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Monday, November 29, 2010

Social Media Can Help You Communicate Faster in a Disaster

The following article, written by Sandy Levine, recently appeared in Government Security News. View the article here:

Do you use social media to communicate with your public? Have you updated your disaster preparedness communications plan to include social media? If not, add that to your priority ‘To Do’ list!

Information about practically everything -- both factual and wildly inaccurate -- now travels around the globe literally in minutes, through new communication tools -- Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to name a few. In a natural or manmade disaster, if you don’t reach out to the public with the facts quickly, someone else will get there with a rumor -- and as we all know, misinformation can cause havoc, create panic and potentially increase danger to those at risk who we want to protect.

As communication tools change, government communicators have to keep up. This is important always; however, in a disaster, it is critical. How are you going to inform the public about the problem? What tools do you use to make sure they get the crucial instructions they need that could keep them safe? We must not only inform, we must persuade, secure trust, calm, reassure -- and get people to actually follow the procedures we detail -- or lives will be lost. The tools used to reach out in a disaster must integrate today’s communication tools -- you must go where your public is to ensure they get your message. And more and more of your public is online.

A recent national survey from Arbitron and Edison Research, The Infinite Dial 2010, (April 23, 2010) provides insight into some of the changes occurring in communication tools in the U.S. According to this survey, the percentage of Americans age 12-and-older who have a profile on one or more social networking Web sites has reached 48 percent of the population in 2010, double the level from two years ago.

The new study reveals that consumer use of social networking sites is not just a youth phenomenon. Personal profile pages are maintained by:
  • 78% of teens
  • 77% of 18-to-24 year olds
  • 65% of 25-to-34 year olds
  • 51% of 35-to-44 year olds

The study also shows that 30 percent of Americans age 12-and-older, who have a profile on at least one social networking Web site, use those sites "several times a day," compared with only 18 percent one year ago.

Bill Rose, senior vice president of marketing at Arbitron Inc, said, "The use of social networking sites has expanded beyond younger consumers, with substantial numbers of Americans over the age of 35 now using social media.”

Also, for the first time, more Americans say the Internet is "most essential" to their lives when given a choice along with television, radio and newspapers:

  • 42% chose the Internet as "most essential"
  • 37% selected television
  • 14% chose radio
  • 5% said newspapers

While television still leads among those over the age of 45, Internet dominates among younger persons, aged 12-to-44 years old.

The key is to know who your audience is, and to take the time to research what communications tools they use and trust. There are still certain areas where radio is king; other areas where religious centers are going to be the most important communication tool in your arsenal. But, social media cannot be ignored -- especially when speed matters. Integrating the “basics” -- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online postings of press releases, online links with appropriate media -- and making sure processes are in place so that these communication tools get accurate information immediately -- will help ensure your public gets the right information as quickly as possible, minimizing confusion and improving understanding in a difficult situation.

Integrating social media into your communications plan ensures you will reach a broader pool of people faster. The flow of accurate information will go more smoothly, the public will be informed appropriately and efficiently, and answers will be delivered swiftly. It can make the difference between a bad situation and a calamity.

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