Leveraging Social Media to Communicate Emergency Notifications

Written by CivicPlus

Fifty-six percent of Americans have a profile on a social networking site, so why aren't you using social to notify citizens in an emergency?
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A public safety officer's complete guide to leveraging social media to amplify the reach and impact of emergency notifications.

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It’s 6 a.m. and your cell phone rings. It’s the chief of police and he’s called to notify you that one of the largest factories in your community suffered an explosion and has gone up in flames. Emergency responders are on the scene, but battling the blaze could take hours and is bound to disrupt the morning commute of hundreds of citizens. You immediately start to execute your emergency citizen notification plan. You contact the media, you place a message on the homepage of your website, and you send an email to your subscribers. As you wait for more news from the Chief of Police, you worry about all the citizens who won’t see your message before getting into their vehicles to start their morning commute.
If you fear that your emergency communication plan is lacking a crucial element, or have already lived through a similar disaster and know you fell short of reaching most citizens, it’s time to add social media to your communication mix.

The Power and Reach of Social Media

Ten years ago, social media platforms may have seemed like digital toys for teens and tweens, but today, thanks to the overwhelming adoption of social media use by Americans of all ages, social media platforms have metamorphosed into viable communication channels for credible organizations and entities. In the United States, 56 percent of Americans 12 years old and older have a profile on a social networking site, while the typical Internet user has an average of 5.54 social media accounts.

Your Social Citizens

If you think the citizens in your community may not fall in line with national trends, consider these facts from a study conducted by the Pew Research Center:

  • 68% of all women use social media, compared with 62 percent of all men.
  • 35% of all those 65 years old and older report using social media.
  • 56% of citizens living in the lowest income households now use social media.
  • 58% of rural residents, 68 percent of suburban residents, and 64 percent of urban residents all use social media.

Mobile Reach

Consumption of traditional media, including radio and cable television, is on the decline, particularly among younger citizens, which creates an extra challenge for emergency communication managers looking to reach a large population with a critical message as quickly as possible. One of the key reasons that social media can effectively help you reach citizens in times of local emergency is because a significant portion of social media use takes place on mobile devices.

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According to Brandwatch, there were 1.71 billion monthly active social media users in the world as of July 2016, and 823 million of them only utilize social media from a mobile device, such as a smart phone or tablet. Mobile social media use is only expected to grow. In fact, one million new active mobile social media users are added to the social sphere every day, the equivalent of one every 12 seconds. That means you can effectively use social media to reach citizens with critical news and instructions no matter where they are in the community.

Key Platforms

If you’re ready to start incorporating social media into your emergency communication strategies, know that you don’t have to leverage every social media platform available. Focus only on those that reach the most citizens and that are best-suited for distributing news.

According to a study performed by the Pew Research Center, use of both Facebook and Twitter as a source of news is on the rise, as Americans are actively seeking information about local and national news from these social platforms. In 2014, 63 percent of Twitter users and 63 percent of Facebook users both reported that the platforms serve as a source for news about events and issues that impact their lives, percentages that increased from the year prior.

Learn about CivicReady mass notification technology

Communication Best Practices

Posting critical information to Facebook and Twitter provides not only an additional channel for reaching citizens who are already following your community’s social media presence, it enables citizens to share your message with their own followers, helping to extend the reach of your message to others in your community. Consider these best practices for utilizing social media during a natural disaster or community emergency:

  • Keep messages short and actionable. Give citizens specific feedback such as the location of emergency shelters or road closure updates.
  • Link to more detailed content, such as emergency evaluation maps or shelter lists.
  • Include hashtags to amplify the reach of your message (e.g., #HurricaneMartha).
  • Send updates frequently. One of the greatest benefits of social media is its instant impact. Citizens will be looking for continual updates, so keep tweets, posts, and shares of valuable news, information, and instruction coming frequently.
  • Utilize a government content management system (CMS) with an integrated emergency warning system that allows you to send important communications to all your social media channels in a single step.
  • Emergencies don’t just strike Monday through Friday from 9 – 5 while you’re sitting in your office, so use a CMS that enables you to craft and send messages from a mobile device.
  • Choose a CMS that integrates with the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). IPAWS is designed to help create and distribute local emergency notifications to your community through all the nation’s available alert and warning channels, such as TV, AM/FM radios, WEA capable wireless devices, and NOAA weather radio.
  • Continue to share updates even when an event has ended. Your citizens will be just as interested to learn about your community’s recovery and clean-up progress.

To learn more about how to leverage social media as part of your crisis communication plan, click below to download our comprehensive eBook for public safety officers.

eBook: Leverage Social Media in Crisis Communications