Shooting and Blizzard Show the Potential of Social Media in a Crisis

Social media channels are powerful communication tools normally but
when incorporated into your crisis action plan they can add a valuable
weapon to the government public affairs arsenal. Two recent events on
Army installations with very different results demonstrated this

The reviews aren’t close to being done on all the things that went
right or wrong during the events that unfolded at Ft. Hood on November
5th. One of the questions that will have to be asked is whether or
not the crisis communications plans were built to support all of the
many means to communicate info to the community during the shooting
and its aftermath.

A cursory review shows that many things did indeed go right for the
public affairs office that day but at first glance the use of social
media to inform the community was unfortunately not leveraged
effectively. A review of the official Facebook Fan page and Twitter
feeds shows that both went completely silent throughout the entire
event. Neither had any official posts until over 24 hours after the
shooting when they thanked everyone for their support and put out the
info where donations could be sent.

One of the great advantages of using social media tools to put out
info is the speed with which you can update them and ease of use.
Most government websites are not built for quick updating or ease of
management. A month and a half after the shooting another crisis
unfolded at an Army base that showed how social media could be used as
a powerful part of a public information plan.

Fort Belvoir, south of Washington DC, has a robust presence in social
media and when a blizzard struck the area just before Christmas they
took advantage of their Facebook and Twitter outlets to constantly put
out the latest info throughout the storm. In a three day period they
updated their feeds well over 120 times and used the outlets as a key
part of their crisis action response.

Mr. Don Carr, Director of Public Affairs, tells me that “most of what
we did is part of the PA (public affairs) annex to the installation’s
adverse weather response plan. The SM sites are not specifically part
of the annex; we just did it. Our update to the annex will roll ’em

Mr. Carr goes on to note what made the social media outlets especially
powerful “was the ‘instant’ feedback we got on FB and Twitter. As
residents or employees would post a comment about how things were, I
was able to cut-n-paste them into emails to the IOC (Installation
Operations Center), DPW (Department of Public Works) or the Housing
folks, so that priorities for plows and other work could be adjusted

The results speak for themselves as over 100 more people became fans
on Facebook and the overwhelming majority of comments were effusive in
their praise for the amount and timeliness of the information they
were getting from the comfort of their homes or portable devices.

Both cases show how with the growth in popularity of official
government social media channels incorporating them into your crisis
action plan is imperative and effective. The instant speed of
information distribution they offer are powerful tools in the
communications toolbox and an increasingly savvy public demands the
two way conversation.

Are you incorporating your social media channels in your government or organizational crisis communications plans? Would love to hear of your examples.

Originally posted at my blog: www.armedandcurious.com

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Speaking of disasters, FEMA is using its Twitter accounts to keep its constituents informed about disaster declarations and the status of disasters. Each region has its own version of Twitter and the national office has an account for national emergencies. On top of that, the FEMA Administrator – Craig Fugate – has his own personal Twitter account. This layered approach to using social media is evolving as a best practice.

Frederick P. Wellman

They do have good feeds going though not too many followers yet. I do think that as a disaster unfolds it falls on the local government and in the military’s case, local installation, to keep folks informed of things on an immediate basis. FEMA isn’t generally on the ground as a crisis is truly breaking out. That was absolutely our frustration in many soldiers eyes as things unfolded on the ground and information was coming from civilian sources or paid commentators on TV and not the officials on the ground at the installation level. We are all tought in our school that you are supposed to get out maximum information in minimum time but the definition of minimum time is now clearly out of date. Minimum time would have been as soon as they figured out the shooter wasn’t dead instead of 8 hours later at a formal press conference. Minimum time would have been a stream of information to people hiding in buildings or locked down in their homes instead of leaving it to the various military units to try and get hold of everyone. I think in this age of social media we need to re-define our definitions or we will be left looking foolish or worse fail to keep our citizens safe during a crisis.