Many Emergency Officials Still Don't "Get" Twitter

“Twitter's 140-character limit causes us some concern. Obviously, we can't give out highly detailed feeds…”  
Unidentified Emergency Response Official

The only thing “obvious” from the statement above is that the person uttering it has never taken any time to understand how Twitter works.

Unfortunately, more than one emergency official has spouted a variation of this statement in public announcements touting the planned use of social media during this year's hurricane season.

This oft-repeated canard underscores a glaring lack of an understanding of one of the most basic features of the information exchange on Twitter: the sharing of rich resources through the sharing of links.

“Concerned” because you can’t share much information in 140 characters? How about sharing the complete resources of the Library of Congress with a link of 21 characters? http://bit.ly/agfJ4W Or sharing the wealth of information available from the World Health Organization? http://bit.ly/9VZ0jC Or perhaps simply using 15 characters to direct people to the full informational resources of FEMA: http://fema.gov/ Or the National Hurricane Center hurricane watch in 19 characters? http://bit.ly/RiV0l

Emergency professionals need to spend just a little bit of time trying to understand how Twitter works before dismissing it as being impractical for getting out substantial information. Twitter has already proven itself to be a powerful and constructive resource when a real crisis strikes, whether it’s a tornado, an earthquake, or a civil crisis. Emergency professionals have a duty to understand and tap into social networks, such as Twitter, that would help them in fulfilling their responsibility of reaching out to and connecting with the largest audience possible, with the greatest speed possible.

There’s nothing wrong with being a novice. A novice, however, is expected to study a subject before lecturing about it. Emergency officials who are charged with a primary responsibility of communicating critical information before, during, and after a crisis should invest some time in understanding a network that has consistently beaten every source in providing the first and continuing information during major crises.

For those emergency officials willing to take the next step, there are many link-shortening services to choose from.

Additionally, the most popular Twitter client for the most active Twitter users, TweetDeck, comes with its own link shortener.

Now that we've sorted this minor point out, as Lieutenant General Russel L. Honore, “the General Who Saved New Orleans,” would say:

“Don’t get stuck on stupid…Don’t confuse the people, please.”
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Please follow me on Twitter at @TrendTracker and @CrisisSocMedia, a stream dedicated to social media best practices in crisis preparedness and response.

Related post:  10 Reasons Social Media is Important in a Real Crisis

*The opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own and may not reflect those held by any organization or entity with which I may be associated.

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Greg Friese, MS, NREMT-P said...

Glen, this is a great breakdown of how to effectively use Twitter for Emergency related messaging.

I agree that social media has to be part of a PIOs communication strategy before, during, and after any major incident.

David Konig and I have developed training and resources for emergency responders on social media at PIOSocialMediaTraining.com

GlenGilmore said...

Thanks, Greg. It does seem that a number of fire and police departments are seizing on the opportunities provided by social networks. Training is always an important key to doing things right. Folks are beginning to realize that this principle applies to social media as well.

Good luck with your work.

Glen

Sara Hoffman said...

I don't understand why this would be such a big deal for Emergency Managers. Twitter is actually very straight-forward.

The problem with the recommendation of this post is that not everybody tuned in to Twitter CAN click-thru to the link provided. Often people set up web pages that are simply too big, or take too long to be displayed on a little BlackBerry or iPhone. These devices have limited capabilities. Additionally, you don't want people sucking up a ton of data throughput from limited cell towers; nobody's going to be able to see ANYTHING in that case, not even tweets.

So say what you have to say, in as few words as possible. The fewer details the better.

Frankly I can think of few situations where a single 140-character Tweet wouldn't be more than adequate to state the situation & what people should do.

By the way, I have no "official" training on how to use Twitter or any other social media. I have not bought a special Twitter book, course, or service teaching me how to use it. I follow about 100 people and read their tweets nearly every day. It's not rocket science and nothing you can't learn by watching it in action over a couple of weeks. If you have time to check your email, you have time to read the tweets of a couple dozen people and see how they do things. That's all it takes. :)

GlenGilmore said...

Point well taken, Sara! Understanding Twitter is more about taking a little time and doing it, than having to worry about going through training. It's a very simple platform.

Training is, however, important, for larger organizations that want to get their people up to speed very quickly on some of the tools and techniques that make social media use more efficient and effective

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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