How to Use Social Media During a Disaster

A friend of mind asked me if I had any advice on this topic after the recent floods in her home state of West Virginia. I have witnessed what I consider to be “best practices” in disaster situations over the years and wanted to share them with you now.

If you or someone you know is in danger call 9-1-1 before relying on Social Media. In general, keep people’s safety first and foremost in mind.

Connect to Municipal Services and Aid Agencies

Follow the Fire, Police, Medical and Government feeds for organizations in your area. Contribute to them if you have information to share and re-post them anytime they say something important. Try to pick up on the “official” hashtags they are using. If you are working on the state, national, or global level, connect with aid agencies that are invested and involved.

Use Hashtags Liberally

Hashtags usually develop organically online, but there often isn’t enough time to do that in an emergency, and the information is too important for people to miss. If there are three tags in play, use all three until you are sure it’s settled into one tag. While twitter is a natural choice for timely news, hastags are indexed on most social media platforms now, including facebook.

Humanize Your Content

Statistics are OK for understanding the scope of the disaster, but if you want people to really pay attention, put a face on what’s going on. Images are great, but voice and video are even better. Encourage people in your network to tell their stories on your feed or share what they put on theirs. Be sure to followup with the people involved down the line if you want people to stay invested.

Organize with Texting/SMS

Nothing trumps texting for getting people to mobilize, because it works independent of internet access and immediately creates a notification on the receivers phone, as well as opening up an instant line of communication. Setup your texting groups ahead of time, and you’ll be able to pull in help at a moments notice. Here’s an excellent spreadsheet of some of the SMS/Texting services available created by our own Tim Gossett.

Always Include a Call to Action

When you post about a disaster, always give a way people can immediately get involved, whether that’s through money, volunteering, donations, adding their voice, or signing up to get further updates. Give them direct links to systems that will facilitate their involvement. There are lots of petition, donation, mass email, and volunteer management systems that you can tap into.

Widen the Circle

OK, this is the point of using social media in the first place; however, we can be intentional about it. Who are the stakeholders? Who has the passion? It’s OK to have a group of “ringers”, people that you can email or message and say “friend, I just made this post, it’s important, please share it with all of your people.” If you still aren’t getting as much traffic as you think the issue deserves, it’s a good time to use paid advertising to get your message across.

Identify Speculation as Just That

There is a time to avoid, and a time to embrace, speculation. When you do use it, however, clearly name it for what it is. There is a school of thought that says speculation is always bad; but when you are trying to mobilize people on the fly, they need to know the potential stakes involved. Plus, if you don’t do it, someone else on social media will. You can be the responsible party by naming it as speculation instead of projecting it as truth. Hearsay falls into this category. If a piece of speculation doesn’t have the potential to do good, then it’s just gossip.

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