Using Social Media in Emergencies: Smart Practices

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Quick Facts

Publishing Organisation:
Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL)
Covers Thematic
  • Community management Community Management in Social Media is the active component of interacting with your community of followers, fans and target audience across your social media platforms. This includes active listening, which is an important element of engaging with your followers to understand their wants and needs regarding your services.</br></br>Source:
  • Crisis communication Crisis communication is a strategic approach to corresponding with people and organizations during a disruptive event. When a crisis occurs, proactive, quick and detailed communication is critical.</br></br></br>Source:
  • Social Media Strategy A social media strategy is a document outlining your social media goals, the tactics you will use to achieve them and the metrics you will track to measure your progress</br></br>Source:
  • Target audience
  • Policy Makers local, national, and European agencies and institutes, public authorities, standardization bodies
  • Practitioners Practitioners is a target group in LINKS which comprises local, national and European disaster management organizations, civil protection agencies, first responders, NGOs, security networks...
  • Audience experience level
  • Starter Those who are not currently using social media, or the current use is based on providing general information and advice to citizens</br></br>Source:
  • Disaster Management Phase
  • Before Comprises 'Preparedness Phase' and 'Prevention Phase'</br></br>Preparedness action is carried out within the context of disaster risk management and aims to build the capacities needed to efficiently manage all types of emergencies and achieve orderly transitions from response to sustained recovery.</br></br>Source:</br></br>Prevention (i.e., disaster prevention) expresses the concept and intention to completely avoid potential adverse impacts of hazardous events.</br></br>Source:
  • During Also referred to as "Response Phase"</br></br>Actions taken directly before, during or immediately after a disaster in order to save lives, reduce health impacts, ensure public safety and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected.</br></br>Annotation: Disaster response is predominantly focused on immediate and short-term needs and is sometimes called disaster relief. Effective, efficient and timely response relies on disaster risk-informed preparedness measures, including the development of the response capacities of individuals, communities, organizations, countries and the international community.</br></br>Source:
  • After Also referred to as 'Recovery Phase'</br></br>The restoring or improving of livelihoods and health, as well as economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets, systems and activities, of a disaster-affected community or society, aligning with the principles of sustainable development and “build back better”, to avoid or reduce future disaster risk.</br></br>Source:
  • Synopsis

    Benefits of social media for Government

    • Increase access to audiences
    • Improve engagement with citizens, partners and stakeholders
    • Increase the speed of public feedback and input
    • Reach specific audiences on specific issues
    • Reduce dependence on traditional media channels
    • Counter inaccurate press coverage


    • Management
      • There are a number of management issues to consider when using social media in emergencies. These include how the capability will be resourced during an emergency, and the logistics of this.
      • Good practices include:
        • Devising a rota system for staff who are ‘online’ 24/7 to monitor and respond to social media updates
        • Organise access to social media during the emergency (perhaps mobile access) and ensure relevant staff members have been trained, and have access to the sites.
        • Ensure plans are flexible and able to deal with a variety of emergencies, and maintain flexibility.
    • Method

    The content of messages is critical

    • Areas to consider include:
      • Using hashtags to allow information to be easily found.
      • Consider how you will approach ‘accuracy ‘ issues .
        • The public actively seek out information during emergencies and posting ‘something’ is preferable to posting nothing until all the facts are known.

    RESPOND: Using social media during an emergency

    • During an emergency social media can be employed in a variety of ways to assist efforts to RESPOND to a ongoing incident.
    • Social media can be used as a systematic emergency management tool. It can be used by emergency management communicators to help:
      • Communicate and engage with the public/affected individuals.
      • Establish situation awareness.
Upload images to verify or refute rumours.
      • Gather damage estimates.
    • Use of tools during emergencies
      • Several tools have been constructed that should greatly improve the integration of social media into emergency response.
      • Tools will:
        • Reduce resource (time and personnel) requirements with regards to monitoring, searching and engaging with social media.
Reduce burden on social media staff due to improved ability to filter key information
        • Help to triangulate and co-ordinate campaigns across social media.

    RECOVER: Using social media after an emergency

    Social media can assist the key areas of recovery in the following ways:

    • Environmental:
      • Social media can help co- ordinate clean-up efforts, recruit volunteers, and inform the public about waste collection efforts.
    • Humanitarian :
      • Social media can help communicate health care facility information and locations of health centres.

    • Economic:
      • Social media can be used to help disseminate information regarding businesses and encourage economic recovery.

    • Infrastructure:
      • Social media can be used to communicate recovery of infrastructure, to identify areas that are in most need of recovery. Site clearance can also be co-ordinated.

    Linked to

    This guide is a short compilation of practical tips on how to use social media using examples of the core social media tools: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Flickr. It also describes the activities before, during and after a crisis.