Social Media Competitions Enhance Preparedness Awareness

Four colleges in Alabama, Florida and Georgia leveraged their rivalries to attract more followers to their emergency management and mass notification social media pages.

College and university emergency managers continue to find innovative ways to use social media in all facets of the emergency management function. Official school Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels can promote emergency preparedness and become student, faculty and staff go-to resources for reliable and trusted safety information.

Additionally, using social media for emergency notification and warnings is faster, and these portals can be more easily updated than other methods of communication. Also, having an easily accessible timeline can be helpful during and after an incident.

On a college campus, it could be argued that social media messaging has nearly replaced email for the millennial generation. It’s not a matter of if or when to use social media, but how to enhance its capability by adding users, followers, “likes,” etc.

Understanding the value of social media in campus emergency management, four university emergency management departments in the Southeast used their friendly rivalries last fall to motivate students, faculty and staff to “like” and follow their Facebook and Twitter pages.

During National Preparedness Month in September 2013, the Georgia Tech Office of Emergency Preparedness and University of Georgia (UGA) Office of Emergency Preparedness competed against each other to see which agency could attract more followers. Around that same time, Florida State University (FSU) and Auburn University held a similar type of contest.

The results of these competitions were impressive: all four institutions greatly increased the number of their followers. UGA increased its Facebook “likes” by more than 478% with 1,671 new users, while Georgia Tech increased its Facebook tally by more than 190% with 1,342 users. FSU increased its Facebook “likes” from 5,659 to 5,941, and its Twitter followers from 8,620 to more than 9,100. Auburn, which was starting its social media program for non-emergency communications from scratch, went from zero to more than 2,000 Facebook “likes,” and three to more than 500 Twitter followers.

Not bad considering the competitions only lasted a month.

All four universities were able to leverage their rivalries to stimulate the competitive spirit and get people to participate. Georgia Tech and UGA incorporated the social media competition into other September National Preparedness Month events to highlight special events and programs. Additionally, the start of both institutions’ football seasons during September helped to ramp up each school’s “likes” and followers.

Now, UGA, Georgia Tech, FSU and Auburn’s emergency preparedness offices all have more visibility on campus among faculty, staff, students and alumni.  The contests were not about winning (well, maybe just a little bit) but about getting the message of emergency preparedness out. Each institution earned a “W” in the win column by claiming a large number of additional social media followers who will now have more access to emergency alerts, emergency preparedness information and other resources.

How to Keep the Competition Fair

Other colleges attempting to use this approach may find that one campus has more established social media accounts than the other. This was the case with when Florida State (FSU) and Auburn University embarked on their contest. FSU’s social media program had more followers, while Auburn was just starting its program. Naturally Auburn was at the advantage in terms of percentage increase of new followers, while FSU was at an advantage in terms of an established user base that would engage more.

Multiple criteria of different metrics may level the playing field and allow for fairer chances for all parties to compete.  You win some. You lose some. Realize that depending on the prior history of the account, there may be distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Andrew Altizer is Georgia Tech’s director of emergency preparedness; Dave Bujak is FSU’s director of emergency management; Steve Harris is the director of homeland security and emergency management at the University of Georgia;  Jennifer Mattingly is an emergency preparedness coordinator for Georgia Tech; and Susan McCallister is Auburn’s associate director of public safety information and education.

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