Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene's social media aftermath

I've probably bitten off more than I can chew but I'm working on an after action report on the use of social media, crowdsourcing and crisis mapping related to Hurricane Irene. Primarily, I'll be looking for any interface between official agencies and volunteer/citizen-driven initiatives.

I'll be working with a few people to gather data and examples and provide a basic analysis and humbly suggest some improvements. It's probably impossible to catch everything but we hope to get a pretty illustrative and meaningful cross-section of what was accomplished in the last week or so.

Here's a broad outline: 

The use of SM tools, crowdsourcing, crisis mapping and mobile technology by emergency management officials and other organizations. volunteers and citizens. We'll include:
  • overview and purpose
  • general observations
  • geographic/jurisdiction specific info
  • volunteer and citizen participation
  • Adoption (or not) of crowdsourcing/volunteer efforts by official agencies
  • recommendations for future coordination ... task assignments 
  • invitation for comments
A few personal observations follow:
  1. Hurricane Irene seemed to mark a turning point for the acceptance of social media by emergency management officials, certainly as an information tool. The use of key social networks was widespread. Combined with the alerts and notifications blasted across legacy media and other means, its was a pretty thorough blanketing of emergency information and preparedness messaging.  They even moved into the realm of crowdsourcing damage assessments.
  2. I'm grateful social networks played such a key role because the coverage of legacy media (particularly from major TV networks) was for the most pathetic and alarmist (to my shame as a former reporter ....) I've seen in a long time ... with reporters often seemingly thinking that their "valiant" efforts to show the impact of the storm were the story ... and when New York City wasn't devastated, it became about the storm that wasn't ...well, Irene left her mark. The people of Vt, NC, NJ and other states are sure feeling her wrath ... Here's a piece by Gerald Baron on the media issue ...
  3. There were lots of crowdsourcing and crisis mapping efforts underway. One key objective of our after action report will be to look at coordination efforts in that regard. Another aspect of our work will be to help assess the validity of these efforts and their usefulness. More on this topic in this blog post.
I think Hurricane Irene helped moved the yardstick in terms of integrating social media in emergency management program. The American Red Cross, pioneer in this field, seems to think so. 

Irene was no "dud". It was a deadly storm and its impact is going to be felt for a while longer. But we should learn all we can from the last few days ... I'm encouraged that the emergency management community seems more inclined to finally moved at the speed of its audiences and adopt the tools they use ... to communicate but also to gather vital information to assess the situation and allocate resources.

I believe this is an opinion that is validated by our after action report. We hope that you will share your experiences and comments with us.

More to follow in the next few days!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Of earthquakes, how we get our news and what it means for emergency managers and crisis communicators.

Oh Golly ... an earthquake on the East Coast! Who would have thunk it!

I have been planning to write this post for a few days now, today's event gave me the impetus I needed to actually get to it.

RT @twitter: Within a minute of today's #earthquake, there were more than 40,000 earthquake-related Tweets. #smem

That tweet actually says it all. Increasingly, we turn to social networks to find out what's going on when disaster strikes and to share what we've experienced. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+ offer very effective platforms to do just that. Today's earthquake is a case in point.

Today was not an isolated event. Legacy media, in particular newspapers and TV, are losing ground as the primary source of information for a great many people. Research shows that the Internet and social media are now key channels for accessing the news. Some key points:

First, people will go to whom they trust. With social media, they will interact with online friends and family because they know and trust them. Stories that will often be relayed from online sources. There's a lesson to be learned there about the value for organizations in establishing a solid, permanent online presence on all key social networks.

Second, most of us will also turn to pages where we can find all sorts of relevant info ... I do with my own Google Reader Account ... but there are very popular ones out there as well: Drudge, Huff Post and many others.

Third, legacy media are catching on and adapting in order to survive. The understand the great value of social networks as news gathering tools. They also fully realize the value of being present on the same platforms and use online tools to enhance their own storytelling as was done recently with the London/UK riots.

My friend Gerald Baron has written about this topic and the current trends impacting the news business.

My own view is that traditional TV networks will disappear (or morph online) and be replaced with specialized networks and hyper-local news programming and stations. This is already on the horizon in places like Philadelphia and New York.

What does all of this mean for emergency managers and crisis communicators? Well, now more than ever, we realize that we have moved from the era of "Why should I use social media in my program?" to the age of "How should I integrate social media in my plans?" ... That's a big step ...

There are now plenty of case studies that show the benefit of social networks to reach many segments of your audience when disasters happen. Organizations need to be both broadcasters and "narrowcasters" ....

They need to become broadcasters by having a comprehensive (yet accessible via mobile devices) and updated website with interactive content, ready for re-use and broadcast. A key thing is to provide info quickly. I checked the USGS website within two minutes of today's earthquake and the info was already there. Well done! Another fantastic initiative is the crowdsourcing of earthquake info and data gathering put in motion by the Service. Truly an example.

This first step should be complemented by an established presence on social networks where agencies/organizations are continually engaging in conversations with key influencers and their audiences. By doing that, you become a trusted source and people will interact with you in a crisis, read/view/hear what YOU have to say rather than getting their info through the media or other less trustworthy sources. That's the big plus so when events occur, your organization will end up on a list such as this one.

So, the use of SM should be part of any communications planning twinned to response plans. Also, because impressions are made so quickly nowadays (within minutes), being ready means having people ready to respond to public and media inquiries.

In an age where reputations are made (or destroyed) in minutes, having the right person, with the proper training and messaging, speak/tweet on behalf of your organization is critical. A good post from Jim Garrow on that very topic. 

I'll say it again. Every single organization, every single emergency management program, should have a crisis communications plan focused on the five Ps. That's the only way to succeed in the age of social convergence. The fifth P deals with social network and technology platforms that need to be essential foundations of your planning as well.

I hope this makes sense!

Looking forward to your comments as always!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The UK riots, mobile technology and social media: some thoughts

As I write this post, I still have fresh memories of the movie "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" in my mind which I saw with the kids on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. One quick comment is that the rampaging morons in London, Birmingham and other English cities look a lot like the simian hordes in the movie.

A few observations come to mind in wake of the #londonriots (see that hashtag on Twitter):

  1. the best coverage on such widespread events has shifted from legacy media to social media. There was a literal flood of tweets, facebook posts, flickr pix and YouTube videos in the last few days. With crisis mapping in particular, social media and mobile tech combined to give a pretty broad overview of all the "hot spots" ...something TV had a hard time to do .... In fact, legacy media has no choice but to climb on the SM bandwagon to stay relevant ...
  2. The use of social media and mobile technology in such events (or large-scale disasters) is now prevalent and a growing consideration for EM practitioners and law enforcement. Twitter traffic exploded in the last few days in the UK. People now have a multitude of channels to turn to to share what they're experiencing (and yes, in many cases, to plan mayhem ....)... this presents both challenges and opportunities for police.
  3. Social media and mobile tech play a big role in the aftermath (recovery and investigations) ... people turn to SM to mobilize communities (either to clean up ... to defend neighbourhoods (see above picture)  ... or trash them ...) since many of the idiots rioting are not camera-shy ... identifying them proves relatively easy and again, the web helps ....
  4. These factors put additional and new pressure on legacy media (some who have chosen to actively help the police) and mobile technology providers (RIM is in a pickle over this ...) 
  5. A distinction seems to be appearing between SMS and social media ... where BlackBerry Messenger was extensively (allegedly) used to mobilize mobs of rioters ... in a direct and targeted fashion ... whereas social networks were more widespread in reporting events (by witnesses) and mobilizing community response (cleanup or protection ...) Tactical vs Strategic ... is this a trend?
  6. finally, social networks and mobile tech transcend communities and/or age groups. Their use is widespread and must be a key planning consideration for emergency managers and law enforcement officials. To simply blame the technology for helping spread discontent and turmoil is beside the point. SM and mobile tech now enjoy universal appeal and are here to stay ... for good ... or for bad ...
I'm sure the next few days will bring even more keen observations from all around ... What do you think?