Social Media in an Emergency: A Best Practice Guide

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Primary Target Country
Publishing Organisation Wellington Region CDEM Group
Language English
Year Published 2012
Target Audience Practitioners
Status Published
Disaster Management Phase After, Before, During
Covers Thematic Content creation, Crisis communication, Social Media Strategy, Social Media Team building, Verification
Audience Experience Level Intermediate, Starter
Source Website
Abstract Checklist for authorities

Actions to take before an emergency

  • Decide at what level your organization will engage in Social Media (SM)
  • Get familiar with the types of SM available (and tasks each tool is best suited to)
  • Create a SM strategy (through consultation with relevant staff members)
  • Develop policy for the streamlining of information release during the response phase (if applicable)
  • Develop policy for the staffing of SM and appropriate use of SM for employees
  • Develop policy for the management of gathered information in the response phase
  • Develop guidelines for the design of sites (if applicable)
  • Get familiar with your legal obligations and make appropriate provisions, including for
    • Copyright
    • Privacy
    • Comment guidelines for the public (if applicable)
    • Record-retention
  • Get an adequate number of staff involved and trained
  • Amend existing training programs with SM content as appropriate
  • Engage with varying types of SM technologies
  • Begin to monitor popular sites where conversations are taking place
  • Set up sites (if applicable)
  • Begin to build your online presence and trust with your community (if applicable)
  • Begin to share relevant information on sites (if applicable)
  • Begin to interact with your online community (if applicable)
  • Begin to build relationships with other key Emergency Management organizations
  • Create contacts with key search engine operators (if applicable)
  • Run pre-event tests of your use of SM

Actions to take during an emergency

  • Remember to be adaptive
  • Follow your pre-developed plans, procedures, protocols and policies (or alternatively, create necessary plans and policies)
  • Keep in mind your legal obligations and ensure these are met
  • Investigate ways to maximize the resources available to you and implement these, where necessary and appropriate
  • Create and/or maintain strong links with other organizations and community groups
  • Take steps to build and maintain trust with your online community (if applicable)
  • If you are using SM to disseminate information:
    • Consider community expectations and tailor your response to meet these where appropriate or act to address unrealistic expectations
    • Establish your organization as a credible source of information early after the event and keep releasing
    • Point to existing sources of official information where this is beneficial. Do not point to sources of information that are not credible at any stage
    • Streamline the release of information – including through the use of templates and through labelling the reliability of information
    • Consider what information the public needs to make informed decisions and steer the information released towards this
    • Don’t go quiet
    • Make use of the #mythbuster hashtag where appropriate
    • Obtain sign-off from the Controller for sensitive information, streamlining this process where possible
    • For Twitter, ensure popular hashtags are adopted and any that you do create are simple, short, relevant and obvious
    • Where appropriate, name the source of your information
    • Encourage sharing of messages among your online community
    • Consider the risk reward benefit cost of releasing information and of shared misinformation (e.g. allow the community to self-correct where possible)
  • In relation to monitoring/managing incoming information:
    • ‘Ensure Planning and Intelligence communicate clearly to Public Information Manager what information they require
    • Develop a Collection Plan detailing what sources of information will be monitored and for what types of information
    • Utilize traditional methods of collating, aggregating and releasing information where appropriate
    • Utilize a monitoring template to aggregate and summarize gathered information
    • Make use of analytic tools – ensure these are combined with people-based solutions
    • Make use of online map/mashup tools to make information more easily visualized as a whole
  • TO validate community information:
    • Identify what information requires validation
    • Use existing validation tools where appropriate, considering timeliness issues
    • Ask the community for additional information to confirm or contradict unconfirmed, important incoming information
    • Look to other trusted information sources for validating
  • TO integrate community information into the Emergency Operations Center
    • Use pre-existing processes where appropriate
    • Consider projecting summary information and/or running registers of common issues onto a wall to help Public Information Manager team identify key actions
    • Utilize mashup technologies to identify “hot spot” areas needing resources
    • Ensure key factors that need to be addressed are addressed '
  • TO prioritize community information
    • Look to the community for guidance'
    • Hold regular prioritization meetings
    • Maximize delegation authorities so personnel can act quickly when needed
  • Provide feedback regarding the helpfulness of incoming information to those monitoring Social Media sources and the community

Actions to take after an emergency

  • Remember to be adaptive
  • Continue to monitor and maintain sites, but to a lesser degree than during the response phase
  • Respond to new issues/queries as required
  • Consider the original goals you set for your use of Social Media and list out your markers of success based on these
  • Create detailed records of your response via Social Media including key learnings of what went well as what didn’t g’‘s’‘well
  • Survey the online community for feedback on the response (through use of a structured survey or more informally) (if applicable)
  • Measure (through the use of tracker applications, for example) quantifiable factors that provide an indication of your success (if applicable)
  • Make key information accessible for future events (including across organizations)
  • Make required changes to policies and processes based on learnings
  • Debrief all relevant personnel

Please note: Access to the following links is currently only available for project partners

Checklist for authorities:

Levels of Engagement in Social Media:

Social Media Types - Pros and Cons:

Is Archived No
Covers platforms Twitter

This guide is based on the experience from CDEM-Groups (Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups) in New Zealand which are already using social media in crisis management. The focus of the guide is to provide practical advice for using social media during the response phase. The ‘readiness phase’ is only included where actions or decisions need to be made to plan for and prepare for the use of social media during an emergency. It includes a lot of additional sources and practical checklists.