Today’s CB2 is an open letter to Facebook’s Public Policy Communications Manager, Andrew Noyes as headlines such as ABC’s “Facebook to Issue Amber Alerts to Help in Locating Missing Kids” are being shared across the web.
As a government and public safety technologist having devoted a lot of time and attention to mass notifications and Amber Alerts, today’s articles announcing that Facebook is issuing Amber Alerts jumped right out at me. I think it’s great that all 50 states have their own Amber Alert pages that people can like, and in turn see updates in their News Feed. I realize the task doesn’t happen overnight, and applaud this milestone.
Facebook should be excited about this, as should parents everywhere. Just last week a 1 year old was in the back seat of a stolen car 4 blocks from my office, and I used Facebook to immediately put friends on the lookout – even before an Amber Alert was issued.
But I challenge your statement: “We try to be as innovative in safety as we are in any other aspect of our business.” Across law enforcement as a whole, yes, these Facebook pages are innovative, but for Facebook engineers… I hope your team takes this much further.
The pages are a nice start, but the real work is in helping to spread Amber Alerts intelligently among users without the traditional process of locating and Liking their state’s Facebook page – which I predict will yield a single digit % of their total population at best, gauging by the closest comparison of state emergency management alert Facebook pages. Yes the network effect of those small number of people sharing Amber Alerts with their friends does spread word to a larger audience, but each hop takes time and relies on strong influencers to spread rapidly (as I explain in an earlier post “CB2: Social Alerting With Influence“).
It wouldn’t be fair to critique without offering up suggestions on how I would do it, so here are four ideas to get rolling. I hope they inspire creative thought among your team and I invite you all to join our social network GovLoop here in return – the largest social network of awesome Government leaders.
Idea 1: Leverage existing ad space – Since Facebook ads can be targeted by location, include something similar to what’s pictured here in your rotation. This still requires Liking, but brings Amber Alerts to the user’s attention to get those numbers up.
Idea 2: Email and mobile notifications – They can be disabled by default as not to overload users, but it would be helpful to have a section like the one pictured below on Facebook’s Notification Settings page. Amber Alerts are already distributed over SMS and Email to subscribers. Checking these boxes should opt in the Facebook user immediately, based on the Current Location in their profile. Additionally, Push Notifications could be sent to smart phones for those users concerned about text messaging rates.
Idea 3: Feature active alerts – We’re used to seeing important messages from Facebook above our News Feed from time to time. So how about something like this? Clicking Share would post it to your own wall, while giving users the option not to view these again in the future.
Idea 4: Get hyper-local – While there’s an Amber Alert Facebook page now for each state, alerts can be issued for a much smaller radius – since I don’t care about an alert in Miami when I’m 4 hours away in St. Pete. Since it’s impractical to create hundreds more pages, perhaps you can develop a private application for use by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that enables them to enter a location an effective radius, enabling you to target the ideas above more accurately at Facebook users. Location-based emergency push notifications is where the future is.
Thanks for your time Andrew and I welcome you to respond in the comments section below!
chris.bennett [@T] post.harvard.edu
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