The US Coast Guard has earned a well deserved reputation for public information management, and now this includes leadership in the use of social media. This has been led by the Commandant himself and eagerly embraced by many in the Public Affairs community. We’ve been fortunate to feature some of these CG leaders on our Strategy Forum webinars.
But, the use of social media by agencies such as the US Coast Guard raises a number of interesting issues. This blog by Coastie Ryan Erickson goes into some detail in examining some of these challenges, as well as posing some potential solutions. The primary challenge he poses is the need to not only use outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to push info out, but also as listening devices. But how is this to be handled? And what happens if they really start to be used in this way and Tweeters (Twitterers?) use Twitter to call for help? It’s not a hypothetical question apparently.
What if in this hurricane season there are a number of victims stranded and the only way of communicating about their need for assistance is through Twitter? We do believe that use of text messaging for this kind of two way notification, calls for help, status confirmation is very important. It’s why we’ve added text-to-inquiries capabilities in version 6.2 of PIER.
Every public agency charged with public safety is going to have to come to grips with the challenge identified by the Coast Guard. Our means of communication are changing–and that includes calls for help. The issue of legal liability will quickly emerge. I suspect that the typical response of many in emergency management of, “Uhhh, what’s Twitter?” will not be an acceptable defense.