time to keep it updated – keeping current & fresh (resources)
  • social media policies are restrictive
  • clarity and consistency – message control
  • ensuring consumers/citizens are aware
  •  time to do it all
  • time (how do we control the incoming traffic – to be responsive)
  • crowdsourcing data, finding out what’s out there
  • not all people have access to tools but would like to see what’s on the social platforms
  • how do people differentiate their between their various roles in their lives (e.g. selectman and employee).

The attendees were reminded that the facilitators had established a training blog titled “Western Mass SMEM.”  This blog site has many resources for the participants to use well after the day of the workshop, including modules on specific topics as well as “lay-of-the-land” maps.

The maps have links to all the social media sites the facilitators could find by emergency service organizations in the Western Region including public health, NWS, law enforcement, emergency management and city government. There are two categories of  maps, county  versus State and Regional. The State and Regional maps include applicable agencies such as MEMA. Why is doing a “lay-of-the-land” an important step? Read Module 18 for the details about why organizations should understand who else is Tweeting and posting.

Legality: What public organizations need to know.

The first presentation of the day was given by Linda Hamel, General Council for the state of Massachusetts, Information Technology Division. Her talk was titled Three aspects of Social Media Use for Public Sector Employees. This informative presentation had many great take-aways including: letting participants know that organizations have to be very careful about deleting people’s comments on government sponsored Facebook pages or blogs because of first amendment free speech protections; that staff should be informed about what behavior is expected on or off government social sites, such as on their personal Facebook page; and what kinds of behavior on social sites can lead to disciplinary actions.

Fire, Police and Emergency Managers Discuss Use of Social Media

The first panel of the day was quite lively and included Chief Wynn, Pittsfield Police Department; Bob Labrie, Goshen Fire; and Ryan Quimby, Town of East Longmeadow. They discussed their use of social media and told some great stories about how they use these tools to reach their communities before, during and after a crisis.

IMG_9051

IMG_9051 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some interesting take-aways: FB can and has been used catch criminials; social networks can be used to inform the public very quickly of what is occurring–well before traditional media goes to press; by monitoring social sites organizations can determine what the public is saying about them–good or bad. Chief Wynn stated–the public is talking about your organization anyway, if you are also on social networks at least you are able to see it and respond. This seemed to resonate with participants.  Another kind of funny take away–cute pictures increase traffic to your site: people love babies and animals and especially baby animals!

One of the concerns from the audience was about rude comments on their organization’s page. Facilitator Kim Stephens mentioned the case study posted on the blog that discusses what can happen when people post irrational or inflammatory comments. That post can be found here: Module 10.

Question: How many minutes a day do you spend on posting to your Facebook page? Answer from Bob Labrie–30 minutes or so, which includes crafting the post.

Social Media for Professional Connections: #SMEMChat

Learning to use Twitter was part of the day’s activities and included a discussion on the use of the network to connect to other professionals.

With this idea in mind, the workshop attendees joined the #smemchat on Twitter, which takes place every Friday 1230 EST. The chats are often joined by emergency managers from all over the United States. Quite a few people were testing the water with this experience.

Some of the more experienced Twitter users in the crowd really dove into the chat discussion, which was about dealing with rumors on social platforms during a disaster event. See the storify of the chat here and a Tweetdoc version here. (Tweetdoc is document that brings together all the tweets from a particular event or search term.)

Most of the exercise involved just learning to use Twitter in a quickly moving environment, such as a chat. These chats make a good no-fail exercise each week. One of the things participants discussed afterwards was that it was “kind of hard” to keep up, illustrating the need for more practice.

Social Media and Public Health Communications

The public health session began with a video by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospitals. The 3 minute YouTube video is used to train employees about their social media policy.

Panelists included Sam Brody, Representative from Cooley Dickinson Hospital; and Steven Jay Cohen, also of Cooley Dickinson and John Jacob of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

John Jacob told the audience that DPH primarily uses a blog and a Twitter account to reach citizens, they currently do not have a Facebook page. The blog allows them to post stories and information in a more flexible format than the agency website. The blog also allows for interaction with the public via the comments section. See this module for more information about blogging: Module 19: Blogging for Public Health and Safety Organizations.

One interesting problem the private sector hospital representatives brought up was the issue they are encountering regarding  the balance between emergency information versus “brand” information. They are still considering whether or not they should they post from the same account or establish a new one just for emergency-type messages.

One great point made by Mr. Cohen was that the hospital has to be careful when repeating messages created by others or “ReTweeting.”  They want to ensure that message is verified information because the second they repeat it, it can be viewed as an endorsement of that content. Public sector organizations should also take this into consideration.

40404

The participants learned how to use Twittter’s SMS texting capability, specifically the “fast follow” feature using 40404. More information about this capability can be found in Module 17. We learned that in order to follow someone (or an organization) via SMS on their smart or even “dumb” phone, users simply text to 40404 and then “Follow [username].” If you text the word “stop” to 40404 it turns off all text notifications. Users could also type “unfollow [username]” to remove the notifications from that specific person or organization.

Volunteers and Donations Management

The last panel of the day addressed how spontaneous volunteers and organizations use social media in a crisis. The panel included Morgan O’Neill of Recovers.org; Wendy DeShais, a volunteer from Monson, MA; and a member of the local media, Peter Chilton, the social media director for New England Public Radio, located on the UMass campus.

We began the session by viewing a Ted Talk that included Morgan O’Neill and her sister Caitria. In the talk they discuss how they organized volunteers in Monson  using both Facebook as well as “post-its” after the June 1, 2011 tornado event. Morgan elaborated on the talk by telling the story about how after posting a need on Facebook not only would the requested item show up–but often x10, requiring a quick retraction: “We no longer need freezers!”

Wendy pointed out the necessity of keeping up with all of volunteer activities–spontaneous or not.

Mr. Chilton addressed how improvements could be made between the media and officials involved in getting out emergency messages.

What Now?

Those of you that attended the workshop, and used some of these tools for the first time, might be wondering what you can do to keep up both your new-found skills as well as the connections you made during the day. We have several suggestions:

  1. Follow and friend each other’s new social presence(s) on both Facebook and Twitter.
  2.  Connect to the WRHSAC’s Facebook pages and Twitter accounts: the WRHSAC Facebook page (with the intended audience of first responders) and their Western Mass Ready Facebook Page. Also connect to the Western Mass SMEM page–which was created for attendees and regional constituents to use as a place to both try things out and share best practices.
  3. Connect to each other on Twitter via the #WMASMEM hashtag–maybe even pick a time to have your own regional chats. If you are still unsure about Twitter revisit  Module 11: Twitter Basics.
  4. Connect to other regional Twitter users that have been aggregated here: https://twitter.com/i/#!/JSPhillips2/wrhsac/members. This Twitter List was created by Jeff Phillips and has 109 members including the new Twitter users from the workshop–Jeff was adding  new accounts as they were created.
  5. Practice!!!!!!

Thanks to everyone who participated and presented. It was a very successful day!

Module 20: Who can help your organization with social media?

Objective: To understand how community members, fluent in social media, can assistant response personnel in all social media activities in a volunteer capacity.

Listen, Understand, Act

Listen, Understand, Act (Photo credit: highersights)

Force Multipliers: Social Media Monitoring

Monitoring social media and responding to requests for information that come from social platforms can become cumbersome and is most certainly labor intensive. With success, meaning a lot of followers, also comes added responsibility. QPS Media in Australia, for example, received hundreds of comments on their Facebook page, everydayduring a major flooding/disaster event. One Facebook post received 1200 comments alone.  Reading and responding to all of those comments can become overwhelming.

Emergency management organizations, both government and non-governmental alike, are starting to understand how enormous this task could be in a crisis and are looking to innovative solutions to solve the problem. One innovation includes the creation of “Virtual Operations Support Teams” or “VOST” to aid their social media efforts. [VOST is a specific name but these types of teams have also been called a “Stand by Crisis Task Force” or a “Twitter Strike Team”]. The VOST can be integrated into Emergency Management operations to help with a variety of tasks depending on the needs and desires or the organization. The tasks the team could be given could include:

  • establishing and monitoring social media communications,
  • helping to manage communication channels with the public, and
  • handling matters that can be executed remotely through digital means such as assisting with the management of donations or volunteers.

In other words, a VOST can be enlisted to extend communication capacities.

What organizations are using volunteers in this capacity? Many organizations have either developed, or are in the initial stages of employing, this concept:

  • American Red Cross
  • United Nations
  • US National Fire Service
  • Los Ranchos, New Mexico Office of Emergency Management
  • Philadelphia Office of Public Health (under development)
  • New York City Office of Public Health (under development)
  • Clark Regional (Washington State) Emergency Services Agency

Researchers at the University of Colorado recently conducted a study of this concept and documented their findings in a paper titled “Trial by Fire” cited below.  They followed the use of a VOST by Kris Ericksen, the Public Information Officer (PIO) for the National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) Portland Team (a Type I Incident Management team) which was called to the Shadow Lake Fire on August 31, 2011.  The case study does the following:

“…outline[s] the tools and processes used by this virtual team to coordinate their activities, monitor social media communication and to establish communications with the public around the event. …discuss[es] the potential merits and limitations of implementing a team of trusted volunteers and explore how this idea could be incorporated into emergency management organizations.”

The study describes the tasks the team was asked to accomplish:

  • Follow social media and traditional media trends and report back what you are seeing;
  • Communicate issues and concerns being expressed by the public;
  • Identify misinformation or angry postings that need to be corrected or dealt with;
  • Provide a supportive voice for the NIMO team and its efforts through social media;
  • Push out key message each day (via personal and official Twitter accounts)
  • Post and tweet messages from private accounts with information from @ORfireInfo accounts;
  • Represent the citizen’s perspective;
  • Compile media coverage (traditional and non-traditional) by date;
  • Document the social media conversation – especially if something big happens;
  • Take this opportunity to learn new tools and try new things;
  • Document the experience of participating as a VOST member.

According to the study, “…the team reported using a range of tools to ‘watch and listen’ while at the same time trying to maintain an archive. Any information they found was added to the Keepstream file and was referenced like a virtual file cabinet by the NIMO team.” Regarding the reporting structure, all communication went directly to Ms. Ericksen in the event “..they identified any negative coverage, irritated stakeholder groups, or citizen concerns that required her attention.”

The team also directly communicated with the public through multiple social media platforms, where they correctly characterized their group effort as “volunteer” designed to amplify the message of the official response organization. Twitter, Facebook and a blog were used and integrated—repeating posts from each platform based on the official information. This ultimately increases the opportunity for more people to view the content. (See Module 19--that blog and social media effort was also the product of a VOST deployment.)

Another example: CERT

Another example of this type of assistance is from Anaheim, California. CERT volunteers already serve in a community outreach capacity by supplementing staff in the “hotline room” by answer questions on the phone. Their concept is to extend these responsibilities to social networks. The social media monitoring volunteers in Anaheim will be used primarily to keep track of comments and social data posted to the communities’ social platforms. They will also be allowed to retweet (repeat a message on twitter) anything that has already been put out by the Public Information Officer (PIO).

Developing the team will be done by first, surveying CERT members to gage interest, and then once team members are identified, they will be provided training. The training will include: hot-line room standard operating procedures; reporting protocols; rules regarding what they can and cannot say; and, potentially, will require participation in a monthly twitter chat. Volunteers will also be taught “how” to monitor including which search terms to use etc., as well as which platforms to monitor. However, volunteers will be given some latitude to keep track of all the platforms they “see fit”.  The training currently does not include a module on how to verify information, however, that is a consideration for future efforts.

Linking to Operations

Specifically, regarding reporting protocols and procedures, pertinent information the monitoring team discovers will loop back into the EOC planning and operations section via the PIO (see the graphic above). Any life threatening information will be sent directly to the dispatcher and non-life threatening info will get written down on paper or in an email and is sent to the PIO to review and decide which section it should go to. Currently, CERT “digital volunteers” do not have access to WebEOC, but they have discussed granting limited access so that they can input the information directly. (The CERT coordinator supplied the graphic.) She states: “Depending upon the platform, some steps may require modification.  For example individual [citizens] may post to YouTube which may require a response post or a comment directing individuals to a website or blog with more information. “

There is a lot of information on these concepts. Start with the citations below.

[1]St. Denis, et al “Trial by Fire: The Deployment of Digital Volunteers in the Shadow Lake Fire” March 2012, Proceeding from ISCRAM Conference. http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~palen/Home/Articles_by_Year_files/TrustedDigitalVolunteersStDenisHughesPalen.pdf.

[2] Borregio, Anne Marie, “American Red Cross and Dell Launch First of its kind Digital Operations Center” March 2012  http://www.redcross.org/portal/site/en/menuitem.94aae335470e233f6cf911df43181aa0/?vgnextoid=1cc17852264e5310VgnVCM10000089f0870aRCRD>.

[3] Sutter, John “Ushahidi: How to Crowdmap a disaster”  CNN, October, 2011. http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/10/25/crowdmap.disaster.internet/index.html

[4] CRESA Emergency Management, “Wanna Be Part of a Twitter Strike Team?” March, 2012 http://cresa911.blogspot.com/2012/03/wanna-be-part-of-twitter-strike-team.html.

Module 19: Blogging for Public Health and Safety Organizations

 

Objective: In this post you will learn why your organization might consider using a blog and learn how to determine which platform is the best choice.

Blog Machine

Blog Machine (Photo credit: digitalrob70)

What is a Blog?

The CDC provides this definition in their Social Media Toolkit:

Blogs, or web logs, are regularly updated online journals that almost anyone with an internet connection can use. Some blogs target a small audience, while others boast a readership comparable to national newspapers.

Blogging has been around for a long time, relatively speaking in the social media world. With the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, YouTube etc. some people thought blogging would fade away, however, other social networks have actually increased the amount of traffic to blogs, not vice-versa. Why?  Blogs are part of the social ecosystem. If your organization has an “integrated social ecosystem” it means that all of the content posted on each platform points to and supports the other. For example, if you write a blog post, some people may find the article by clicking a link you provided in a Tweet–in turn, other people may realize you have a Twitter account by seeing the Twitter feed on your blog; folks found your blog by clicking on a link from your website; they found the website by watching a video you produced on YouTube.

Does all of this seem a bit redundant? Couldn’t you simply post everything to one platform? We are not suggesting that you have to participate on each of these social sites, however, each one does bring unique ways to provide information to your community and increase the chance that people who need the content will see it. Nonetheless, deciding to blog should start, at a minimum, by answering these three questions:

  1. What are the benefits to our organization for using this form of outreach?
  2. Do we have clear goals and objectives for this tool?
  3. Do we have the resources to support the use of this platform–e.g. who will write the content?

Top Five Reasons to use a Blog

Standing up a blog site to disseminate public health and safety information can provide several distinct benefits:

  1. A blog provides a place to discuss a topic that may be too complex for other channels and to give your topic or program a more personal and engaging presence than a website allows. (Source CDC)
  2. Since comments can be reviewed before being posted it can be considered a less risky platform;
  3. You can choose a free blog site with easy-to-use/easy-to-learn user interfaces (free attractive themes as well) making them a good alternative to expensive websites (see the Western Massachusetts Disaster Animal Response Coalition as an example–their site was built using WordPress).
  4. It is easier to update a blog versus a website–which is an important consideration for crisis communications. Furthermore, some blogging platforms (such as WordPress.com) are mobile ready, meaning you can  post from your iPad or iPhone, Android or Blackberry.  The blog also looks quite nice to viewers via these same devices.
  5.  Analytics are included–allowing you to understand if you are reaching your audience.

Public Safety Example

 WildLandFires.Wordpress.com

This wordpress.com blog “Wild Land Fires” was stood up by the USDA Forest Service  and cooperating agencies during the summer of 2012 to provide information from the incident managers in charge of each fire in the region, which includes South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. The site also included statewide and region-wide content. The purpose of the blog was to offer citizens a comprehensive, interagency look at wildland fires.

WYOMING FIRE MAP JUNE 6 -JULY 9

The content included maps (an example from the site has been embedded on the right), updates, and links for detailed information about individual fires. Each listed state had at least one active fire, most had more than three.  For example, by clicking on South Dakota, the user could choose between the White Draw Fire, the Highlands Fire or the Crow Peak Fire.

This was a bit of an experiment by all involved since no interagency “social networking/collaborative” project of this nature had been tried before. I interviewed the project lead, Kris Ericksen, PIO for the Portland National Incident Management Team (a full time Incident Management Team), and she provided some great insights to how and why they decided to use these tools. She indicated that the blog, as well as all of the associated social media sites (Google+, a Twitter account, as well as a Facebook page) were stood up for the response because it is now an expectation of the citizen. She said “We are living in a refresh button world. People expect you to be listening and to answer their questions.”  She acknowledged that this is difficult for some public safety professionals who are used to message control and sometimes fear what the public might say.

Why did they use a blog and other social sites when they already had inciweb? Answer, because these sites allow you to post and host things that inciweb cannot, for example, high resolution maps and podcasts, to name two. Furthermore, inciweb does not have a feedback mechanism–by using social media, you are building interactions, and hopefully, trust and credibility, with the community.

There were a few limitations, however, with the free blog site. For one, although the maps could be loaded and viewed, the ability to provide interactive maps was restricted with the .com versus the non-free .org version. They also learned from this effort about best practices regarding how to organize the blog and what templates to choose (there were some complaints, for example, about the black background).

Of note, they did place the blog in a social ecosystem–as mentioned, all of the other social sites they were using were linked to the blog (which they highlight on the “Welcome” landing page) and when a new blog post went up it was Tweeted out, linked to on Google+ and mentioned on Facebook.

What platform is best?

There are several blogging platforms:

The two I would recommend are: Blogger.com ( a Google product) or WordPress.com (the site you are currently viewing is on wordpress.com). Each one has pros and cons, but the technology is quite similar. Ultimately it is your organization decision, but HowTo.gov (a federal site) recommends following these guidelines when choosing a tool:

  • What are your overall goals, budget, and technical capabilities?
  • Decide whether a particular tool is affordable, fits into your current infrastructure, and gives you what you need to meet the goals of your blog.
  • Do you need a hosted or stand-alone blog?
    • Hosted blog: a company provides the space to store (host) your blog. Blog hosting may be free or fee-based, and each company may offer a different array of services.
    • Stand-alone blog: you host your blog on your own network. It allows great freedom to customize your blog, and gives you full control of the design; however, it is more complicated and costly than a hosted blog.
  • Will your blog be written by one person, or multiple authors?
    • Multiple-author blogging might have different requirements, such as separate accounts for each blogger.
  • Where will you post?( e.g. Do you need a tool that allows remote posting, from mobile devices, etc.?)
  • Does the tool comply with government policy–such as Section 508 accessibility guidelines, to ensure it’s accessible for people with disabilities or  security policy–to ensure it’s in a securely hosted environment?

Resources:

  • Follow this link to see features of WordPress: “Getting Started Support.”
  • The video below, How to start a Blogger.com site, gives you a quick overview their platform:

More resources: