Section 3: Planning


You and your team have defined your high-level social media policy or approach. During the planning phase, you should address the specifics of mining social media data during a disaster. An all-hazards approach means your plans would apply to multiple types of incidents.

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

Build a Network of Trusted Sources

Gather social media account information, key e-mail addresses, and phone numbers in a shared database or spreadsheet that all team members can access.

Your sources should be vetted carefully in advance. The people and organizations you follow on social media must have current, accurate information in their feeds.

Formal emergency response agencies and local media are retweeted more often than others (National Academies of Sciences, 2013).

Your organization should establish contact with the most reliable sources before disaster occurs, and understand the procedures for exchanging information with these sources (Barrantes, et al, 2009).

When evaluating sources, consider using the C.R.A.P. Test to decide if information resources are worth including in your list of sources.


Who to Follow (Sources)

  • Official and unofficial sources, such as:
    • Local, state, and federal agencies involved in the emergency
    • Neighboring jurisdictions, which may provide valuable situational awareness
    • Utility companies, transportation departments, etc.
    • Other government offices
    • Elected officials
    • First responders
    • Academic experts
    • Nonprofits and community organizations
    • Credible news sources, especially local media/news
    • Residents in the affected area who provide valuable and credible information

What to Follow (Types of Info)

  • Use lists, searches, and other sources to monitor:
    • Damage reports
    • Weather and traffic conditions
    • Business and activity closings and cancellations
    • Status of utilities
    • Search terms applicable to the type of disaster (for example, snow, accumulation)
    • All hashtags created for the incident (for example, #harvey, #hurricaneharvey, #snowmageddon)—keep a shared list of hashtags throughout the disaster, as they may change, or new ones may be added

How to Follow (Platforms)

  • The disaster itself will influence which social media platforms are most heavily used by the public. Develop a list of platforms to monitor consistently.


There are several tools and features that can be used to make this monitoring more efficient. Within Twitter, for example, you can set up lists of handles to follow, or enter search terms to follow in your feed.

Social Media Dashboards

You may want to look for a social media dashboard tool that allows you to combine platforms, lists, sources, and other data into a single, customizable view. This gives you the full picture of social media activity. With a social media dashboard, you have powerful control over what is in your feed.

There are several free and paid tools available. Test at least two before a disaster occurs, to find the one that best meets your organization's needs (Mansfield, 2011). Configuring your dashboards, platforms, etc., ahead of time will allow you to begin scanning social media immediately.

Maintain a Living Document

The preparations outlined previously will get you ready for the social media monitoring and analysis phase, but they should not be considered complete. For example, during the disaster, you may discover important new hashtags emerging that enhance your searches. Document and use these.

You may find your team responds to multiple events, such as a hurricane and an earthquake, as happened in 2017. Your document should be set up to manage these multiple events, either with tabs or sections. Consider setting up a separate document completely for each ongoing event.

How to Verify

Create a Verification Checklist

A checklist for verifying social media content will help you verify the credibility of a social media communication. You should have the checklist ready before disaster strikes.

Here are some questions to get you started building your own checklist:

  • Was the original information reported by a trusted source?
  • Has the information been shared or corroborated by trusted sources?
    Remember even authoritative sources can send out misinformation.
  • Is the information in scope—will it support the disaster response?
  • Is the information more than just "noise"—does it improve situational awareness?

Research the Author

The author must be a reliable source. If it is not one of your vetted sources, your team should ask some additional questions to assess their credibility.

The author:

  • Is a vetted source
  • Is not a vetted source - have you:
    • Confirmed identity and/or verified account?
    • Researched biographical information on the account?
    • Evaluated account activity?
    • Determined how long the account has been active?
    • Reviewed typical topics posted and shared?
    • Identified their connections (friends/followers/following)?
    • Determined reliability of their past posts?

Confirm the Location

Even well-meaning people have shared misinformation on social media during a disaster. Sometimes the credibility of information can be verified (or denied) by identifying the location of the content.

  • Is automated geolocation information included? For example, perhaps:
    • The platform stamped the location when the post was made
    • GPS coordinates are encoded in a photo's metadata
  • Can you compare visual reference points with satellite imagery and geolocated photographs? For example:
    • Distinctive streetscape or landscape (mountains, cliffs, trees, rivers, etc.)
    • Landmarks and buildings (churches, stadiums, bridges, etc.)
    • Weather conditions (sunlight, shadows, nightfall, etc.) to help approximate the time of day
  • Try using the street view in an online map service to compare geolocated photographs with the supposed location of the image or video you found on social media.



Knowledge Check


Which of the following statements are accurate about planning for social media intelligence? Select all that apply.


Check Your Answer



Key Points

In this section, we covered the following main points:

  • All-hazards planning will ensure your social media plans can be applied to any type of incident.
  • Follow the best official and non-official sources for the most accurate, actionable intelligence information across the right social media platforms for the type of disaster.
  • Create a shared, living document that will be used and updated before, during, and after disaster strikes.