Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake Underscores Value of Social Media During Emergencies

Talk about timing! On August 22, 2011 the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), issued a press release about its contest for software developers to design Facebook applications which would help people communicate with friends and family after an emergency or disaster. If the $10,000 first prize didn’t grab the attention of the software community maybe the 5.8 magnitude earthquake, which struck in Virginia just one day later, will. The earthquake also underscores the value of social media in such situations.

First, social media is an efficient broadcast mechanism, quickly alerting people to what is happening. Within minutes of the earthquake my Twitter stream was buzzing with reports of the quake from people located up and down the East Coast. Looking at my Facebook page I also saw numerous comments about the quake shortly after it occurred.
Social media is also a more reliable communication channel. During disasters cell phone lines can easily become overwhelmed with traffic, rendering them useless. The August 23 earthquake was no exception. When I tried calling my son in New Jersey I was unable to get through to his cell phone. I was not alone. Several cell phone carriers reported disruptions in service due to heavy call volume.

With the average American spending more time on social networks, it makes sense to use these channels to communicate in emergency situations. Nielsen reported that Americans spend nearly a quarter of their online time using social networks and blogs. And the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 52% of Facebook users and 33% of Twitter users engage with the platform daily.

ASPR deserves praise for recognizing the value of social media in emergencies AND for making the development of a Facebook app a top priority. As the HHS press release notes, the first place winner will work with the government and Facebook to create an operational application within weeks of selection. I hope ASPR will expand its initiative to include other social media platforms such as Twitter too.  Unfortunately these apps won't be available by the time the next disaster strikes the East Coast:  the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is Your Organization Making the Most of Twitter?

Twitter can help organizations broaden their communications reach, share knowledge, develop relationships, grow their networks and gain visibility.  But realizing Twitter’s full potential involves more than just tweeting, retweeting and following.  Tools like tweet chats and twitterviews can be used by organizations of all sizes to maximize their impact on Twitter. 
Fostering engagement, keeping the conversation alive
At the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media in August 2011, representatives from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), Health Literacy Missouri (HLM) and the National Prevention Information Network (NPIN) discussed how they have used tweet chats to grow their following and increase audience engagement.  
ODPHP:  A tweet chat held during Health Literacy Month, in October 2010, included one expert advisor and a panel of 11 key opinion leaders.  A total of 160 individuals participated in the chat which yielded 1000 tweets and 360 uses of the chat’s hashtag.  The chat also provided the impetus for ongoing discussion on the topic of health literacy.
HLM: In October 2010, HLM hosted its first tweet chat which drew 100 participants and resulted in 500 tweets.  Since then HLM has hosted several successful tweet chats on a range of topics including Healthy People 2020, health reform, health literacy stories and how young people gather online health information.   Since it began hosting the chats HLM has increased its network by 1000.  According to the hashtag tool The Archivist there have been over 8,300 tweets which have used the #healthlit hashtag since October 2010.  
NPIN:  For 2010 National HIV Testing Day NPIN held a tweet chat event that included representatives from 99 state and local health departments, community-based organizations and activists/influencers.  Over 1000 tweets, representing 145 Twitter accounts, were tracked using the event hashtag (#NHTD).  NPIN’s Twitter following increased by 10% during the week of the event.
The four Ps of tweet chats:  plan, prepare, promote, publish
The panelists  suggested the following tips to successfully host a tweet chat:
  • Participate in existing tweet chats to understand and get comfortable with the format.  Click here for a description and schedule of health care tweetchats compiled by the Fox Group.  A recent blog post by social media coach Jane Fouts offers helpful advice on how to participate in a tweet chat. 
  • Choosing a topic for your chat is crucial.  Find out what your audience is talking about by identifying, following and analyzing popular hashtags.  (Click here to view a list of health care hashtags, also compiled by the Fox Group.)  
  • Know your goals:  Determine what you are trying to accomplish, identify your target audience, understand what issues need to be a part of the conversation and why this topic is important to your audience, determine the main message you want people to remember.
  • Assemble a team to manage the chat and assign responsibilities.   The size of the team will depend on your organization’s resources and the expected attendance.
Director:  oversees the overall operation of the chat; directs questions, watches the clock and makes decisions on how to respond to issues or questions that arise.

Moderator: responsible for sending out pre-written tweets and keeping the conversation moving along. 
Monitor: keeps track of questions asked by participants and directs them to appropriate respondent.  More than one monitor may be needed.
Responder: answers participants’ questions.  Depending on the number of topics and participants, multiple responders may be needed.   Try to anticipate questions and prepare responses ahead of time. 
  • Use tools like TweetChat to help manage the actual event and monitor the conversation.
  • Make your event timely by choosing a topic that people are actively talking about or plan your chat to coincide with national events.
  • Start promoting well in advance of your chat date.
  • Identify a panel of influencers who are leading conversations about your topic (both online and offline) and invite them to participate.   Hashtag tools like Topsy, Hashtracking and The Archivist can help you identify top Twitter users for specific hashtags
  • Make it easy for influencers and other supporters to promote your chat via their networks by offering them sample tweets.
  • Promote the chat via your own Twitter account and other communication channels such as e-newsletters, your blog or other networks.
  • Invite relevant organizations as well as individuals.
  • Summarize and archive the key points that came out of the chat including relevant resources related to the chat.   Distribute the summary to your audiences.  
The panelists acknowledged that planning and preparing for tweet chats requires a significant time commitment; however, the results they shared were impressive, even for a single chat.   If you haven’t hosted a tweet chat you may be missing an opportunity to make the most of your Twitter account.

Please consider retweeting this post or following me @jamierauscher.