We have just heard about how Queensland Police used Facebook and Twitter for disaster communication during the extensive flooding in January. It may now seem obvious that these are the best communication channels for the purpose, but it required foresight and courage to engage in a way that allowed them do that when needed.
James Kliemt, Senior Digital Media Officer at Queensland Police, described the journey for how Queensland Police has engaged on social media. In the first 6 months of establishing their Facebook page they gained 8,000 likes, just by sharing interesting information online. Despite the fears of some executives, most of the engagement was extremely positive.
When the Queensland floods hit, their Facebook page in the space of a few days moved to 160,000 likes. The reason was that they were providing valuable information to the public, including videos, announcements about road closures, ‘myth-busting’ rumors (using the #mythbuster hashtag) or inaccurate media reports, translations of information.
The traditional media release process was taking too long, so information was posted directly to the Facebook page. Both the public and media were getting their information from the Facebook page. Staff were entrusted to post information, with any sensitive issues discussed
The Director would post directly to the Facebook page from her iPad, with her messages taken up immediately and directly by media organizations. The ABC pulled in the Queensland Police’s Twitter feed as part of its reporting as well as featuring their Facebook page as a first port of call for updates.
One of the key lessons was that it was critical to have built their social media presence before it was needed. They understood its role and how to use it before the disaster hit and it became the best possible way to communicate with the public.
Hopefully other organizations can learn the lesson of engaging before you need it, particularly in being able to respond effectively to online conversations.
There was no master plan. They were just using the tools they had to address the issues of the moment. Policies, as required, were created on the fly. If they got something wrong, they simply apologized and people generally accepted that.
There are many challenges, given that individuals are posting on the Queensland Police Facebook page, sometimes about things that are not officially in the public domain, however these are just dealt with on a case by case basis rather than in massive policy manuals.
It is now very difficult to find anyone in Queensland Police who is not a Web 2.0 advocate.
There is more detail in this article in The Australian on Facebook is the first stop for Queensland Police in floods.
Kliemt’s advice to social media sceptics, especially those in the public sector, is that the medium presents plenty of opportunities and benefits.
Responding to a Canberra public servant on Twitter, he tweeted: “What we (QPS) did was not at all difficult. Teenagers could have done it; it’s only public service culture that finds this stuff hard.
“We just backed it with some practical policy and sensible decision making.
“We are in the middle of massive social change, there is potential for enormous good but public service culture needs to catch up. I think our experience has opened a lot of people’s eyes, and hopefully knocked down some doors.”
He admits there will be curveballs, but sometimes it’s impossible to draft sound policies that would cover myriad scenarios.
For instance, when a policeman’s body was found in a barrel, his daughter started commenting on the QPS Facebook page saying her father had gone missing.
“How do you deal with that in policy? How do you write a policy for that? How do you ever imagine that something like that is ever going to happen?” Kliemt asks.
Statistics for Queensland Police Facebook page
* Highest story view on for a single story in a day: 39 million views
* Average number of story views: 200,000
* Approximate number of times status is updated per day: 20
* Most number of comments on a single story: 11,000
* Average number of comments per story: 1000
* Likes on Facebook page: 180,000-plus
* Number of hours page is monitored daily: 24
I hope that public sector organizations in particular look carefully at this case study on how valuable social media can be, if approached with the right attitude.