#WaldoCanyonFire – 5 Lessons for Social Media in a Crisis Situation

[cross posted from blog.recovers.org]

Waldo Canyon Fire Photo 6-23-2012

Waldo Canyon Fire photo by @kittlent

“If you are available to do so, can you come into the joint info center for a bit to help me with few SM (social media) issues.”

Those words called me in for a five-day stint as the official Twitter voice for the Waldo Canyon Fire recovery effort, the most destructive fire in Colorado history, in late June 2012.

In the past, I had worked with the City of Colorado Springs Communications Division helping develop a social media strategy. Seeing this experience as potentially useful in this latest emergency, I joined the Joint Information Center (JIC) and began tweeting on behalf of the City, Mayor, Sheriff, County Health, and Police and Fire Departments.

In a separate report, I have discussed in detail the sequence of events during the fire, the high-pressure environment in the JIC, and the heroism and community spirit that arose in Colorado Springs. In this blog post, I’d like to share a five social media lessons we learned as an official source of information for Colorado Springs during a crisis situation.

1. Get a dashboard in place

Throughout the fire, we used Hootsuite to control the multiple official Colorado Springs Twitter accounts. There are a number of dashboards available, but we chose Hootsuite because of my previous familiarity with its interface and features. Having a central dashboard allowed us to post a message simultaneously across all accounts and manage their status all in one location. Many dashboards include analytics to keep track of which posts are having the greatest impact and reaching the most people.

2. Respect the community

In social media, the community decides everything. As the official account, you are a part of the conversation, but you are only one participant. Want to change the hashtag? Good luck– you can’t force people to use your vocabulary. The city is but one source of information in the social media community.

Social media has natural hubs & key influencers. Use them well as these can be your greatest asset. If key influencers are misinformed, focus on engaging them– this will provide maximum impact in spreading better information.

The community can naturally self-correct. There were several times during the fire when members of the Twitter community corrected erroneous tweets before we (as the “official” Twitter accounts) could get to them. Everyone had a stake in communicating truthfully, so we were all on the same team.

3. Be forgiving– of yourself and others

Digital communication removes the tone of voice from your messages. Remember that everyone is under stress, and everyone cares about the community. Choppy or terse comments can offend and get in the way of relating to your community.

4. Use your calm moments wisely

Sometimes, there is no new information to release. Use these times to host a Q&A, address direct messages, and thank your key influencers. Oh, and get some coffee– it’s gonna be another long night.

5. Take notes

The best thing to come out of a disaster is learning something that you can share to help others. Take notes and share your experiences with those that can use them in the future. If you’d like to read my whole report on using social media during the Waldo Canyon Fire, you can find it here.

Written By:

Jacob Anderson, Innovation Analyst for the City of Colorado Springs

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