Five helpful ways an elected official can use social media during a disaster

I write this blog entry from the good old state of Pennsylvania, portions of which are about to get socked with more than foot of snow. Suffice to say that tomorrow will be a terrible day to travel, and I hope everyone is safe.

That being said, social media has become an integral part of our world during a natural disaster. As elected officials, we have a role to play during one of these crises periods by promoting safety and sharing useful information.  The trick, of course, is to make sure that the information you share is accurate, credible and useful.

What can you do, as an elected official or ordinary citizen?  Here are some specific ideas:

1) Prepare: The preparation phase of a natural disaster is often the most important. Give people tips and advice on how to best prepare for what is coming, and make sure to give them information on the timing, scope and duration of whatever disaster is heading your way.

2) Status updates: If you have access to the information, let people know what is happening with the natural disaster, recovery efforts, power outages, etc.  Keep the information as real time and current as possible. People look to their elected leaders during such a disaster, so as long as you are sharing information that is relevant and useful, it’s doubtful that you can share too often.

3) Resource updates:  During Sandy, I remember my Mayor tweeting constantly about the availability of warming stations.  Share resource updates with people, including shelter, charging stations, water, ice, etc.

4) News accounts: More often than not, the news media will have useful information that you constituents will want to know.  Share links to their social media accounts and let people know that these are good, reputable sources in which they can stay updated about what is happening.

5) Stop the spread of bad information: One of the most malicious social media uses I’ve seen occurred during Superstorm Sandy in New York City, when Shashank Tripathi took to Twitter to spread a variety of lies (blatantly self-promotional side note: Tripathi’s Twitter tirades are covered in my book).  Fortunately, official accounts maintained by Con Edison and others used Twitter to refute the inaccurate tweets.  If you know of a lie that is spreading, use social media to stop it.  Be clear about what the lie is and what the truth is, and make sure there is ZERO ambiguity about the difference between the two.  Also, ask people to share/retweet and stop the lie.

One additional thought: Make sure that you only share updates from reputable sources.  No “I heard from a friend” updates – those can only prove to be untrue and come back to bite you!

Do you have any other tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

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