Do you have a Social Media Strategy With Your Emergency Response System?

disaster recovery

Your Social Media Emergency Response 101

emergency response system 10464280_626162050293_4398488894884475128_nDepending on where you live, you may have heard about the widespread flooding that has hit parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the past week.  Torrential downpours pummeled the prairies in amounts that would have Noah worried, and since I have family and friends who live out there I turned to my faithful friend, Facebook to get the scoop on how everyone was doing. As I scrolled down my newsfeed I was able to get reports from various locations in both provinces, alerting me to the fact that bridges were being washed out, roads were being closed, people were fighting to save their homes and their livelihoods. In fact, I often turned to Facebook before I checked out news sites.  Countless pictures and videos captured the path of destruction that this insurmountable amount of water was wreaking on the land. In fact, on one occasion I was able to benefit from these social media updates to alert my parents to the fact that a bridge that they would be driving on had recently washed out. Facebook allowed me to get recent updates from people who were actually in the war zone.

As we move into a new era where social media has become the ‘go to girl’ for news and gossip, it is easy to understand how these types of tools can help us stay up to date.  Not only can we stalk old boyfriends, we can find out what’s going on around the world with the click of a mouse.

emergency response planHowever, relying on social media for all of your news can be a bit dangerous.  As the saying goes, don’t always believe what you read.  Take this infographic for example.  Health related pictures like this one often float around the cyberworld and it is very easy to get lured into believing it.  Just because there is some attractive text layered on a beautiful picture, it doesn’t mean that the facts on it are correct.

In fact, pouring all of your trust and faith into social media updates is a little like playing that old grade school game, telephone.  The initial message might start out something like “Mable likes to play football in the rain,” but eventually becomes, “Mable likes to do {insert nasty act} to the football team in the rain.”  Words or facts don’t have to get twisted around much before they mean something entirely different.

Now when it comes to emergency response, making sure everyone has the RIGHT facts is especially important. In fact, peoples’ lives depend on it.  It is not enough to simply assume that social media will help spread the word in an emergency situation.  Ensuring that social media informs and protects your people takes planning and strategy.  It is not spontaneous or random.

Here is a list of tips that will ensure that you make the most out of your social media emergency response system:

  • For starters, don’t wait until an emergency is in full swing before you dust off your Facebook fingers. If you are a community organization or a small company, you can benefit in many ways by developing your social media presence regardless if emergency response is a concern.  If you haven’t already got your social media sites set up, now is the time to do so. Some common sites to develop are: Facebook Fan Page, Twitter account, Google + profile (company and personal), and a YouTube channel.  All of these sites can help you connect with your target audience, build relationships and communicate important information in the times of emergencies.
  • Never underestimate the power of social media.  Sure, you might not be into posting selfies in the bathroom, but your target market might be–and that is important. A recent study conducted by the Red Cross concluded that 60% of respondents used social media on a regular basis. One third of participants believed that posting a call for help on social media would result in assistance, and 74% of those people believed that such assistance would arrive within the hour. And interestingly, the majority of Canadians believed that police and firefighters should monitor social media sites for emergency calls and be prepared to respond. Given the degree that social media has permeated our lives it is important to accept the fact that our clients and workers will not only be checking social media sites for information about all types of situations (emergency or otherwise) but posting about it as well.  Therefore, if you want to be an influential part of the action, you need to be an active participant. Take time to build your online presence, get involved with your audience so that when something does happen, you are already engaged with your followers. If you take the time to educate your people how to access you and what keywords/hashtags to look for, they will know where to turn if something in your company or community happens.
  • Think of building your social media presence as an investment. Yes, it takes time and it does seem odd to pay someone to be on Twitter or Facebook, but like any good investment, the returns will be worth your while.  If you aren’t internet savvy or don’t have the time, hire a part time staff member or recruit a volunteer to do the online work for you. Many young people are very adept at navigating the online world and are very up to date with regards to new trends, so it shouldn’t be hard to find someone to build this for you.  If you want to connect with people, you need to be where they are, and these days, people are online.  Consistency is also the key.  Don’t build your Facebook Fan Page, leave it for 3 months and then expect that when a crisis does occur three months later people will pay attention to your posts.  In fact, if you don’t post regularly on Facebook and engage your audience, your posts won’t likely even make it to their news feeds.  Post relevant and timely information on a regular basis to build a relationship with your community and then when something does happen you will already have the foundation built for good communication and emergency response.
  • Make friends with #Hashtags.  In a nutshell, hashtags (#) are a phrase preceded by a # or pound sign and create a clickable link.  When clicked, whether it’s on Facebook or on Twitter, the user will be directed to a list of other posts that share that same link.  For example, if the Town of Virden wanted to keep community members up to date on the flood situation, they could have created a #VirdenFlood hashtag and used that whenever they posted to Twitter or Facebook.  By doing that, and encouraging others to also use that same hashtag, emergency response team members can keep a close eye on not only what is going on in the community, they can also effectively dispel any false information or rumors that are being posted as well.  The simple fact is that when emergencies like this occur, there is often a certain amount of misinformation that gets put out there, and monitoring the social media conversations that people are engaging in can help prevent panic from setting in.  Hashtags are commonly used in both Twitter and Facebook, and are a great way to link certain conversations together.  So, when you are building your Facebook Fan Page or Twitter account, educate your people as to what hashtags to look for and encourage them to use them as well if they have news to report.  It’s an effective way to monitor what is being said and ensure that the correct facts are being shared with the general public.

There are also some very useful online tools that can help with communication, during normal and emergency situations.  Again, by building the foundations first and getting these set up prior to an emergency situation we can effectively control the flow of information during crisis events.

Take a look at some good tools that can help your company reach your people:

1. Automatic Text Message (SMS) Alert Software

Many people these days have a smart phone handy, and check text messages as they come in.  Get your people to sign up to receive text alerts and effectively communicate pertinent information during crisis situations.  The key here is to ensure that the appropriate people are on your text alert list, and ONLY send out relevant information.  If you send out too many texts, people will get annoyed and block you or request to be taken off the list.  Sending out text alerts can come in very handy if you need to alert people to various types of emergency situations, including weather, violence, environmental, or industry related situations.  What better way to alert people to an oil spill, tornado or active shooter than by sending out a quick text message. There are a variety of companies that offer text alert services, including: Simplified Alerts, Strike Iron, and Mozeo. There are a number of providers on the market so take some time to find the best fit for your company.

2. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is an online dashboard that allows you to manage all of your social media pages in one spot.  Not only can you post all of your updates from one location, you can monitor other peoples’ posts based on keywords or who has mentioned you in their posts.  This is a great way to monitor the conversations that are occurring about certain keywords or hashtags in the virtual community and save time doing it.  Again, by being aware of what is being said about a certain topic, (think #VirdenFlood) you can dispel incorrect information or rumors before they create panic in the community.

3. Interactive Mapping Tools

Share accurate information about what is going on in your community with online mapping tools.  If you need to alert people to geographic situations like locations of oil spills, floods, road conditions or other things, the best way to do that is with an accurate map.  There are a few on the market, and the key is to find one that suits your needs.  One service, called Ushahidi was first used in 2008 to track violent outbreaks that resulted from the disputed Kenyan election in 2007.  It allows users to share information about what is going on in their neck of the woods; they can share information by text message, email message or by web posting.  Esri (ArcGIS) is another mapping tool that allows you to create your own interactive maps and share them online and on smart phones.  Click here to see an overview of what ArcGIS (by Esri) can do for your company. By developing online maps with company/event specific information you can keep your people up to date regardless of where they are.

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And while we’re on the subject of online tools, let’s not forget about the power of smart phone apps. Smartphones have become like little best friends to many of us out there, and we use them for tasks ranging from email to weather reports. Check out this list of apps that can help your company keep your people informed:





Good Apps Worth Checking out:

1. Waze

This handy little app allows you to plan your route, send ETA’s, mark or learn about road hazards in the area.  Click here to see a brief overview of Waze.

2. Guardly

This neat little app allows users to communicate with security teams of campuses and other companies.  Its Indoor Positioning System transmits the building, floor and room of callers so that emergency response teams can quickly identify where the caller is located and respond accordingly.  This app comes in very handy in times when there are fires or active shooters on the premises.  Click here to see an overview of what Guardly can do for you.

3. St. John’s Ambulance and First Aid–Red Cross

In the event that something does happen on your job site or in your community it is nice to know that your people have access to first aid information.  These two apps provide useful and potentially life-saving information to the user so they are equipped to respond to medical injuries, regardless of where they are.

4. ERG 2012

This is a handy app to have on hand if you deal with chemical spills on a regular basis as it contains an indexed list of dangerous goods and the associated ID number, the general hazards they pose and recommended safety precautions.

5. EarShot

EarShot is a crisis communication app that allows 2 way communication via forms, photos, documents, alerts and GPS services.  It even works when voice, SMS, and email won’t. Organizations can use EarShot to get eyewitness information right from the emergency location and allow them to respond accordingly.

6. Safer Mobile Response

This is a free app that provides the North American Emergency Response Guide (NAERG) so the user can access information like live weather reports, points of interest, visual initial isolation distance.  It allows users to create, edit and share scenarios, access Google Maps and Google Traffic, and access quick reference NAERG pages.

And even though technology is a great way to share information and keep communities and employers notified of pertinent information, it is also important to be aware of the fact that not everyone will be linked to social media sites or the internet, and that in some situations the technology may not work.  In cases of community emergencies it will be also vital to ensure that people who don’t have access to online tools are also kept in the information loop.  One way to do this is to develop a system where team leaders share information personally or via telephone to predetermined groups of people. The information sharing strategy needs to account for situations when certain people don’t have access to the tools or when the technology isn’t working.

There are many more apps and online tools out there, but these are just a few good ones.  The theme of the day here is that if you invest your time wisely it is possible to create a social media strategy that will help you build relationships with your employees, clients and community members so that when emergencies do arise you are equipped to deal with them, share pertinent information with the appropriate people, dispel rumors and prevent panic.  Make sure the right people are provided with the information they need and the general public gets the correct facts.  You have the technology.

If you enjoyed our blog about social media with your emergency response system and know someone who might benefit from what we have to offer, please comment and share this blog around! We want to keep you safe!

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