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.

International Credit Union Day Address: ‘The Why of Social Media’ – Tim Martin

This breakfast address was given by Tim Martin to Melbourne credit union members as part of 2010 International Credit Union Day – 14th October, 2010, Melbourne. [Inspired by Clay Shirky’s ‘How Cognitive Surplus will Change the World’]

So, for the next 45 minutes or so I’ll be talking about Social Media; but rather than look at WHAT social media is, I want to offer some insight into WHY it is. There are many people capable of explaining the mechanics of the bird and the book to you – Twitter and Facebook. But as business operators I believe you’ll all be better off by getting a look at the big picture first. And by better off, I mean more capable of seeing why social media is fast becoming a game changer, and why it will likely become an important and integral part of your collective marketing, communications and research strategies.

I’ve also deliberately gone out of my way to give you some very unusual online examples which we’ll get to shortly. But first, a few quick definitions to set the scene: Mass media – we all know what this is because most of us consume it in volume every day: it’s mostly the output of commercially orientated organisations who own and operate most of the world’s pressing presses, studios, television and radio transmission towers, and theater chains. No conspiracy in this, it’s just a fact.

Mass media content is very public – its publicly accessed and consumed by mass audiences. It’s a one directional flow of content, typically produced on daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal cycles – they produce, we consume. And to the most part mass media content is ephemeral – we throw away yesterday’s newspapers and we don’t record and save most of what we watch or listen to throughout our day. And there’s no need to hold on to mass media content because there’s a fresh production flow which is constantly on tap: new television dramas roll out, 24/7 television news, music played through radio stations or downloadable from iTunes, new books, new magazines, and hot-off-the press newspapers.

Now let me introduce a familiar idea in a new light: the concept of Personal Media.

Personal Media is content – or information – that we create as individuals every day: a telephone conversation, a note on a fridge door, an email, a drawing, a photo or a love letter. Personal media content has traditionally been private – or at least private to a very small group of people: your partner, a friend, your family, your work colleagues or classmates. But in contrast to mass media it tends to be a dynamic two-way process and it’s interactive – I show you a photo and you smile; or you ask me a question and I respond, and you respond to my response and so on – that’s called a conversation. Personal media content is also mostly ephemeral – our talk vanishes into the air, notes are thrown away – in fact most physical media we have traditionally communicated through will eventually decay and be completely lost in time.

Social Media is the cross-over of mass media and personal media. We continue to produce our personal media – conversations, notes, drawings and so forth – except now it’s easier and more efficient to transmit and share our communications with each other through the web – through social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn, through blogs, Twitter, forums, and wikis.

Simply put, we can communicate with more people within our chosen tribes in real-time, less expensively and with less effort. And easier will always win out over harder given enough time.

But personal media – our formally private content – when passed through the web becomes public content. And to the most part this content is not ephemeral – it’s in digital format and will stay on the web forever – and all of it will be searchable forever – retrieved as easily as typing a few keywords into your favourite search engine. So, what’s behind the creation of this digital content? Why are people uploading images of funny faces to the web or tweeting about Australian credit unions? And all done without a coordinated directive, and no financial incentive. Yet it happens and is happening at an accelerated pace: individuals are collectively creating publicly accessible and sharable content for people they’ve never met, and will probably never meet or even know exist.

There are considered to be 3 main drivers at work here, 3 intrinsic motivations for people to create, publish and share their personal media:

Engagement – the intellectual stimulation the process offers. Many people love problem solving, discovery and creating order.

Attention – look at me. Notice me by association of what I’ve produced.

Reputation – see how much I know; establishing credibility

So let’s pull these ideas together: social media is the interplay between mass media and personal media. People are producing personal content and sharing it with others online because they can, and it feels good to do so: engagement, attention, reputation. These personal media outputs – mundane or funny or profound, it makes no difference – are formally and informally indexed, categorised and made findable thanks to organisations such as Google. And discoverability through networks and active search moves us into some very interesting space: it facilitates connections, connections give rise to communities, and communities foster a sense of collective membership and the potential for uncoordinated social collaboration.

We’ll shortly look at some of the ways these dynamics are playing out. But as interesting as the examples coming up may be, reflect that we’re really only at the online evolutionary equivalent of the steam engine. The next decades will be an extraordinary time for all of us, both from a social and a professional perspective.

And before you ask where these people find the time to create, share and re-purpose the world’s online personal media – well, many of them – myself included – will have simply swapped their passive, isolated TV viewing time for activities which provide richer, more personally rewarding social media based experiences.

In summary I’ll make these points:

The social media genie is out of the bottle – for increasing numbers of people there is no going back to a time of passive, unconnected, one directional information consumption, or being solely reliable on mass media for their leisure time entertainment

Organisations that dismiss social media as a minor blip on the radar or a side distraction are missing the point (big time.) This is a powerful transformative wave – it will be easier and more productive to go with the flow than against it. Ideally your organisations will become valuable contributors within the online social communities who already share the credit union ethos and your reason for being, i.e. membership, and the value that infers.

No-one fully controls corporate messaging any more. Social media runs by it’s own set of rules. And it you don’t like all of this change, well, you’re going to like irrelevancy even less.


Note – NET:101 is running full-day internet marketing & social media workshops in conjunction with the Australasian Mutuals Institute during 2011. Please contact AMI directly for more information.