So, to be completely honest, I’m a bit disappointed in you all. There were some major holes in last week’s post, and no one called me put on them. For shame!
Assuming outgoing messages will be disseminated solely by the PIO or JIC is naive at best and ostrich-like (H/T Jonathan Bernstein) at worst. Large responses can be peopled by dozens, hundreds, or thousands of responders. Do you really think that none of them has a smartphone with Facebook loaded on it?
So, let’s start there. Obviously some social media posts should be verboten. Images of survivors (or worse, victims), posts questioning the response operations, and information leaks (read: disclosing confidential information about the situation or response) are, in my mind, cause for release from the scene. Beyond that is the gray area.
What should be done about responders who are not within the JIC but are still posting messages that either echo or support the JICs message, or more fuzzily, that support the operation, but aren’t part of the JIC messaging. Consider operational staff who tweet about 9th Street being closed because it’s the primary route from the staging area to the scene, or remind their Facebook friends that the water isn’t safe to drink and should be boiled, or retweeting your official messages. Would you dismiss those folks? I’m not sure.
And what about all of those social media policies that the experts are telling us to develop? How do these figure into things? Consider a multi-agency response with partners as varied as the Red Cross, which has a great and liberal social media policy, and your typical municipal government, which has either no social media policy or a very restrictive policy. Does whoever get placed into the Incident Commander position get to trump established practices within those other agencies that are contributing to the response? I’m guessing yes, but shouldn’t that be worked out beforehand? Before some poor Red Crosser starts posting away and gets smacked down by the IC?
For some of our private sector readers, think about a situation where your company sub-contracts out parts of the crisis response. The stakes are just as high, and certain bells can’t be unrung. If your sub-contractor hasn’t developed their social media policies yet, and their employees feel free to tweet away, and then one of them posts something like, “OMG, you wouldn’t believe how disgusting this plant is, rat [feces] EVERYWHERE! I’m never eating at [your company’s name] again!!!” It’s easy to take that person off the job, and maybe you can terminate the contract, but with one tweet, your whole crisis communication plans are down the tube.
The final piece of the puzzle is what to do in some of the above situations. I mentioned removing someone from a response, but (and I’m asking some of our seasoned responders here) how easy is that? Barring that, could you forbid someone from using their smartphone (assuming they’re critical to the response)?
Furthermore, now that you’ve got to clean up the mess, does your PIO actively address the situation by mentioning that a responder was involved? I know your first thought is that they shouldn’t, but given that your rogue tweeter has probably identified that they are on-scene, it might be impossible not to say they’re attached to the response.
Now it’s your turn. What did I miss? What else can go mind-boggling wrong with social media during a response effort?