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Using Social Media in Emergency Management


Key Elements for Effective Engagement by Local Governments

The rise of social media has been a major factor in many recent disasters, with both positive and negative outcomes. Without question, this increasingly popular networking outlet is important to emergency and disaster management, and some local governments and agencies are fielding the new challenge more successfully than others.

For some local governments and agencies, finding a way to tap into this vast and fluid resource has been challenging. To help these organizations wade through the vast amount of information regarding the successful usage of social media, the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) recently posted some helpful information from the National County Government 2016 toolkit.

Clear patterns to social media success

After doing research on more than a hundred local government social media sites, several key engagement styles and patterns were noted to be consistent among the different agencies that use social networking sites effectively.

Key patterns included:

  • Presenting content that avoids repetition and offers familiarity and applicability in clear language that is easily understood.
  • Fostering positive dialogue and interaction between agencies and their community and citizens through the sharing of opinions and perspectives, and ensuring these comments are responded to promptly with a positive approach.
  • Determining what the agency's online presence, tone, and portrayal of itself is, and then being consistent with that style/persona.
  • Consistent inclusion of all stakeholders -- community organizations, local businesses, schools -- and publishing content that includes information that is relevant, timely, and focused.
  • Daily updating and regular engagement with the various online networking sites used by the agency.

Merely having a social media presence is not enough

The site also indicated that merely having a presence is not enough - agencies must be actively engaged with their citizens and communities by understanding their audiences, defining goals and outcomes, and continually evaluating their efforts. i.e. What worked and what did not work?

Beyond these basic functions that help establish a positive relationship with the community, effective organizations also view social media sites as a community outreach tools. Often, the sites are used to inform the community about upcoming events relevant to all stakeholders, including meetings, drills, changes/updates to policies and procedures, or community events.  Other ways effective agencies employ social media is by using it to stimulate the local economy and to help fight crime.

As technology advances and more people begin using and engaging in social media, the critical aspect of this function should not be lost on local government agencies. Used correctly, it can be an effective resource that can help promote cohesion within the community that prompts social capital and resilience, enhancing emergency and disaster preparedness and planning -- benefitting everyone.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.