Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018

Social Media Emergency Plan – a “Shore Thing” to Have

We have all witnessed the power of social media. From bringing immense contribution to toppling social or political systems in various parts of the world, to saving lives, to increasing the bottom line, social media played an important role for those who have been handling it well.

This week, we realized its utility and application during natural disasters. Hurricane Isaac batters New Orleans’ shore with strong winds as I write this column, exactly seven years after Katrina. Louisiana residents and business owners have to deal with floods, outages and everything else that comes along with a category one hurricane.

Social media has changed the way we consume and disseminate meaningful information, particularly during a crisis. The effective use of social media channels adds value to public engagement because of these factors:

  • Wide audience;
  • Able to provide meaningful information;
  • Effective addition, not substitution to emergency strategic public outreach program;
  • Real-time information sharing.

Social media tools like blogs, chat rooms, discussion forums, wikis, YouTube Channels, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can help communicate with the public in emergencies, build situational awareness, and spur recovery.

Studies on the use of social media for emergencies and disasters (Bruce Lindsay – “Social Media and Disasters: Current Uses, Future Options, and Policy Considerations”, Congressional Research Service, 2011) have identified a number of “lessons learned” and “best practices” when using social media for emergency objectives. These include the need to:

  • Identify target audiences for each of the social media channel used;
  • Determine appropriate types of information for dissemination;
  • Disseminate information the public is interested in (e.g. what phase the incident is in, etc.);
  • Identify any negative consequences arising from the application—such as the potential spread of faulty information—and work to eliminate or reduce such consequences.

A little personal preparedness endnote: don’t think for a minute social media will be your saving grace should you make the foolish decision to remain at home during a really bad hurricane. Social media is only as good as the electricity required to power laptops and mobile devices and – more importantly – the infrastructure required to transmit the bits. If a storm has knocked out your power, the battery life on laptops and smart devices becomes critical. The adapter to power up from car battery becomes an essential tool in the hurricane preparedness toolbox.

With a large segment of the public and business owners essentially creating their own news and emergency networks, it has become imperative for those in crisis communication to integrate social media into their continuity plans. That might mean, at some point in time, you and your business. Do you have a social media emergency operations plan?