In my first blog Four Easy Ways to Use Social Media in Emergency Communications, I explained how I ran a successful communication’s campaign in a difficult situation. It is easy to tell people what to do in order to get positive outcomes. What about what not to do? Here are three social media traps to avoid in communicating during an emergency, based on my own experience.
Resist the Urge to Answer Angry Messages
I am not talking here about trolls who just want to cause trouble. During an emergency, it is normal that some people will panic and think the government is not doing enough to help. Other people will volunteer their time and work tirelessly. We saw that some of those volunteers were so invested that they seemed to be on a mission. With everybody not sleeping and exhaustion starting to creep on people, it is easy to lose objectivity and tempers are quick to flare up. This message was posted on the City’s Facebook page after I had publicized a list of available resources for flood victims. I was used to see negative messages on community pages or on private citizens’ page but it was the first time someone directly wrote on the City’s page. This was the perfect time for me to get away from the keyboard and go take a walk. Answering that message would not have accomplished anything, would have angered that volunteer even more and would have distracted from my work.
Do Not Go Outside of Your Social Media Purpose
As we started communicating the city’s flood efforts news and updates, two other flood-related Facebook pages were created. One was administered by the residents of a particular flooded street, giving updates on their needs and another was made by volunteers, coordinating requests for supplies by homeowners and offers for food by the community. All three pages had very different purposes. At one point during the events, the administrators of those Facebook pages requested that we share their updates. Doing so would have confused the residents as to the purpose of the municipal information page. Another important point was that I did not personally know the individuals administering those pages and I could not validate the accuracy of the postings. It is best to stick to your mandate at all times.
Do Not Neglect to Scan for False News
False news is a term that I detest as it is usually attributed to the work of mainstream journalists. More damaging in a state of emergency are the rumours that start on social media by individuals and cause panic. Sometimes it is done with malicious intent and other times it is just a clueless resident stating an opinion as fact. In 2017, residents were discussing on Facebook the quality of the river water when one mentioned that he will need to get a vaccine against typhoid fever. This, of course, started a social media panic. Nobody in the Emergency Operating Centre had even talked of typhoid fever. The resident had confused typhoid fever with tetanus. Since Clarence-Rockland was monitoring for those types of rumours, I was able to go to an official source and publish a rectification in a matter of minutes.
It is already February and so far, in Ottawa, there is not a lot of snow. I hope that it means we will avoid another devastating flood this year. Faced with those types of scenarios, is there anything you would have done differently?
Twitter : Learn how @ClarenceRocklan avoided 3 social media traps during the 2017 and 2019 floods. #flood2017 #flood2019 #emergencymanagement https://bit.ly/2RNTdLR
Facebook : Social media is a great tool during an emergency but comes with dos and don’ts to communicate effectively. The City of Clarence-Rockland learned about the social media don’ts during an emergency. https://bit.ly/2RNTdLR