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Fine-tune a social media emergency plan with ISO 22329:2021

Social media and its effective management are major interests for emergency management professionals. Find out how ISO's recent standard can help guide a social media strategy.

Communications is a key element in an emergency response and management program. It is the primary way to move information regarding an incident among corporate leadership, employees, first responders and other emergency response entities.

Among the communications tools used during an emergency are television, radio, wireless communications, email, emergency notification systems and social media.

Social media has grown in popularity and usage and can be a highly effective tool for keeping emergency response team members and employees informed during an incident.

The importance of and challenges associated with social media prompted the ISO and its security and resilience committee to introduce a standard on social media and its use in emergencies. The new standard, formalized November 2021, is ISO 22329:2021, Security and resilience -- Emergency management -- Guidelines for the use of social media in emergencies.

What does ISO 22329:2021 cover?

Many organizations recognize the value and challenges of social media and have established policies for its effective use. ISO 22329:2021 builds on this foundation and provides guidelines for planning, organizing, implementing and reviewing the use of social media within an organization's emergency response and management portfolio.

The standard discusses the importance of a social media policy, the risks associated with social media, and how to establish social media objectives and strategies. It also provides guidance on selecting social media options, monitoring social media usage and performance, and social media content.

The ISO 22329:2021 standard also advocates regular reviews of social media policies and procedures, technologies in use and continual improvement of social media usage with emergencies.

How can BCDR and emergency professionals use this standard?

Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plans must include elements that address how organizations communicate disaster situations. In addition to including contact lists of key players in a disaster, plans should also incorporate actions to communicate details on the event to outside entities, such as stakeholders, customers, the media, family members, first responders and regulators. They must also address internal entities, such as employees, senior managers and board members.

Emergency notification systems can rapidly disseminate information about an event to a preprogrammed database of entities. Many of these systems also can receive return messages to acknowledge that the recipient has received the message and is safe.

Employees within an organization -- especially emergency teams -- should receive training on how to deal with social media.

With social media, however, the organization affected by an event must also be prepared for a potential barrage of incoming messages from a variety of places, such as Facebook and Twitter. Messages will often include videos and texts that could be highly impactful to an emergency response team.

A process for sorting through these messages is necessary to separate the relevant messages from nuisances or irrelevant messages about the organization rather than the emergency. Businesses can address such messages with a social media policy and specific processes to follow.

Employees within an organization -- especially emergency teams -- should receive training on how to deal with social media. These are among the nuances discussed in ISO 22329:2021, because it is critical to gather and analyze information from all kinds of sources to properly respond to a crisis.

Key sections to know

Following the normal initial sections found in ISO standards, such as the introduction, scope, normative references (identification of other resources used in the standard) and terms and definitions, the standard includes numerous sections relevant to BCDR teams.

  • 4 Understanding social media. This section provides an initial description of social media, its role in emergency communications and some of the risks associated with its use. It also describes numerous aspects of managing social media, including the following:
    • how social media can be used by an organization;
    • tools that can effectively manage social media;
    • roles and responsibilities of employees who should be using social media in an emergency;
    • the importance of monitoring social media channels and outlets;
    • types of social media channels to monitor;
    • evaluating the value and usefulness of social media information;
    • the dissemination of social media information to entities that need to know;
    • guidance on how to interact with social media outlets; and
    • insights on creating a social media policy, especially for use in emergency communications
  • 5 Planning. This section discusses planning for the initiation of a social media program in an emergency. It addresses the following issues:
    • identifying the importance of social media from an emergency perspective, with a focus on the risks associated with social media;
    • the importance of adding social media to communications policies associated with emergencies;
    • establishing the objectives for a social media initiative;
    • defining a strategy for social media in an emergency; and
    • the resources needed for social media management, which can include trained personnel, appropriate technologies and collaborative agreements with relevant organizations.
  • 6 Implementation. This section delineates the actions to take when launching a social media program that aligns with the organization's BCDR and emergency communications activities. These include the following:
    • defining actions to effectively monitor and analyze social media content as applicable to emergency situations;
    • underscoring the importance of collaborative agreements with relevant social media entities in addition to first responders and other communications resources;
    • guidance on receiving, analyzing and disseminating information associated with social media; and
    • guidelines on preparing messages to be sent out via social media outlets, and how the messages should provide useful information regarding the event.
  • 7 Review and improvement. This section provides guidance on the importance of regularly reviewing social media policies and procedures, ensuring that emergency teams dealing with social media are prepared, and the importance of continual improvement of social media activities.

Additional standard guidance

The standard also contains several annexes that can help an organization guide a social media strategy.

  1. Annex A – Types of social media platforms, channels and related tools. This annex lists numerous types of social media resources, how they work and how they can be used in emergency situations.
  2. Annex B – Quality assessment and verification of social media. This annex provides guidance for monitoring and assessing the value of social media messages and how to identify which messages are important to address and respond, as needed, in emergency events.
  3. Annex C – Examples of using social media by emergency management organizations. This is a useful table of emergency situations, such as mobilization of volunteers and sending out status updates, and when social media can be most effective.
  4. Annex D – Citizens' guidance. This section describes how to effectively use social media to communicate with the communities directly or indirectly affected by an emergency.

Use the standard to prevent mistakes

The principal reason for having BCDR and emergency management plans is to protect people and property from the outcomes of a disruptive event. Communications of an event to all relevant parties is an essential component of effective plans.

Lack of an effective communications strategy -- and the resources to implement that strategy -- could result in an ineffective response to an emergency. This could result in unnecessary damage and even loss of life. The availability of social media means that its use can be an important component in an overall emergency communications strategy.

Details on the standard and purchasing options can be found at the ISO and American National Standards Institute websites.

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