I’ve run up against a number of technology challenges over the last few weeks. The result is I’m migrating from DSL to cable Internet access, I’ve subscribed to cable television for the first time in 16 years and I haven’t been able to issue the last two editions of my Digital Public Affairs newsletter. After four hours of troubleshooting including time with MailChimp techs who have been unable to solve the problem with their online editor, I’m publishing content here that would have made up this past Friday’s edition of the newsletter.

Social media in emergency communication

There’s no way the Government of Alberta could have anticipated the launch of their Alberta Wildfire Info Facebook Page would be so timely. Just days after it was opened to the public in May 2011, a devastating wildfire destroyed nearly half of the town of Slave Lake.

It was a true test of Facebook as a hub of emergency communication and general information. The Page became an important part of the information flow, integrated into established processes rather than becoming an isolated entity. Three staff worked approximately 16 hours each day to post information coming directly from the central communications authority stationed there.

The Facebook Page became more than just a broadcast channel, though. The Public Affairs Officers who managed the page made a point of ensuring all requests for information posted to the Page received responses. An important part of that process was acknowledging each request and committing to providing quality information as soon as it was available. Then, staff ensured all questions posted to the Page were answered with ‘good’ information in a timely manner.

Besides being a platform for communication about the spread of the fires, damage to neighbourhoods and the safety of residents, the Page became a forum for people to coordinate the housing of displaced animals and establishing sites for the collection of donations.

The Page quickly became a trusted and credible source for the public and media. Among the many unanticipated outcomes is the media followed the updates very closely which may have reduced the number of queries the Public Affairs and Crisis Communications team had to field, and the community of participants self-policed. The latter was particularly important since language and impatience could have easily become unmanageable.

One Public Affairs Officer I spoke with recounted some occassions when the community defended the PAOs when online postings by some individuals suggested the speed of information was unsatisfactory, a side-effect of high expectations in the digital age.

The Page was kept busy later in 2011 when fires broke out in Fort McMurray and retained its important status this past summer.

The net effect of the Page has been overwhelmingly positive, something PAOs smile about as they recall the difficulties they had convincing managers the tool was a good idea.

Twitter is not prorogued (cdnpoli analysis: Oct 12-18)

Dalton McGuinty’s surprise resignation as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and his proroguing of the Legislature dominated #cdnpoli chatter this week. I don’t expect we’ll see Mr. McGuinty entering the federal Liberal leadership race which essentially makes this a provincial issue.

There were 45,207 cdnpoli tweets this week (up 1.7% from 44,448 last week) issued by 11,579 unique participants (up a significant 31.7% from 8,789 last week). Our typical top-three tweeters have held on to their crowns. Tweeters GerryDaGiraffe (1,593), BolloHollo (1,253) and TarSandsTwat (964) combined for 8.4% of #cdnpoli tweets.

Notable for this past week:

  • MP pensions did not rank
  • PMHarper issued 13 tweets
  • New allegations about election overspending by MP Peter Penashue pushed it just a few tweets ahead of chatter on bullying
  • BillHillier continues to champion the use of TellVicEverything as a catch-all for a wide range of issues. He issued 351 of the 889 tweets (39.4%) combining TellVicEverything with cdnpoli this week, and was one of 163 people who did the same.

CTV’s Kevin Newman issued this past week’s most popular cdnpoli tweet.

The top six issues (and their position last week):

  1. Food Safety (remains at #1)
  2. Oil and the NGP (up from #3, Economy to #5)
  3. CNOOC/NEXEN deal (enters at #3, Oil and the NGP up to #2)
  4. Bill C-45 (enters at #4, displaces Crime)
  5. Economy (down from #2, displaces TellVicEverything)
  6. Election (enters at #6, displaces Prison Chaplain Contract)

Analysis performed using Marketwire/Sysomos Heartbeat.

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