There are many different platforms to conduct social engagement. A working list of these can be found on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites). We’re just going to review a few of the major social media sites used in the US as an introduction.
Facebook: By far the leader with market share, Facebook is home to 800 million registered users near the end of 2011. If Facebook were a country, it would be third most populated country behind China (1.3 billion) and India (1.2 billion), and ahead of the United States (312 million). 11% of the world’s population is on Facebook. The site allows users to friend other users in the system. Most people have set their security to only share their posts with friends. Friending someone is a two-way process. One person asks and the other accepts. Without this mutual agreement, people will not be linked.
Twitter: Micro-blogging is the hallmark of Twitter. Posts are limited to 140 characters. It forces users to be brief and trim down excess to make a point. All tweets are default to public. Although users can make their tweets private and approve each follower, it isn’t very common. The open nature of Twitter allows anyone to find and read tweets about a topic. Topics are tagged and linked through the use of hashtags (#) before the word. Emergency managers should be keeping tabs on the #SMEM conversation. SMEM is short for Social Media Emergency Management. Anything can be a hashtag, and the use of a hashtag is decided by the people who use it. The other special character is the at sign (@). This precedes a user name to identify it as such, and tags the user in the post. This will make the post show up as a mention to the user tagged in to. The @-sign become so popular that it was added in Facebook to tag other users. The #-sign also became popular and is now used in Google+ to tag content as searchable. Following is a one-way process. For the most part, you can follow anyone in Twitter without needing their permission.
LinkedIn: From the start, LinkedIn has been billed as the professional networking site. It focuses on building relationships between people and leveraging professional networks. It lacks the entertainment aspect of the other social media sites, which adds to the site’s focus for business professionals. An emergency manager would not look to reach the public through LinkedIn; instead this site is a good technique to collaborate with other disaster, crisis and risk professionals.
MySpace: This was a popular social media site until the perception took a nose dive. The site’s lack of controls and investigations around pornography and other illegal activities darkened the perception of the site. The site wasn’t dynamic in keeping up with user demand. Other sites, like Facebook, were more rapidly adapting to meet user demand which led to users leaving MySpace. Revenue and users have been steadily declining. I would not start a social media campaign on MySpace unless there is a very specific audience you are seeking that hasn’t left yet.
YouTube: YouTube is in the list because sharing videos is part of social media. It is user-generated content that is published for others. The best use that I’ve seen for YouTube is in conjunction with another social media channel. Post video content to YouTube then send out the link through other medium. A handheld video camera can be used to capture short—almost raw—video from leaders during a disaster and shared. While other times and topics deserve to have a high-quality and edited video package; it is acceptable to have a more raw and uncut feeling video during a disaster. Take note that a video that feels raw and uncut may have actually been captured through multiple takes and did get edited before it was posted. It is common to see broadcast news services show breaking news video from handheld phones until they have time to get their equipment to the scene.
Flickr: Flicker by itself isn’t really a social media site except for pure photo documentaries. Like YouTube, it is best used in conjunction with other medium to tell a full story. Creating a photo album for a specific event allows you to keep using the same link to the album while updating the content of the album with new imagery. Using the same link will keep users going consistently to the same place. If they click on a link in an older message, they’ll still be taken to current content.
Pam Dyer compiled a whole bunch of social media infographics at http://www.pamorama.net/2011/01/30/65-terrific-social-media-infographics/. Some have a high degree of bias or slightly out of date, but all-in-all it is a pretty decent review of the sites and public perception.
Here’s a few notes. Watch this spot for information on showing the power and expectations of social media in disasters.
How much has internet usage changed in the last 10 years? http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2010/Internet-acess-by-age-group-over-time-Update.aspx
What do people do everyday on the Internet? http://pewinternet.org/Static-Pages/Trend-Data/Online-Activites-Total.aspx and http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/The-tasks-of-everyday-life-and-the-Internet.aspx
Why Americans use social media? http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Why-Americans-Use-Social-Media/Main-report.aspx (2011)
How big is social media? This slide deck give a quick overview. Is the most recent in a series of three.
What is the expectation of social media users when it comes to disasters? The infographic is at http://www.scribd.com/doc/62995962/How-Americans-use-Social-Tools-in-Disasters-Infographic
http://www.redcross.org/www-files/Documents/pdf/other/SocialMediaSlideDeck.pdf (2010) Make certain you review slide 14.
A longer version with more details is at http://www.scribd.com/doc/63022972/SURVEY-DATA-Social-Media-in-Emergencies-2011
How many people and households have cell phones? http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2011/Generations-and-cell-phones.aspx
What age ranges own what tech? http://pewinternet.org/Static-Pages/Trend-Data/Device-Ownership.aspx and http://pewinternet.org/Infographics/2011/Generations-and-gadgets.aspx