Massive power outages in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica over the Easter weekend saw many citizens using their mobile phones and tablets to turn to social media services like Facebook and Twitter for answers and real-time updates. Replace power outage with freak-storm, flooding, landslip, traffic pileup, hurricane, earthquake or similar classed disaster and the conclusion would be the same � smartphones, mobile broadband connectivity and social media are the powerful new triumvirate for the digital era.
The days of passively awaiting news in the aftermath of a national disaster or emergency are over, at least for those with Internet connectivity on their mobile phones and the savvy to use social media.
The Digital Triumvirate
So-called smart-phones proved their emergency worthiness, empowering citizens to both discover and share what was happening. Mobile users were able to post-real time updates over the Internet; share photos with geo-tagging information to identify locations, and of course, make calls and send text messages too.
Mobile broadband services also proved their worth, as least in the areas fortunate enough to receive 3G and higher speeds. Mobile users with broadband data services will generally have faster access to online content. They will also typically be able to share text and multimedia information faster, a potential life-saving benefit in an emergency.
But the tech devices and infrastructure need content and content delivery platforms. This is where the social media networks come in. The popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, together with crowd-sourcing platforms like Waze and Ushahidi allow mobile phone users to install software applications, called mobile apps, on computers tablets and phones. These apps provide easy access to the content and features connecting individual mobile phone users with a global audience.
The Digital Gauntlet
The shift in public behaviour and expectation should not be lost on the media, emergency agencies, protective services and other organizations whose business it is to keep the public informed; neither should it be lost on the companies and Internet service providers whose businesses it is to keep them connected and up-to-date.
With the spate of local and international incidents, teams responsible for corporate social media implementation should have received a healthy reality check. Social media is not just about setting up a Twitter and Facebook account and assigning the resident technophile to "look after it".
Social media in the mobile age is about being prepared to capture and share information as it happens, whenever it happens, where ever it happens.
The digital gauntlet is now before institutional content providers. It's time to get your social media act in order. Smart mobile devices and reliable mobile voice and broadband data connectivity are now part of a citizen's disaster preparedness arsenal. By the same token, well-defined communications protocols and social media engagement strategies need to be standard across the organisations people turn to in time of emergencies.
If your organization is not currently structured or resourced to take advantage of all modern communications channels, you are making a very public declaration to your audience (be they citizens, customers, staff, congregation, or members); your competitors; and the world, that your organization is not yet in tune with the realities of serving up information in the digital era.
People, Your Greatest Assets
The greatest factor in the success of a social media plan is not the policy document you produce or the technology you employ; it is the team you choose.
Social media units must be genuinely passionate about connecting and building relationship with your online followers; and should be prepared to do whatever it takes to stay connected and to keep the information flowing.
Done right, the reward for initiative and diligence in executing your social media will not only be an growth in online followers, but an increase in the bank of goodwill and brand value built up with every post, tweet, re-tweet, like and +1.
No one, in any media house, emergency services agency, corporate communications unit or government ministry can continue to plead ignorance about the purpose, value or benefits of mobile access or social media.
A window of opportunity is available now for organizations to move decisively to implement plans that bring coherence to social media as part of a wider of strategic communications mandate. In this window, team selection, process re-engineeringand capacity building can all be addressed simultaneously. Out of the darkness, can come the light of a new mobile, social media day.
Bevil Wooding is the Founder and Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an international non-profit delivering technology education and training resources to schools communities and like-minded organizations across the world. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding or at: facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at firstname.lastname@example.org