Countdown to Christmas: Day 21

There’s only a few days left of my Countdown to Christmas series, which means the big day is getting ever nearer. Every day this month I’ve been highlighting a story from an internal communicator to share their thoughts, with the final one going live on Christmas Eve.

I’ll then be taking a break and be back in January. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my blog this year, it’s always good to feature new voices and a variety of writers and highlight what’s working well – and what there is to learn from situations that don’t go quite as planned.

Today is Day 21, and has been written by Amanda Coleman and was originally published on my blog in January 2013.

How to use social media in a disaster

amandaSocial media is something that unites across the countries. The language may be different, cultures may be poles apart but it is clear that the world is embracing the use of social media. That’s the view of Amanda Coleman, Head of Corporate Communications for Greater Manchester Police, after spending two days discussing the issues with European representatives.

Amanda spoke at the masterclass for Disaster 2.0 (also known as D2.0) and I asked her to share her thoughts with readers of my blog. Her presentation was on ‘Social media at times of crisis – the highs and lows.’ (The photo on this page of Amanda presenting was tweeted by@BertBrugghemans).

D2.0 is an innovative two-year project  looking at how EU governments currently and potentially use web 2.0 applications and semantic technologies to strengthen public resilience to disasters. It’s also establishing the scope for semantic web (web 3.0) techologies in emergency management and providing some conclusions.

If you’ve not come across semantic web before, you can read more information about it here. I also recommend reading articles by Philip Sheldrake on the topic too.

Over to you Amanda…

Lessons from Disaster 2.0
I never expected to have a discussion about data and disasters with a Doctor from Finland, talk to a Captain-Commander (Fire Chief) from Belgium about using Facebook, and chat about research on Twitter and weather conditions with an Italian researcher. All this happened during two days at the Disaster 2.0 Masterclass on the use of social media and semantic technologies in Brussels.

The attendees came from across Europe from different roles covering IT, emergency services and communication but all had one thing as a uniting factor – the search to understand social media and make the most of the opportunities it brings.

I had expected the experiences of people from Italy, Finland and Greece to be very different to those of me working in Greater Manchester.  This was not the case and very similar issues emerged during the masterclass that everyone was dealing with

  • How to gain senior management buy in to using social media
  • How to train staff to use social media and share the workload
  • How to integrate social media with operational systems and processes
  • How to use social media to develop conversations with citizens
  • How to do all this and keep up-to-date with developments and use them with ever decreasing budgets

There is no social media manual that can guarantee success. It is about understanding your organisation and social media and then hard work, effort and determination. Every organisation, business or company is different and all have to take a bespoke look at how to use social media. But following the Euro discussions there were clearly some simple points that are principles for everyone.

  1. Ensure you have a social media advocate who can drive and champion the use of it and gain senior manager buy-in, identify developments and disseminate good practice.
  2. Create a social media strategy that will support the operational activity and also integrate closely with all forms of communication. You must say the same to the reporter as to the social media user as to your staff. Without this you will lose the trust which is so vital when faced with a crisis.
  3. Prepare now and start the conversations when you have time and are not in the middle of a crisis. You can develop relationships and trust so that you have an audience there when you face an emergency.
  4. You cannot look away or turn off social media once you have started to use social media. Social media like a tap will keep running whether you are in or out of the room. You have to be there to look at what is happening 24 hours a day seven days a week and to do it without extra resources.
  5. See the opportunities that social media brings whether that is for operational use or in developing better informed communities. Look at what is happening, keep learning and try new things.

I am extremely grateful to have been asked to speak at the masterclass in Brussels, a rare opportunity for anyone in the public sector and in a communication role. It was a fascinating and enlightening experience that affirmed my commitment to using social media, to sharing knowledge with staff and to looking for more innovation wherever and whenever possible.

If you’d like to read more by Amanda, see the article she wrote for my blog about howGreater Manchester Police used social media during the 2011 riots in the UK, find her on Twitter @amandacomms and see her personal blog.

Post author: Amanda Coleman

P.s. In November 2013 I wrote about a new tool Twitter introduced for emergency communication – Twitter Alerts. You can read it here and see my guide below:

Rachel Miller

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