There is a question that I like to ask agencies who call me asking for social media advice. It tells me a lot about how open they will be to using social media. It is simply this:

What is your risk tolerance?

Put another way, how comfortable are you with failing? If someone tells me that they have “zero tolerance” for failure, I know that they will be extremely nervous about using social media for the following reasons:

  1. There haven’t been enough lawsuits yet or recommendations to spell out exactly how to be safe with social media,
  2. The processes, policies and procedures have often been in flux for a period of time,
  3. Technology evolves at a rate faster than they feel they can adapt to them, and
  4. They don’t typically trust, and sometimes train, their employees on agency expectations or processes.

Anytime something is new in the world of emergency management, we should prepare for failure.  Every plan or procedure written must be tested, evaluated and applied under pressure so that its limits can be fully understood.  Social media is no different. As we learn new tools and figure out how to maximize the use of these tools, we must also be prepared to have them underwhelm and fail on us.

Today, we’ll share two small case studies in “tool failure” which have greater lessons.

First off, let’s talk about #SMEMChat archives.  For a number of months, we’ve been using TweetDoc to archive each of our Friday Twitter Chats.  This service has been consistent and an easy way to create archives of our regular chats.  This past week, however, @MaryJoFly and I noticed that all of the hyperlinks to the TweetDoc archives were broken and we hoped that this was a temporary situation.  But as days dragged on, it now appears that Tweetdoc is no longer a service that is alive.  The archives that were saved as .pdf versions or  from Storify are still available on our #SMEMChat webpage, but the Tweetdoc ones have been labeled.

So, we are on the search for anyone else who may have been archiving #SMEMChat.  If you have any Google Doc, Storifies or .pdf versions of the chats that are currently listed with (TweetDoc) on the #SMEMChat page, please let me know and I’ll be happy to swap out transcripts.

The second failure moment I’d like to share has to do with programs that work in the background that you don’t regularly log into or that rely on other accounts, like your Twitter account, for permissions.  I encountered an “ah-ha” moment recently with our paid archiving account.  Because this account runs in the background for my agency, it isn’t something we log into super regularly.  So, when we were checking out our Twitter account permissions to 3rd party applications, we didn’t realize that we had revoked permissions to our archiving agent.  The good news is that we caught this situation pretty quickly and fortunately, it wasn’t because of a public records request for the archives.

Both of these situation provide some basic social media lessons for others:

  • Be prepared to adapt to changing technology.  Realize that technical application can go away and you may need to find alternate ways of doing business.
  • If the data you are pulling is mission critical, have redundant methods for capturing the data.
  • Check your 3rd party permissions regularly, both to catch permissions granted in error AND to be sure that background applications are working as you expect them to.
  • Keep an eye on your archiving methods and regularly check them to ensure they are functioning well.

Nothing in an evolving world is going to work 100% of the time.  So, if you have a 0% risk tolerance, realize that you may need to become more comfortable with learning lessons and adapting to failures that are certain in a crisis-mission profession.

Winston Churchill is also credited with saying “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” 

Be comfortable with your failures. Be willing to flexibly find solutions. Share what you know with others. That is how we all learn.



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