Social Media Content in Crisis Situations – A Presentation to The Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA)

The following presentation was delivered by Tim Martin to The Institute of Public Administration Australia’s Critical Stakeholder Management seminar in Melbourne, April 6, 2011.

Content is King.

When I’m asked to present about topics related to online it’s usually within a commercial context, addressing the commercial imperative of selling more of something, whether that be products or services. And my core message to any commercial organisation is this: irrespective of your industry sector or size, the key to your success online, including any social media, comes down to the quantity and quality your online content.

And that message is no different for the organisations and departments represented here today. But within the context of crisis management, strong online content takes on a role of even greater significance.

Commercial organisations are starting to mark themselves by their ability to quickly flood the web with great content, positioned for both search engine dominance, but also to entrench themselves as thought leaders or subject matter experts within their respective industry verticals. The hard sell of mass media is being replaced with the soft-sell of educating, informing and establishing pre-purchase credibility.

However, most if not all, of the organisations and departments here today are the leading authorities within their respective domains, and do already possess substantial real-world credibility – but they also must also demonstrate this in parallel with a strong online footprint; and so the same commercially driven rules for online content generation apply to you:

1. Relevancy: give people the information they want, how they want it and where they want it – it’s not about you, it’s about them. If you fail to do this they will simply go somewhere else, because they now have an abundance of information wells to draw from.

2. Findability: make it easy for people to discover your content, primarily by knowing how online search works, but also by knowing the main places on the web where your target audiences are spending their time – their preferred social media spaces: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, forums, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn, etc – and I’m sorry to say it, but your website is probably not one of those preferred hang-out places.

3. Sharability: Give your content extra legs by facilitating its travel through the social web – you want your online communications to pass rapidly through to your target communities via their own online and social media networks. This is the notion of propagating viral memes.

These are the three tenants of effective online communications on the modern web: Relevancy, Findability and Sharability.


Relevancy can mean many things to many people, but essentially, relevant online content is anything that an individual or community perceives as offering them value: it could be informative, enlightening or entertaining in nature.

In the context of a crisis, informational vacuums quickly form, driven by people’s need to know: what just happened, what’s happening now, or what will happen next.

If access is permitted, most people will head straight to the web for their informational needs, with Google typically being their first port of call. We can demonstrate this using the Google Insights tool.

[Slides – Google Insights demonstrating keyword terms searched through Google by Victorians at various moments of state based emergencies since 2004]

What these graphs are not showing us however are what results Google presented on page 1 when people searched these keywords, and which results people elected to click through on. Google does its best to drawn relevant content from across the web, including social media platforms, based on keyword matches. So it would be a mistake to publish public information content which wasn’t keyword associated and aligned with what real people in the community were searching on.

For example, if you published information online relating to ‘refuge centers’ there would be a disconnect from Google’s perspective if people in the real world were using the keywords ‘emergency accommodation’.

Relevancy can be a personal thing, and can shift based on what your immediate needs are. I’ll use the recent Christchurch earthquake for my next series of illustrations.

[Slide – random tweets posted by people looking for information on friends and family]

For many people, their immediate concern in the hours after the quake was for friends and family. Any information they could gather relating to the welfare of their inner circle would obviously have very high relevance.

[Slide – Google’s People Finder in action]

Google’s People Finder which featured at the top of Google’s page 1 results for the keyword search ‘Christchurch earthquake’ amongst others, helped people on this level.

Relevancy can be also be driven by the category of content – short form textual content as found on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook updates is both easy to produce and consume. But other multimedia such as images, videos and interactive maps are also powerful communication tools, preferred by different groups within different contexts.

[Slide – Flickr uploads: 1612 images of the ChCh quake uploaded within the first 24 hours]

[Slide – YouTube: over 3000 videos currently hosting associated with the ChCh earthquakes]

[Slide – YouTube: most popular video associated with ChCh earthquake viewed over 2.7 million times]

[Slide – Google Map: popular user-generated mapping layers created by non-official agencies]

Relevancy can be based on credibility, especially around an influential resource such as Wikipedia which uses the resources of an army of community volunteers to collectively manage the process in real-time.

[Slide – Wikipedia: February 22 ChCh Earthquake wiki page created 27 minutes after the quake struck; over 400 edits within the first 24 hours]

[Slide – Wikipedia: February 22 ChCh Earthquake wiki page stats: Day 1: >28K pageviews; Day 2: > 37K pageviews]


Page 1 of Google is the gateway to most of our need-to-know now information – make it your mission to understand how Google search functions and make it work to your advantage.

[Slide – Google page 1 results on the day of the quake for the search term ‘christchurch earthquake’ (]

You will need to make your online communications findable according to community protocols over which you have little or no say. The use of community generated hash-tags as isolating or filtering mechanisms has become commonplace.

[Slide] – Twitter volume per hour associated with the hashtag #eqnz: peaks at 7.5K per hour in the first few hours.

[Slide] – Twitter keyword volumes associated with #eqnz within the first 24 hours: death, trapped, fire, damage, aftershock.

[Slide] – Twitter keyword volumes associated with #eqnz between days 2-3: water, power, accommodation, petrol, health.


[Slide – sharing icons: Tweet, Facebook Like, Linked Share, Google +1, RSS and embed code.]

These icons represent the real power of the social web – the ability to quickly pass on or share online multimedia content at the click of a button. These content referral mechanisms are doubly powerful because they have inherent credibility – its content from somebody within your own community – your pre-existing friends, followers or connections. Peer referrals.

All points across the social web, including organisational websites, can and should offer this share functionality. To not do so makes it difficult for people to help, without being asked, to get your communications out to where they need to go, and fast.

It makes absolutely no sense to publish to the web today without some form of syndication or share functionality in place.

Once you get familiar with these tools, you can potentially offer extended services such as aggregating other people’s content; your roll can become that of a conduit – an informational hub offering your own relevant multimedia, real-time content as well as the most relevant third party social content from across the web. And just maybe your website will become a preferred place to hang out.

[Slide – Twitter aggregation based on different agency feeds]

[Slide – NZ Earthquake Twitter channel aggregating all associated NZ agency Twitter channels]


I know things are moving fast, but when you hear talk about matters related to the web or Google, or websites, or any ‘flavour of the day’ social media, then in terms of content, consider this: they are just simple and low cost tools to get your content, your ideas, your positions, your mission critical information, published and distributed through the web. Without relevant content and the online community connections forged through that content, they are useless as publishing tools.

Once your content is published online – and if it passes the relevancy and findability tests – it can travel to any person in any part of the world with an internet connection, and in seconds, where it can be copied endlessly, shared, remixed, repurposed, tagged, searched and archived forever.

Relevant, great content is not king, it’s the Emperor. Thank-you.