Communications, Miscellaneous, Tech
CB2: Twitter Fast Follow for Crisis Alerting
Last week Twitter announced Fast Follow, a way for citizens to subscribe to your Tweets via SMS even if they don’t have a Twitter account. For example, if I text “follow StPeteFL” to 40404 I will start receiving every Tweet from St. Petersburg, FL as a text message on my phone. That’s easier than subscribing to most city alert programs, which often require your name, email, etc to be entered online. And, people don’t even have to know what Twitter is or how to use it – huge considering roughly 75% of the US is not Tweeting.
Could cities save big money using Twitter as their mobile alerting platform?
Mobile alerting is expensive. From phone company to service providers fees, it costs anywhere between 1 to 3 cents per message, passed on to municipalities in the form of annual agreements ranging from $10,000 to over $100,000 per year. If you don’t have that kind of money to spend (or want to start saving it), here’s how I would use Twitter Fast Follow as an alternative:
- Create a unique Twitter account that you’ll just use for alerts, for example “StPeteAlert.” The shorter the better. Don’t plan on using this for your other updates like “See our video on the parking lot ribbon cutting.” Use it sparingly when you have something important to say so you’re not text pestering.
- Promote the message “Text ‘follow StPete Alert to 40404’ to get emergency alerts from St. Petersburg.” Put up some signs, add it to your website, get the local news to cover it, whatever.
- Tweet your message from your new account to blast out an alert. Every subscriber will receive a text message when you do this by way of Twitter’s feathery magic.
- Reliability. If Twitter could harpoon the fail whale and keep their service online 99% of the time (putting it on par with traditional alerting companies), one could rest easier using Twitter to power crisis alerting. I wouldn’t recommend it now for “shooter on campus” alerts where seconds matter, but it would be fine for weather warnings, major road closures, etc.
- Feature set. Alerting companies provide a lot of useful features like transmission reports, message templates, geotargeting, etc. This doesn’t exist yet for Twitter, but it could. Ok fine, I take that challenge! GovLive will whip something up as we always do. If you’re a city webmaster and want to be the guinea pig, I mean pilot, contact me.
Tommy Can You Hear Me?
While I’m on the topic of Twitter for crisis alerting, I’ll bring up yet again that Twitter really needs to start validating more government accounts (GovLive Tweets or GovTwit can help) and use that validation to promote official information during emergencies. The graphic below, which I Photoshopped and dropped off at Twitter’s office in April without receiving any reply, says it all.
It’s really a beginner’s guide for anyone looking to dive into Twitter, but one of the better ones I have come across. After going through this guide you’ll be ready to use Fast Follow to send crisis alerts!
About Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett is a self-proclaimed emergency management innovator who is trying to make government better by improving citizen preparedness and crisis communications. He’s a graduate of Wharton with a master’s from Harvard with in “Technology, Innovation, Education.” His portfolio of companies and former projects include OneStorm Hurricane Preparedness, ReadyTown, GovLive, TexasPrepares and America’s Emergency Network. Chris was the recipient of FL Governor Crist’s 2008 Public Information Award. He lives in St. Petersburg, FL, loves to fish, and has been spotted sharing a pint with GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler in Tampa.