I just got back from the Oregon Emergency Medical Services conference in Salem, where I talked about the use of social media for crisis communications. After the three presentations I asked one of the conference coordinators if he had heard any feedback on my work. Among the mostly positive comments was one negative observation; “He didn’t spend enough time talking about the negatives of using social media.”
Hmmm… Now, I don’t take negative feedback personally and in this case the conference coordinator brought me in to convince people of the need to get on the #SMEM bandwagon. But, the person had a valid point. Identifying the negative is important in making sure your agency has a realistic approach in wielding the power of #SMEM. So, for the participant who wants to know some of the negatives here goes:
Social media costs money. No, I’m not necessarily talking about the platforms. Most of them are free, or you can pay a nominal fee for turbo versions offering more robust analytical capabilities and reach. No, I’m talking about the cost of leveraging human capital to successfully engage. I preach about the need to have a cadre of followers and social media presence before crisis hits, and to do that it takes a focused investment of time and attention by key staff members. Continual engagement is required if you want to build a social media relationship and presence in your community. Episodic engagement is not engagement, its blind dating. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t work it often leaves a bad taste for both parties.
Social media is not the silver bullet. Actually, I talked about this in my class. SM platforms are still only one way to engage and communicate, albeit an increasingly important one. In rural communities, Tweety’s General Store and the Faceplant Tavern are still places neighbors go to find out what is really going on. Holding community meetings and posting flyers and sandwich boards will always have a place in crisis communications.
Social media platforms are about as stable as the spine of a jelly fish. In other words, they are constantly being tweaked, sometimes with significant implications. Those of us close to crisis communications in the digital age know about the issues surrounding the Facebook algorithm and the mysterious way it filters what an end user sees on their feed. Most recently, Facebook was hammered because its algorithm filtered out the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, while the news exploded on Twitter. But, did you know Twitter is talking about introducing a similar algorithm? I’m afraid it will alter the fundamental usefulness for incident commanders and communicators. We will just have to wait and see. Shudder…
Social media can be used as a weapon. While we all know trolls and terrorists are using Twitter and Facebook to globally spread their brand of vitriol, it is also being used to organize acts of group civil disobedience. Recently, protestors in Hong Kong began using the new SM platform FireChat to organize their activities, even though the Chinese government has shut down the cell phone networks. The implications of this new platform have yet to be fully identified, but if I was a law enforcement official using it for situational awareness and intelligence gathering I’d be watching this situation closely.
Thanks to the commenter on my presentation, and I hope he reads my blog. Often all we do is focus on the great things about social media without offering up the necessary caveats and warnings. Now you all have been duly warned. Now, jump in, the water’s fine.