Assuming Social Media Lives Only in the JIC is Naive

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?

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2 thoughts on “Assuming Social Media Lives Only in the JIC is Naive

  1. OK you got me! That had escaped me. But now that you outline it. Seems to be that the need for flexibility and immediacy of response is ever more pressing. Social Media is a “cloud” thing. In fact, with many agencies and volunteers involved in a response, working with mobile devices, GIS technology (I’m thinking of an organization like crisiscommons here), we’re into crowdsourcing your response.Social media does that two ways. First, in helping you disseminate info … however, you can’t really control it anymore. The only thing you have to hope for is that BEFORE the crisis or incident, you had a sound social media policy, a strong web presence and existing links with those future partners. In other words, you have built credibility. Then you might/could be heard in the cloud or crowd.Second, the social media sphere brings untold amount of situational awareness both at the comms and operational levels back to emergency managers. Haiti and the Australian floods have proven that. So now, you have to monitor these platforms, mine the useful data, and collaborate with the people out there providing you this valuable info.So, can the PIO or the IC control all of that? I doubt it but you need some procedures before, during and after an incident to make the best use of those resources.Hope this makes sense !

  2. I think there is a lot to learn from the Australian flood event. The lead agency’s “director of police media and public affairs” stated that her position afforded her the ability to literally sit in on meeting and tweet directly from the meeting. She said “As soon as I’m getting vetted information, I’m getting it up there.” The Media unit worked 24/7 and provided an uninterrupted flow of information–but I get the sense from the word “vetted” that the information was cleared in some way. However, without knowing much more than reading a couple of articles, I’ll venture to say that their IC equivalent was not pre-clearing each and every tweet. It appears they allowed the PIO to have the latitude that you are asking for in your previous post. (info from: ABC News “Police Tweet on the beat during the flood crisis”–By the way, that article’s title is deceiving. The QPS, it appears, didn’t allow officers to tweet, etc. The Media Unit distributed all of the information.)With regard to other organizations tweeting or posting about their own activities during the response, I do think it is not only naive, but ridiculous to assume that someone in the Red Cross, to use your example, should get clearance from the IC to put up information (as long, here’s the caveat, that it doesn’t contradict information put out by the JIC). In fact, this occurred during the BP Oil Spill, much to the chagrin of many. All of this will shake itself out over time, but I fear we are going to have some growing pains in the meantime.

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