Michael Cleland


Social Media

Social media example: Queensland Floods


I’ve been watching the handling of the Queensland / Brisbane floods from a social media perspective in the last couple of days.

If you’re not sure about the value of Twitter and Facebook for disaster recovery – think again.

Around January 12, 2011, when news of the impending floods was publicised, the Brisbane City Council (BCC) website was overloaded / offline for quite a few days.

One of their solutions was to use their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Facebook is virtually never down – Twitter has its moments – but both give you a great way to communicate with people using a channel they are using a lot on their smartphones (Android, iPhone, Blackberry) as well as work and home PCs.

Brisbane City Council had Tracey (Comms staff, I’ll guess) who was on Facebook and Twitter from 6am to midnight — this seemed to be her only function — she was answering comments every few minutes. Her “voice” was very conversational (ie., not “Council speak”).

As more and more people came to the BCC Facebook page, their wall was filling up. (They allow people to post on their wall, whereas at this point many councils do not). As a result, she would repost the same or similar information regularly, so that the important stuff was always “bubbling to the top”.

They also have a “Notes” tab on their Facebook page, where they would publishing more official style media releases. Tracey would post comments every so often on their wall to tell people to click the Notes tab for official information.

Facebook users would “Like” the BCC Facebook page too (This means that people are essentially subscribing to the BBC’s Facebook posts. People then don’t have to return to the BCC’s Facebook page. As soon as you “Like” something on Facebook, any new posts from it / them will show up in your own news feed).

For Twitter, they (ie., Tracey) were doing similar stuff. Tweeting new info as it came to hand “Thanks everyone, we don’t need volunteers to fill sand bags anymore”. Tracey would tweet links to flood maps on the official BCC website (which they switched to a lower bandwidth “just text and no pretty pictures” version to help prevent it overloading).

Finally, they the BCC Twitter feed would retweet important information from Qld Police, Energex (electricity shutdown notifications) and anything else they felt would be of interest to their followers.

(Followers are like subscribers to your twitter messages. Retweeting is forwarding messages from a 3rd party’s twitter account so that your followers get that info, without having to subscribe to 3rd parties).

Sooooo, this is something that I hope you reflect on. A lot of people will never visit a Council website, they’ll never think to subscribe to an SMS notification service. But chances are they – or friends of theirs – will find you on Twitter or Facebook — and that’s when you’ll have the capability to contact a whole new audience in a time of crisis.

I’ve added some PDFs from BCC’s Facebook and Twitter page from earlier in the week. The first page or two are screenshots, the following pages are an extract of the stream of messages flying back and forth.

Finally, Qld Premier Anna Bligh has been doing some great tweets at twitter.com/TheQldPremier Some must be from her Comms people, but many are obviously personally from her. She’s been using Twitter from her Blackberry to post news, lighter comments and uplifting photographs.

All worth a good look.

I really felt motivated to let you know my thoughts on this. I hope you’ve got either a new point of view from it or it confirms what you’ve been thinking already.

Author: Michael Cleland

Michael is a passionate web geek who is sure that most problems can be solved with a big bowl of ice cream. A believer in social good and fan of great, useful content, Michael is an advocate for web accessibility, usability and mobile web based on open standards. You can find Michael on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. You can read more on Michael in the About page.

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