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Social media E M for



Social media E M for



Social media can be a powerful tool in emergency management ­— information is easily disseminated, reaches a large audience, and ­­moves quickly. Additionally, it allows for two-way communication, allowing you to collect information from the public. Online news is the third most popular source of information in an emergency. The audience is there, and they expect you to be there, too. However, social media sites can also seem like insular clubs with their own language and customs. This guide is meant to give you a feel for the top social media sites and help you understand the lingo so you can better utilize these free, public-information tools.


of people expect emergency responders to respond on social media during disasters

Source: American Red Cross

What is social media? Social media is used for social networking, information sharing, promotion, and other user-generated media. of adult Internet Social media sites account for the users belong to a majority of Internet use time.


social media site

Compared with traditional media, social media is accessible to everyone, from individuals to private organizations, is typically free, and has a greater immediacy. Information good and bad can move quickly through social channels, increasing the need for trusted sources to monitor social media and provide corrections as needed. Because of the wide range of users, social media can be largely selfregulating, with people either lending legitimacy to a report with additional messages, or correcting erroneous reports. Social media are popular because of the speed of information sharing, the ability to speak directly to others, and the ease of use anywhere. Keep in mind that over half of social media use is done on mobile phones.

who 1 in 5 people experienced

an emergency, posted about it on a social site

Benefits Viral messages are repeated again and again, broadening your reach Two-way communication allows you to gather intelligence and measure sentiment The added benefit of more eyes and opportunities to ask for specific pictures, information Ongoing contact, which can be used to help improve preparedness before an emergency Opportunity for multiple “credible� spokespeople Sources: American Red Cross; Pew Internet

Make the most of your social networks clear about what people can expect from your social media 1) Be channels. Every social media site allows you to provide a short

description about yourself — use this space to identify what information will be available on social media, whether responses are monitored, and whether the public should expect help based on social media interactions. According to an American Red Cross survey, 1/3 of respondents expected help within an hour of asking for it on social media.

your social media all the time, not just in the event of a disaster. 2) Use You don’t have to tweet 30 times a day, or post everyday on

Facebook, but you should post regularly about your activities, tips for the public, and other applicable topics. This will ensure you’re familiar with the technology before an emergency, and will encourage the public visit your social media sites for information. The public is more likely to trust the information they find on an organization’s social media page when they see the page is monitored and updated regularly.

social media to your advantage. We have lots of ways to push 3) Use information out--social media allows you to take information in,

getting real-time feedback from the public about what they are seeing and experiencing. Ask questions, have users send photos your way, and identify keywords and hashtags, and you will get a better idea of a situation quickly, before you reach the scene. One in five emergency survivors reported that they have shared their situation on social media.

Threats & Challenges Some channels limit the length of your messages, leading to the possibility of incomplete information Once a message is released, it can be manipulated Need to recruit followers before a crisis to ensure a large audience for your message Social media messages are not vetted which can challenge the credibility of reports Requires staff time and attention, especially because the public expect prompt responses back on questions and comments

Photo: REUTERS/Adam Hunger

Hurricane Sandy

Made U.S. Landfall: October 29, 2013; Affecting 24 U.S. States; #sandy

Hurricane Sandy affected every state on the U.S. east coast when it made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane. Immediately, people took to social media to share their experiences, check in with friends and family, and give updates on the storm’s path. In the days following, they would use social networks to find gas stations, lodging, and electricity. Emergency agencies were more active on social media than in previous disasters, using the sites for public awareness, rumor control, and information gathering. FEMA had a team monitoring nearly 20 million tweets to better identify what was happening on the ground, and put out timely safety information. The American Red Cross reviewed over 2 million posts using keyword searches; of these posts, 229 were sent to mass care teams, and 88 resulted in a change in how agencies responded on-the-ground.

Sources: American Red Cross, Instagram, Facebook, CBS


increase in Internet usage the day the hurricane hit

1.1 mil

people mentioned “hurricane” on Twitter in the first 21 hours


Sandy was the 4th most talked about topic on Facebook in 2012

10/second rate which photos of Sandy were uploaded to Instagram

Facebook Launched in 2004, Facebook is the largest social media networking site on the Internet. Public users create a profile where they can upload personal information, photos, and status updates. Users connect by “friending” one another which allows them to see and comment on each other’s activities. Businesses and organizations can set up “pages” which users can “like” in order to receive updates. After a disaster, Facebook is most commonly used to communicate with close friends and family, and by people outside an affected area to learn more about providing support.

Tip: Have your contact information available on your social media pages. Social media sites likely have more servers and information redundancies than your organization, and their sites are less likely to become overwhelmed in an emergency.

Know the lingo


Allows users to publicly approve of a post or photo, or follow a topic or organization’s page and updates.


Custom pages representing groups or companies; the equivalent to an individual’s profile. One difference between a page and a profile is a user can get information from pages without needing to “friend” the page owner. Pages are also viewable to visitors who do not have Facebook accounts, although only Facebook users can post messages.


A place on a user’s profile or page where they and other users can post photos, links, and comments.

Snowstorm 2010

North East United States; December 26-27, 2010; #Snowpocalypse

When a huge snowstorm hit the East Coast following Christmas in 2010, many residents took to Twitter to share photos and ask for help from their city leaders. Mayor Cory Booker of Newark took government response on Twitter to a new level when he personally responded to his residents’ tweets not just with words, but with a snow shovel. Using input he received from Twitter, he helped direct plows to roads, and even took it upon himself to dig out constituents’ driveways and cars. Residents also used the mayor’s Twitter feed as a rallying point for offering help to their neighbors, often responding to tweets for assistance before Booker or his staff could. It was through Twitter that Mayor Booker learned that the roads around a nearby hospital hadn’t been plowed and were impassable to ambulances. While many city leaders engaged their Twitter followers by pushing information out, Newark’s mayor was the only one to direct response based on requests and feedback he gathered from social media.

Sources: Twitter, Washington Post

1.3 mil

Number of people who follow Mayor Cory Booker of Newark on Twitter (@CoryBooker)


“Snowpocalypse” was the most used hashtag during the 2010 snow storms, but it wasn’t the only one. The Washington Post polled readers on which they wanted to follow after #Snowmaggedon and other hashtags popped up.

Photo: Pamela Hall

Twitter Launched in July of 2006, Twitter is a “micro-blogging” site where users share messages called tweets that are no more than 140-characters. Twitter users may choose to “follow” other users or organizations. Because of the short messages, the accessibility of tweets, and the ease of grouping topics, Twitter has become the go-to site for communicating during a disaster. It is effective for pushing out small bits of information, often linking to larger stories and releases, and is a good channel for asking for input and information from the public. Twitter helps identify the most popular topics with its list of “trending topics,” which include the most used words, phrases, and hashtags. This list can be modified to show global trends, or set to show the most popular topics in a smaller geographic area. Most Twitter experts recommend you keep your tweets to no more than 120-characters to make it easier for followers to reply or retweet your posts.

Tip: Don’t hesitate to post the same information multiple times. Social media feeds move quickly, and repeating your message is sometimes necessary

Know the lingo


This is your twitter user name. Other users might mention you in their tweets by including @ followed by your user name, example @username. This mention will link to your profile, and you will be notified of it, but it won’t appear on your profile unless you choose to retweet it.


The act of reposting a tweet originally posted by another user. This can be done two ways. You can click the retweet button which will display the tweet to your followers as being from the original source. The other option is to post of their tweet in your own message, using RT to indicate it’s a retweet, and tagging the original poster’s handle.


Hashtags are a means for highlighting a topic or common thread in tweets. Appearing as # followed by a word or space-free phrase, they offer users an easy way to view related tweets. When users click on a hashtag, they can pull up a feed of ever tweet containing that hashtag. Hashtags can be made and used by anyone simply by using them in a tweet.

Photo: NBC News

Tornado season 2011

1,665 total tornados in 2011; Joplin, MO, May 22, 2011; #JoplinTornado

With 1,665 tornadoes ravaging the Midwest, 2011 was the deadliest tornado season on record in the U.S. When a tornado tore through Joplin, MO, social media served a purpose beyond sharing the experience: It became a center for the community to ask for help, find loved ones, and provide support. The photos posted to Twitter were some of the first images people outside of Joplin had of the destruction left in the storm’s path. The Facebook page “Joplin, MO. Tornado Recovery” became the rallying location for residents of the town, gaining 123,000 “likes” in the days after the tornado. After a tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the public monitored social media sites for opportunities to volunteer. The first Sunday after the storm, the local school system posted a request for volunteers on its social media channels. Within half an hour, almost 80 people arrived to lend a hand.

Sources: Vox Magazine, PBS, University of San Francisco


the number of people who viewed the Storify collection of Joplin tweets and images in the first 24-hours posttornado


the number of volunteers who arrived to help the Tuscaloosa, AL schools 30 minutes after they asked for help via social media

$1.7mil the amount of donation money raised through the Facebook page “Joplin, MO Tornado Recovery.”

Instagram Instagram is a social media, photo-sharing smart phone application available for iPhone and Android operating systems. Though only a little over two years old, Instagram has over 100 million active users who share photos with friends and the public through the app. Users can select a photo from their phone’s gallery or take photos from the app, and apply filters to them which affect the color balance, focus point, and border of the photo. Users can highlight the topic of the photo with descriptions or tags. Instagram encourages users to geolocate their photos, making it easy to see photos other people are taking in the same area. Instagram is used more widely for photos on the go then for sharing artistic or professional shots. For emergency managers, Instagram is an excellent tool for collecting public photos of an event. New photos can be tracked easily through RSS feeds. Tip: Community managers may also want to consider using Statigram to manage and organize Instagram content. Statigram makes it easier to view all the photos and related comments from a given Instagram feed.

Photo: Instagram Blog

Know the lingo


Instagram makes it easy to see all the photos taken near a given location. Photos that are tagged with a location are automatically geolocated on a map. Additionally, photo map allows users to search for older content.


Similar to Twitter, Instagram users use a hashtag and word to highlight the topic of a photo. It is more common for users to use a series of one word tags in a photo description, as opposed to the use of hashtag phrases on Twitter. It has become common for news organizations to assign a tag to an event and ask viewers to use that tag when posting photos with the promise that content they provide might be used online or on-air.


Every hashtag has an RSS Feed associated with it, which makes it easy to subscribe to new photos. Simply point your favorite feed reader to http://instagr.am/tags/[hashtag name]/feed/recent.rss (where [hashtag name] is the name of the hashtag without the leading #). This will allow anyone with a feed reader to follow along with live photos as they’re added.

Resources CBSNews. Whittaker, Zack. “Internet Usage Rocketed on the East Coast during Sandy, Report Says,” 31 Oct. 2012. Web: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57543180/ internet-usage-rocketed-on-the-east-coast-during-sandy-report-says/ Emergency Management Magazine. Cohen, Sara Estes. “Sandy Marked a Shift for Social Media Use in Disasters,” 7 Mar. 2013. Web: http://www.emergencymgmt.com/ disaster/Sandy-Social-Media-Use-in-Disasters.html Facebook. “Facebook - About | Facebook.” Web: https://www.facebook.com/facebook/ info Facebook. “2012 Trends: United States | Facebook,”12 Dec. 2012. Web: https://www. facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151605031576729.530543.20531316728 Infographicbox. “Social Media & Emergency Response.” Web: http://www.infographicbox.com/portfolio-view/social-media-emergency-response/ Instagram. “Hurricane Sandy Descends upon the East.” Web: http://blog.instagram. com/post/34586462253/hurricane-sandy-descends-upon-the-east Instagram. “Instagram - About - FAQ.” Web: http://instagram.com/about/faq/ PBS. Reeves, Jen L. “Newsroom, Community Use Facebook as Key Hub After Joplin Tornado,” 24 May 2011. Web: http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2011/05/newsroom-community-use-facebook-as-key-hub-after-joplin-tornado144 PCMag. Murphy, David. “Infographic: Social Media Use During Emergencies,” 27 Aug. 2011. Web: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2391977,00.asp Pew Internet. Duggan, Maeve, and Joanna Brenner. “The Demographics of Social Media Users - 2012,” 14 Feb. 2013. Web: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Social-media-users/Social-Networking-Site-Users.aspx Time. Gregory, Sean. “Cory Booker: The Mayor of Twotter and Blizzard Superhero,” 29 Dec. 2010. Web: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2039945,00.html Twitter. “Twitter - About” Web: https://twitter.com/about University of San Francisco. Social Media: The New Face of Disaster Response. Infographic. University of San Francisco. Web: http://onlinempa.usfca.edu/wp-content/ themes/ckg-blank/custom/img/mpa_infographic.png The Washington Post. Freedman, Andrew. “Vote for Storm Name, Twitter Hashtag & Snow Total,” 4 Feb. 2010. Web: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalweathergang/2010/02/poll_storm_nametwitter_hashtag.html Vox Magazine. Ursch, Blake. “A Conversation with a Vh1 Award Nominee,” 18 Aug. 2011. Web: http://www.voxmagazine.com/stories/2011/08/18/conversation-brent-beshore/

I’m first to see.

SEE. SHARE. HELP. In most emergencies, it’s the public who’s first on the scene. The first to recognize something isn’t right. The first to call 9-1-1. Now the public can be more connected to emergency responders in a manageable way through FirstToSee, a regional system that gives you a clearer operational picture by utilizing public reporters and social media. Public reporters will use the free FirstToSee app to upload photos, text descriptions and give their location.

Simultaneously, the system searches Social Media, RSS feeds, and News Media for relevant information.

A free download and they’re ready to start reporting. If it’s a life-threatening emergency, they are able to click through to 911. If not, they can easily take photos, text details and pinpoint the location of what they’re seeing.

Trapped, burning, hurt, flooding, bridge closed are an example of the common words or hashtags that will be targeted by the system. Related messages will then be dropped into filterable buckets for quick evaluation.

Download today for Apple iOS and Android devices The FirstToSee system was funded with federal grant money and developed by Pierce County working closely with PNWER, regional ports and emergency response agencies.

This informational booklet was developed by the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region in partnership with Pierce County, Washington. May 2013. Produced as part of the FirstToSee Social Media Situational Awareness project. Please contact the PNWER Center for Regional Disaster Resilience at FirstToSee@pnwer.org for more information www.firsttosee.org 2200 Alaskan Way, Suite 460 | Seattle, WA | 98121

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Social Media For Emergency Management  

Social Media For Emergency Management