Social Media and Public Safety

  Social media have taken the world by storm. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and...


  Social media have taken the world by storm. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content." ("Users of...


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Social media have taken the world by storm. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as "a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content." ("Users of the World, Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media." Business Horizons, 2010.)

The proliferation of social media is also occurring in public safety organizations, including a large segment of their respective personnel (see the Fire Service Technology articles in the February issue of Firehouse®). Among some of the most popular social media applications are Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, YouTube, blogs and texting. The uniqueness of these programs is that they link people to people, people to organizations, and organizations to organizations. Social media provide value by letting users generate content and/or to subscribe and have information updates pushed to them instantaneously and in real time to computers and mobile devices.

Facebook, the most popular social media program presently, reported in 2010 that it had more than 500 million active users; 50% of active users log on in a given day, with an average of 130 friends; people spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook; and there are more than 70 language translations. According to Web Strategy, in 2010, MySpace had 57 million subscribers, LinkedIn 60 million and Twitter more than 105 million.

Read Write Web reported that 2010 statistics show that a mobile phone is a better platform for social networking than a personal computer because of its mobility and connectivity. The continued rise in the indoctrination of mobile devices will further influence the expansion of social media.

The subscriber statistics and public safety social media uses validate that this is a valuable and effective way to communicate with a wide range of the population, but not necessarily with every segment.

Social Media's Value

Communication with the public is a signature accomplishment for most public safety and emergency management organizations. Effective communication in the way of fire safety messages, preparedness information and updates, weather alerts/warnings, evacuation instructions, health and wellness messages, and crime information are some of the ways public safety uses social media today. The Los Angeles, CA, Fire Department was recognized as an early adopter of social media by using Facebook and Twitter to provide real-time information to inform and educate citizens; specifically about wildfires and other major disasters. Many public safety organizations worldwide are now using a variety of social media. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate regularly sends out informative "tweets" (text messages) to those who choose to "follow" him on Twitter.

Social media also let public safety organizations "tell their story" to the public through daily updates and departmental activities. It has become a great marketing tool and another way to connect with the community. YouTube has demonstrated itself as a valuable way of sharing incident and/or training video footage and is being used regularly as a training/education medium for public safety organizations and agencies. A promising use of social media is through "crowd sourcing." In other words, organizations can publish a community need to a large group of people (crowd) and link with respective volunteers. This could be a huge benefit on a daily basis or during a catastrophic event.

Activity can also be monitored during and following an event through social media feeds. Twitter can easily be used to identify and monitor "trends" and has been used by the public safety community to see activity levels, access information on the magnitude of an event, and even access photos and videos of the event.

The Dangers

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