Social Media Training During Major (non-disaster) Events


I really enjoyed participating yesterday in a Presidential Inauguration 2013 social media monitoring exercise.

This came about because of a conversation between colleagues during our weekly twitter #smemchat. A few of us discussed the possibility of monitoring social media during the inauguration, then set up a Skype chat room and invited all who wanted to participate to join us there to discuss what we’d like to do.

We set up monitoring tools and saved all official social media accounts related to the inaugural event and important websites to one handy document so that the monitoring team could share and have access to them. In that same document (called a “workbook” when we use it for official activations), we also shared our contact info and logged major actions taken, as well as things that we noticed were happening during the event on social media.

We kept in touch about what we were seeing in the Skype chat room (via text chat). We looked for problems, then tried to share that information to help people find it via twitter. If we had an official agency to work with we could have done more, been more focused and perhaps been more effective, but even without that, we still got to test the tools and practice, which is always good, since new tools are available all of the time, and platforms change the way they work constantly. Practice is essential for maintaining good social media monitoring skills.

Even more important than the social media tools is the outreach and team-building, and getting to work with people to establish a relationship and build trust. This is essential to working together via social media (as it is with almost any group). During this event I got to work with some people that I knew through casual conversations on social media, but had not yet gotten to work with. This was my favorite part of the exercise.

Mostly the day seemed to go well, and while there were predictable traffic issues and a few children briefly separated from parents, it was overall a relatively calm day (I’m sure in large part due to the amount of behind-the scenes work of all public safety employees – the scanner was ful of activity!) from the point of view of the general public. We had two locals and three non-locals working on our effort, so we had access to live scanner info, and local knowledge of the region for those of us not so familiar with DC. We also monitored the official United States Park Police text alerts and amplified the text alerts to twitter on the two most active event hashtags, which were #inaug2103 and #inauguration.

We could see what was happening via television radio, public safety scanner channels and what people – ost of people – were reporting via social media. What we didn’t have this time was a connection to an official agency should we find anything that needed to be addressed, or to get direction from as far as what to look for in the social media stream. This potentially would have made the exercise more realistic form the VOST viewpoint, since an actual VOST activation would always have an official agency contact.

We didn’t have an official agency to work with for this one, so this was not a “Virtual Operations Support Team” (VOST) effort, but we used the VOST tools and procedures in a more informal type of operation just for practice. Even as an informal exercise,  all practice is good. So while it was not an “official VOST effort”, many who were not familiar with the way VOST operates got to practice, experiment and learn to work together in a low-pressure setting. Everyone that helped enjoyed themselves and said they’d like to do it again. We may even do another training exercise during the superbowl, and try to get more people to participate. (Post a tweet to the #SMEM hashtag if you’re interested and we can discuss it).

Major cultural and sporting events and the like are great opportunities to train using social media. The number of posts and tweets are simply overwhelming, so it’s great training for searching for useful and important information in the midst of chaos; just like in a disaster. There’s no simulation tool that yet exists that can provide such a realistic demonstration of what you face when trying to monitor social media during a disaster.

My friend and colleague Cheryl Bledsoe of Clark Regional Emergency Services wrote a great post last year after we did a similar impromptu training exercise during the superbowl, describing what this is like. Have a look at that if you have time, as well as the rest or the website; it’s a great resource.

Thanks to all who participated, from Chris Tarantino (@Tarantino4me), Keith Robertory  (@krobertory) and Donna Lee Nardo (@DonnaLeeNardo) and Wayne Blankenship Jr (@WayneDBJr) who first mentioned and supported the idea during #smemchat, to Marlita Reddy-Hjelmfelt  (ATheRedElm) who helped to select an appropriate version of a VOST-style workbook with which to practice, to Mary Jo Flynn (@MaryJoFly), Caroline Molivadas (@disastermapper) and Karen (@surfingchaos) who worked extremely long shifts,  and others like Mackenzie Kelly (@MKelly007) and Joanna Lane (@ joannalane) who were busy yesterday, but still stopped in to say hello, see how it was going, and discuss what we were doing. Good learning also comes just from discussing the work as you do it, so that’s helpful too.

  1. Thanks for this great blog post Scott. I never doubted the efforts of the VOST community and the pioneers of this of which include you and your hard work as well.

  2. Reblogged this on Castillo Risk Management and commented:
    After reading Scotts blog post I felt the need to tell you all out there that VOST is the real deal. VOST is like Gracie JiuJitsu, in the sense that you can prove it really works, but only if you practice it, but the results are immediate. I had the honor, privilege and opportunity to be part of one VOSTofficial effort and it was for the Zozobra Celebration in new Mexico. I worked alongside Jeff Phillips of the Los Ranchos EM and also along other big VOST players Scott has already mentioned. My ultimate opinion of what I experienced was of fulfillment and accomplishment because I felt I was making a difference and watching out for all the individuals postín their concerns (and happy thoughts) on social media platforms. @smemchat @smem

  3. informative post on using realtime non-emergency events to practice for the real thing!

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