Friday, April 1, 2011

A staged approach to integrating social media into emergency management programs

Had a great discussion today on #smemchat on the future of the SMEM movement and the continuous need to promote the integration of social media (SM) into emergency management (EM). These weekly chats on Twitter are a fantastic opportunity to get a good feel on the latest trends from practitioners across North America. Check them out every Friday at 12:30 DST.

One of the topics today was how to convince senior EM people of the need to have a social media component in their programs and plans.

To me the key is a staged approach which goes a long way in overcoming cultural, technical and personal obstacles. So here it goes (and I'm sure someone will come up with an infographic on this!).
So, on this continuum, we go from no SM involvement to an integrated approach across the whole EM program, but particularly in the response phase.

  • NO SM: we still hear some EM types go: ..." I don't have time or the resources, or the money, to get into social media ..." or "... I don't know enough about it" ... or even ..."it's a fad and will go a way, we need official tools to communicate ..."  What's our job: to educate, prod, convince and lead by example. Expand our knowledge of best practices and show good ROI.
  • Limited use of SM: ... the first step is ... acceptance ... social media platforms are now key parts of our communities' fabric. We have to move at the speed of our audience and that means, in some cases, using social media as an old-fashioned one-way communications tool, Think of Twitter (for example), as a key component of your alerting/notification process. How difficult is that to sell to senior execs? Key argument: all traditional media outlets monitor social media so using it will get many audiences informed quickly.
  • Interactive use of SM: now we move a bit further down on the engagement spectrum. We are into the realm of using more than one SM platform, integrating it into a good web-based information strategy. More importantly, we have convinced our bosses that we need to monitor SM because we can find very quickly what's being said about us. We know who some of the key "influencers" are, those who help shape public perception of our response.
  • Conversational use of SM: the first real true stage of social media engagement, the Listen, Learn, Engage formula. Now that we know who our key stakeholders who may be helpful to us are, we actually go out and engage with them on social media platforms. We know who to interact with to counter false information and dispel rumours. A key selling point: engaging in SM will help us create a favourable public perception of our response.
  • Operational use of SM: this is not only for the PIO or the JIC anymore, although SM play a key role in the provision of prompt, effective and accurate emergency information. Now, we're taking advantage of the "age of social convergence" where mobile devices/tech + SM = empowered citizens and volunteers ... This means we become aware of, and use to some degree, data provided by digital volunteers and crisis mappers. We use social media as a volunteer mobilization tool or we work with agencies/partners who do just that. Key selling point: adding data provided by volunteers/sensors out there in the areas affected by the disaster or from other places, improves our understanding of what's going on.
  • Integrated use of SM: The last step in this continuum ... where outside data has been validated, where we have worked with volunteer organizations and help train their people so we have confidence in the info they provide. We integrate those data streams and analyses in the EOC. More than that, it's use is expanded in all aspects of EM, from preparedness and mitigation to recovery. In the response phase, that data provided thru mobile technologies, GIS-enabled software and SM platform is now an integral factor in the production of our common operating picture/Situational awareness. SM is now a fully integrated part of our electronic emergency management systems and a proven volunteer coordination tool. At that point, you don't need to convince anyone anymore ... the proof as they say, is in the SM pudding ...
That's where the new frontier of the integration of social media into emergency management lies, in the  continuum described above. The crisis mapping community in particular is really putting in question the notions of info control, data validation in EOCs. It's no longer the private realm of emergency managers ... 

A key factor along the way, will be for emergency management organization to join with their outside partners and embrace this new phenomenon and help train those volunteers. In an era where public funds become scarce, expanding the EM community to volunteers who show commitment, dedication and expertise, will be a blessing for many of us. 

Add the inherent resilience of the cloud-based collective that are SM platforms and related technologies, and we now have very powerful allies out there.

That's my manifesto !  


  1. I agree. See below links.

  2. Great post Patrice. I like the idea of breaking into bite size pieces!

  3. Patrice, thank you for your multiple posts in multiple areas and in Linked in. This (SM in EM) is definately not going away, and now, there is some amazing efforts underway to take advantage of SM in ways never before conceived, even as a method of citizen to Gov, to biz, back to citizen basically bringing the word comunity back into the fold. Thank you again Sir! ~Steve

  4. I just read this post after my first participation in #SMEMChat. Great thought processes around this subject. This breakdown is very helpful, thank you.

    Karen M
    EVP Social Media
    Firestorm Solutions

  5. Hello:

    I just discovered your site and am impressed with the list of blogs you have collected.

    Thanks for listing mine.

    Claire B. Rubin

  6. As the conversation on #SMEMChat progressed today (Sept. 23) we saw familiar barriers to integrating social media tools into the programs of emergency response agencies:
    - old school thinking, not in-sink with the times
    - no one in the organization keeping track of the development of social media as an emergency communications tool.
    - need for both bottom up and top down priorities to integrate social media into the emergency communications program.

    As well, there were comments regarding solutions:
    - develop, as em communicators, a strategy to get the message across to EM program decision makers
    - speak at EM conferences to influence the broader EM audience of the value and strategic approaches to deal with the 'new social media environment' in the context of emergency communications.