Developing a Social Preparedness/Response Strategy

Developing a social strategy is never as easy as it seems.  And sure, you can take the trial and error approach to social media.  However, at some point, you will want to develop a holistic strategy to maximize your effectiveness.  After all, outreach is very important to preparedness and response efforts. The more your stakeholders are prepared and know what to do, the better.

To maximize your effectiveness, you should develop a social strategy based on four key steps:

  1. Define your People
  2. Evaluate your Objectives
  3. Create your Strategy
  4. Decide on your Technology

1.  Define your People

The people are the most important aspects of this strategy.  They represent the whole reason for developing a social strategy in the first place.  Essentially, you want to provide real value for them.  As such, it is important to define and truly understand who they are.

Here are some helpful considerations:

  • How many different audiences do you have?  What are they?  Why have you split them this way?  Are their any internal secondary audiences?
  • What are the characteristics of each audience?  Are they generally technology savvy?  Busy people?  Income levels?  What are their sociological demographics?
  • What is the ability to access technology like?  Where do they tend to congregate (online and offline)?

It is very helpful to develop a full profile for each audience to better understand who you will be trying to connect with.  This is much a business plan as you try to better understand your target audiences by describing them.

2.  Evaluate Your Objectives

Objectives represent what YOUR organizations want to achieve.  Of course, there will be consideration for what people need as well, but these should inherently be aligned!

Here are some helpful considerations:

  • How many objectives do you have?  What are they?  Can they be grouped more broadly?
  • Are you trying to change behavior?  If so, what behavior?
  • Do you want to share, produce or curate information?  What kind of information?
  • Are the objectives clear and concise?  Can stakeholders easily buy-in?
  • Are there any measurements to know that you have achieved your objectives?  Can you be specific?  (e.g., 60% of citizens have a preparedness kit)

Developing objectives are not an exact science.  In fact, they can and probably will evolve over time.  Start to define some and be sure to get feedback from others, including audiences.   Where possible, add objectives that you can measure.  Ultimately, you will want to evaluate for effectiveness of what you have planned to do.

3. Create Your Strategy

Strategy brings together the different characteristics of the audiences you defined along with your objectives. Strategy represents the intersection of people and objectives. Think through this carefully and be sure to get feedback along the process.

  • What kinds of things to you want to do? Do you want to start a blog, a social media account, mapping? Will it resonate with your audiences as well as your objectives?
  • Do any of your strategy ideas get priority? Why?
  • If you were to diagram this on paper, what would it look like? Concentric, hierarchical, independent relationships?
  • Do you have the overall concept? Do understand how the strategy will be implemented and then managed?
  • What policies, procedures, guidance or training is needed?

Your strategy will be the most evolutionary as your social/online program grows.   It may be helpful to develop multiple strategies and select the best one.  You may return to the others at a later time.  Your strategy will likely be highly interdependent and connected, so you should take the time to develop this.

4.  Decide on Your Technology

Noticeably last is the technology that you will use to accomplish your objectives and strategy.  While technology is important, it is more important to first define your intentions regardless of technological capabilities.  This ensures that you efforts will be maximized for what you are trying to accomplish rather than being distracted by the wiz-bang features offered.

Here are some helpful considerations:

  • What tools are available that will help you reach your audiences?  Which ones accomplish your objectives and strategy best?
  • Is there one solution or multiple solutions that will meet your needs?  What audience facing solutions vs. management oriented solutions will meet your needs?
  • Are hosted solutions are appropriate?  How much training is needed or are the system(s) fairly intuitive?
  • Is the cost of a particular feature so great that you may want to consider assigning the process to someone instead of using a solution?
  • What is the cost-benefit associated with certain solutions/options?

The technology you choose to employ is critical.  You may be using it for a long time.  However, understanding your priorities will help determine where technology is needed the most and if it might be better to go without a particular solution for a while.  Give this some good thought and identify your most critical technological needs.

NOTE:  Solutions are increasingly offered as "hosted" solutions meaning that no installation is required on your systems and you can access everything from the Internet.  The security concerns around this have largely been addressed and many organizations find this perfectly acceptable in addition to being the most economical.

Final Thoughts

For many, trial and error is an adequate solution initially.  However, as you grow and get more effective, you will want to outline the most effective way to accomplish your objectives.  The consistency you achieve with your audiences will be much appreciated and pay off dividends.

Remember that prioritizing this information is critical.  Technology solutions will NEVER be 100% of what you are looking for.  It may be wise to accept the 80% solution rather than pay enormous customization or purchase costs for the remaining 20% of features.

Lastly, this strategy should be considered a living document.  Update and edit as frequently as needed.  You may learn things that you never though of before mid-way through implementation.  Keep an open mind and make change part of your everyday!

For more information on this subject, I highly recommend Groundswell:  Winning in World Transformed by Social Technologies.


What audiences and objectives do you have?  What strategies have you developed or are looking to develop?  What solutions have you found work best and why?

Social Media in Disaster Exercises

In case you don't know, my full-time job for the past number of years has been as a consultant putting on various types of large-scale disaster exercises across the country. I have designed and developed exercises for all levels of government and many different programs.  

As emergency managers and public information officers struggle to incorporate social media planning into operations, some organizations have begun to incorporate social media into exercises as a way to better learn and adapt to its dynamic nature. Most recently, I helped incorporate social media into exercise play at the behest of one of my clients and learned a number of great lessons that I would like to share.

1) Train on the Plan AND on Social Media

Prior planning is a core element of exercise design and development as you want to test and validate the capabilities for which you have planned, not the ones for which you are not ready.  A good exercise also does not set up players for failure, they set up opportunities to learn. That is why prior planning is necessary.

But moving forward with an exercise without having trained on the plan or the subject matter is akin to throwing yourself into the deep end of pool without having learned to first tread water. Social media is also a soft skill that is dynamic in nature, meaning that it is very situation dependent and that just because you do X does not mean that Y will happen.  

While your plans will contain guidance, sending some of your designated folks to social media training ahead of time will help them to grasp and employ the concepts laid out in your plan. They will also be able to help you capture better lessons learned and observations.  

2) Clearly Identify Your Social Media Objectives

Objectives help drive exercise play to the appropriate level for which you have planned for and are capable of. Give some good thought to exactly what you would like to walk away from the exercise having learned and/or validated.  

For example, if you are just starting out with social media, you may want to focus on public information dissemination through social media. If you are more advanced, you may want to focus on public interaction and rumor control through social media. Want a better challenge? Use your "dummy" Twitter accounts (see Point 4) with other jurisdictions' dummy accounts if they are participating in the exercise.  

3) Exercise the Process, Not the Tool

The truth is, there are just so many more social media channels that just Facebook and Twitter. There are also just so many tools just to manage the different channels. However, they tools and channels don't matter as much as the process by which you release, gather, and interact with information.  

If you are able to effectively utilize and master a process, you can easily adapt to the available channels and tools. Focus on exercising workflow and how to handle certain types of information. 

4) Use Twitter to Test the Process

The use of social media largely external.  So how do you exercise inherently public facing tools? Well, Twitter provides options to keep accounts and Tweets private and protected. Set up a separate test account that is similar to your public facing account, except make it protected.  

Also establish about five "dummy" accounts that can be used to simulate citizens, businesses, or other individuals/organizations. Make sure these are also private. A good naming format is "Test_[Jurisdiction]_[Organization]_[User Type]".  

Lastly, make sure you each account "follows" the other.  Even if you mention an external account or hashtag, the tweets will still remain private. Afterwards, you can even print out a copy of the timeline to review for evaluation.  

NOTE: If you are using an aggregation tool such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, make sure the player does not post to the real-world accounts.  

5) Use a Social Media Savvy Controller

Use a controller who has a good understanding of social media as well as exercise objectives to manage the five or so "dummy". While it is helpful to develop a general outline of social media comments, questions or injects ahead of time, the dynamic nature of social media is best suited for a controller who can react to the circumstances as a person in a real incident would, but also be mindful of the organization's current social media capabilities and the exercise's objectives.  

Using an aggregation tool such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck is helpful. If that is not possible, you can still sign in to each account individually, but you may have to use different browsers, tabs, and windows to accomplish this.  


Social is fairly new for emergency management and exercises incorporating social media are even newer. But taking some simple steps that compliment your exercise design and development process will help you to better identify your social media needs, gaps, and lessons learned. Additionally, your comfort level will grow.  

How did you incorporate social media into your disaster exercises?  What lessons did you learn?  

Social Media and Disasters

The fast-paced spread of social media has left organizations and industries in catch-up mode to figure out ways to harness social media to their advantage.  Social Media has taken the world by storm over the past few years with the proliferation of applications like TwitterFacebookFoursquare and MySpace.  Mobile applications have further enabled the adoption rate of these tools like other words, they have become viral, just like a public health disease spreading upon contact, but in a good way.  Controlling them is not an option; but working with them is.

Amtrak's Northeast Corridor recently experienced a large outage as commuters were about to start their commutes home via Amtrak and commuter rail lines, stranding many travelers.  The most frustrating aspect was the lack of communication by Amtrak via appropriate channels.

The crucial mistake Amtrak made was limiting information dissemination and communication to mass media, referring to television and radio.  However, commuters don't typically watch television or listen to the radio while at work.  Nor do they always check the print media websites before leaving work.  In fact, most commuters only have access to their cell phones and smart phones filled with applications for Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms that they are checking on their way to the train station.

The world is also transitioning, which makes disaster management and public information even more challenging.  The younger generation is tech savvy and does not typically gain information through Mass Media; the older generation still relies on Mass Media for information and doesn't typically use the Internet as much.  Organizations must consider both groups of people when developing their social media strategy.  A media strategy should incorporate mass media, social media, news media, etc.

How has a comprehensive media strategy helped your organization?

Social Media and Records Retention...It's Here!

With multiple social media accounts across multiple platforms, it is often difficult to aggregate the data and information.  Traditionally, aggregators have done a great job of helping us manage the multi-channel/multi-platform approach to social communications.  Tools such as HootsuiteTweetdeck, and Seesmic are low-cost options for getting started.  However, until now, they have not offered the ability to easily export and maintain the records of messages and conversations as required by some federal, state and local statutes.  Additionally, with thousands of messages sometimes flying around, it is hard to properly retain these records.   

Simly said, records retention has been a critical element missing as widespread adoption of social media continues.  However, Hootsuite, my favorite aggregator tool, has just added an archiving feature.  I haven't had a chance to play around with it much, nor has the company promoted the feature yet, but it looks promising to solve the legal issues associated with social media records retention.  You can archive 100 messages for free at this point.  Archiving 10,000 messages will cost you an extra $10/month.  Archiving 100,000 messages costs an additional $50/month.  

Either way, the costs are relatively minimal and provide a good opportunity to begin testing your social media prowess without overinvesting from the start!  The platform also provides enterprise management features that allow team members to coordinate, assign tasks, and manage specified accounts.  These are especially helpful if your social media presence is growing unweildy.  

What is your favorite aggregator?  How do you maintain your social media records?

3 Types of Social Engagement for Disasters

Social media is becoming ingrained within the daily operations of disaster management.  From mitigation through recovery, emergency management agencies are implementing social media strategies.  But with limited precedent and understanding for their effectiveness, change is hard. Operationally speaking, how do organizations begin tackling their social media strategy?  What tools are being used?  Who is assigned the responsibility?  And for what specific area?  What procedures/policies/processes are being used to support disaster social media?

We know the many social tools that are out there...Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc.  The tools, though, don't not necessarily help us achieve our fundamental objective of preparing our communities through effective engagement.  This is where strategy comes in and the different types of social media strategies.


Whether you as the Disaster Manager, Public Information Officer, or Intern is at the helm for your organization's social media, it is important to develop your strategy around 3 types of engagement that span all phases of disaster management.

1)  Messaging. Probably the most common and time-honored type of communication strategy for disaster management organizations, social media has added tools that enable use to do this more effectively.  Press releases, preparedness tips, and incident information can easily be passed through Facebook's and Twitter's status updates.

Public Information Officers (in general) develop dissemination strategies through  use of Facebook  (using Facebook Pages) or Twitter by increasing the number of follwers.  There are also aggregation tools such as HootSuite and TweetDeck (check out 7 Social Media Aggregation Tools to Simplify Your Streams for more tools) that help you manage messaging dissemination.  Analytics can also be incorporated through the use of URL Shortners such as or  Better yet, show your influence to your bosses and naysayers with Klout, the standard for measuring social influence.

2)  Conversation. Probably more difficult, but certainly the next step in disaster social media strategy, conversing with our public is becoming expected and certainly a gray area between messaging and data collection.  If the public sends tweets asking questions, they want answers.  Conversation is much more expansive than public messaging because it includes going to where the conversation is taking place.  These days, more and more conversation is taking place on LinkedIn and niche sites in addition to Facebook and Twitter.  It is unrealistic to believe that conversation will only happen on your website.

Conversation, though, can easily eat up manpower and is a risky public media strategy as you develop proper responses to often heated questions and discussions (check out the NYC Social Media Customer Use Policy and the NYC Social Media Policy).  But it is one well worth the effort as your community begins to recognize that you are not just listening, but engaging and working on the things that they so desperately need.  They need to know not only what you have done, but what you are working on!  Begin looking where the conversations are taking place and start engaging now, before the disaster.  Create a list of all online places where YOUR communities are engaging and where your organization should have a presence.

3)  Data Collection and Management. I will be honest, we aren't here yet, but we are heading in this direction.  It is a simple fact, the public is everywhere else that we are not.  They are assets in helping us identify and manage unmet need, and in maintaining good situational awareness.  But they don't necessarily know what our data reporting needs are and they certainly don't know the best place to feed this information to.  But what if we identified existing (or perhaps created) tools that are easy for the public to use and will enable us to do our jobs better?  What if we created the processes behind the tools to help manage the flow of information so that public information becomes more meaningful?

Adam Crowe, CEM presented on this future in his conference presentation Going Beyond Facebook & Twitter.  He discussed the use of social geo-location tools to ultimately aid:

  • Search & Rescue
  • Debris Management
  • Damage Assessment
  • Spotter Deployment
  • Field Accountability

Tools like Facebook Places, Foursquare, and Google Latitude are just a smattering of examples.  Many new mobile location-based applications are being developed and it is up to us to develop the processes and procedures behind the next generation of applications to meet our information needs from the public.  Technology today makes this possible and is a lot simpler than you think with do it yourself tools like SwebApps and AppMakr.


Your followers are your community members as well as those in the surrounding areas.  Prominent organizations and other response partners in your community are also  followers that have the ability to amplify your messages farther than you can imagine.  Check to see if your local non-profits or response partners maintain an online social presence and incorporate them into your social media strategy.

What does your social media strategy look like?  How is it organized?  Who is responsible?