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LEARNING: Eight Tactics for Achieving SMEM Success

January 30, 2012

A great deal of time and energy has been expended trying to convince agencies and individuals to expand the use of social media in emergency management (SMEM). Much of the discussion has emphasized the strategic advantages of engaging communities through these new media. That must have been on the mind of a colleague when he recently asked me, “What tactics — as opposed to strategies — define successful use of social media in emergency management.”

This question caught me a bit off-guard. Like others I imagine, this thought hadn’t really crossed my mind. I took much of what I was doing to engage others online for granted. Clearly, I had learned by observation as well as trial and error that some approaches work better than others, but I hadn’t really taken time to take stock of these experiences.

As I reflected on my own experiments with social media, I realized that I had been learning how to use social media in a variety of ways, some sequential and others not. Each successful engagement, however, evolved from multiple experiences, some active and others passive, all of which contained some common elements. So here’s the list of eight elements I concluded from reflection form the basis for LEARNING to use social media in emergency management effectively:

LListen. The first and most important step in building a successful social media presence is listening. Learning what interests others and how they engage one another is essential to gaining acceptance from other social media users. One of the most important ways of showing your interest is in following and friending others online who share your interests. Most social media users find few things more annoying than finding their stream filled with messages from social media dilettantes, so limit the number of messages you send and spread them out so others feel they can get a word in edge-wise.

EExperiences. Really, nobody wants to know what you had for lunch today. But they just might find your choice of lunch-spot interesting if you have something to say about the service, quality or atmosphere where you dine. In other words, share the experience not just the event. People are much more interested in how something made your feel than what you did. Give them something to relate to and they will come back for more.

A Ask. Everybody has an opinion, but nobody has all the answers. Questions make us think. Like listening, asking questions gives others the opportunity to offer insights and experiences and shows members of your network that you value their opinions. Making social media interactions true conversations requires give and take. Questions make it clear you want feedback and do a better job of stimulating thoughtful responses than even the most provocative statements.

RRepeat.If imitation is the highest form of flattering then repeating, sharing and extending the reach of what others have to say is a very close second. Social media demonstrates just how small and interconnected our world is. We tend to repeat and share only those things that resonate most deeply with our core beliefs and attitudes. And authentic, interesting, intimate, or moving images and messages only achieve universal appeal through widespread dissemination across the web of social networks we inhabit.

NNews. The reach of traditional media has become increasingly limited as each of us and those with whom we connect becomes a source of information about what’s happening and what it means. We still rely on others to stay in touch with parts of our world beyond our reach, but we no longer assume that traditional sources and mainstream media have any particular advantage over ordinary people. Indeed, we often trust authentic voices over sages and pundits because we know their interest in a particular happening is personal not professional much less pecuniary.

IInsight. As noted above, hard, cold facts have their place, but people are more likely to relate to your insights if they shed light on the meaning or impact of an event as opposed to simply offering a restatement of the already available facts. This applies doubly to those instances when those facts are in or of themselves novel, neglected or otherwise surprising.

N eNlarge. Just as others’ insights offer a glimpse into the meaning of small details we might otherwise overlook, we also need others to help us keep things in context or put them in the proper perspective. Despite the tendency of social media to amplify things that might otherwise seem incredibly trivial, social media does an incredibly good job of connecting us and others to a wider sense of what’s valuable, important or even transcendent.

GGratitude.One of the ways social media achieves its mass appeal and ability to influence what we think and how we act is through its ability to facilitate reciprocity. The act of engaging others is, in and of itself, a way of saying thanks for connecting and sharing your world with me. Of course, it still doesn’t hurt to say thank you from time-to-time.

Improving the effectiveness and reach of your social media strategies requires little more than a commitment to LEARNING. We can make better use of social media by realizing that every post, every tweet, every share, every plus is an opportunity to learn what others appreciate and how it makes their world more interesting, lively and rewarding.

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