No, that doesn’t mean I’ve wandered away from social media.
For the past 2 months, I’ve been living behind a Facebook Page alias and supporting a local political campaign.
And, if you really want to know what managing an emergency might feel like on social media, join a locally controversial political campaign. It can be difficult to simulate the amount of traffic, engagement and rumors when you are preparing to handle emergency events, but politics can provide an excellent microcosm of a crisis environment.
Some of the key things that you will learn are:
- Coordinating messaging between different levels of a campaign can be tough. Everyone has an opinion and way of saying certain things. And unlike emergency response, which has a very defined chain of command, community organizations may not have a similar organizational structure.
- Developing a battle rhythm across week and months, to build momentum, is very important. You are aiming to mobilize both volunteers and the action of people voting. A simple post every few days won’t accomplish an engagement goal. You must be timely, relevant and connected the current events in order to grab someone’s attention. This requires very focused thinking and planning to ensure that people remain solidly engaged.
- Different types of posts will garner different types of engagement. People will like pictures, but often won’t comment on them unless they have a personal connection to the picture.
- Controversy sparks conversation, but you have to be cautious about whether your base is open and welcoming enough to provide space for newcomers. If your goal is to get new people to vote, you have to be careful that you don’t always have the same 10 people commenting on your posts, giving the appearance of a closed environment. It is okay to allow both positive and negative comments, but establish a decent take-down policy for what goes against how you define “civil discourse.”
- You will become an expert at managing trolls. There will be people who do not care what you say or do in a political campaign. They will be opposed to your position and won’t be changing their mind. They may also focus on spreading discontent on your campaign page. Usually trolls use two different tactics which include repetition, off-topic posts or good, old-fashioned name-calling. If you see this behavior, call it out (in the voice of the page) and delete the offending comment. People will choose either to self-moderate their own behaviors or will continue to behave in a similar manner. If your goal is to maintain open and civil discourse, it is vital that you decipher between people disagreeing over facts and those that are relying attacking the people involved. Most differences of opinion are just that and can be left on your page. Attacks, however, should be eliminated. Even in a controversial campaign, people will usually behave with warnings and as they observe the moderation / elimination of caustic comments.
So, how does this relate to emergency environments?
Everything I just noted also occurs during good public education campaigns AND during emergency response. The only luxury that you have, in emergency response, is that you typically aren’t aiming to keep up a battle rhythm to generate interest in your information. People are usually clamoring for it because they crave information in order to make their own decisions effectively. Regardless, you’ll need to set some type of rhythm to be sure that you are communicating often enough…..because without information, rumors will spawn rapidly. You must feed the information beast regularly.
As you become more comfortable in using social media, look for unique ways to get involved. And then, step back and reflect on how applicable your experience is to emergency management. Likely, you will learn more than you realize.