Section 2: Policy

To be most effective, your social media team should have a clear policy in place before disaster strikes. During any type of large-scale disaster, there are some inevitable social media realities:

  • Social media will be used
  • Information will be dynamic
  • Official, authoritative sources may or may not disseminate information on social media platforms
  • There will be valuable social media information throughout several phases of the disaster (especially in the Response and Recovery phases)

Social media usage in disasters grows and evolves with every new incident. Without training and operational plans, it is challenging for those seeking valuable information to take advantage of it.

Double-exposure image of a man holding a smartphone over a blurred background of a disaster or emergency scene involving fire and smoke.

Social Media Implementation Methods

There are several organizational and industry methods that have been applied to successfully implement a comprehensive social media strategy. Some of these methods include:

Method Description
Develop a strategic plan
  • Identify the target audience, objectives, tactics, and staffing requirements including roles and responsibilities.
  • Create a governance structure for approvals.
  • Identify desired social media channels and processes.
Establish and adopt policies
  • Develop overarching documents that provide guidance to emergency managers for the effective use of social media.
  • Implement policies that help foster leadership support and sustainable strategies.
Establish a social media presence
  • Establish accounts on popular social media platforms and become familiar with the online culture by sustaining an active presence.
  • Establish a complementary mix of social media.
  • Engage with the community in advance through social media and recommend standard hashtags.
Manage expectations
  • Engage early and often with the public to help set realistic expectations during emergencies.
  • Disclose the source, type, and frequency of official emergency communications.
Establish a concept of operations
  • Determine how social media will be managed during emergencies.
  • Establish training and staffing plans to allocate more resources to social media monitoring during an incident.
  • Incorporate social media strategies into emergency management exercises.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, [PDF]

For more information on policy decisions that may be considered, see the publication "Next Steps: Social Media for Emergency Response."


Questions to Answer in Social Media Policy Development

Your social media team can use the following questions to develop a policy on the use of social media communication for situational awareness during a response. If you are an individual within a larger organization, or volunteering your services, these questions can help you plan your approach.

  • What is your social media role? Will you monitor passively or actively? Will you engage with the general public?
  • Have you identified social media accounts of local, state, and potential national agencies who may respond to disasters?
  • Have you identified standard search terms/strings?
  • How will you manage incoming social media information from the community?
  • Have you incorporated your sources and searches into social media management dashboards?
  • Will you disseminate disaster-specific information from authoritative sources? Under what circumstances?
  • How will you disseminate information on social media? Will you cross-post across multiple platforms?
  • What are the reporting protocols?— for example:
    • Who receives the report?
    • What goes into the report?
    • How often is it sent?

The scope, magnitude, and complexity of a specific disaster will influence your social media policy. A small, contained event might not require the use of social media situational awareness scanning at all, while a large, long-term event might require a team.



Key Points

In this section, we covered the following main points:

  • Your social media policy will define your role, what data you will collect, and how you will report that data.