The Future of Social Media and What that Means for Emergency Alerts

This article is a list of predictions from “experts” on where social media will be in 25 years.

While we agree with a lot of the comments that this list is superficial, it’s a interesting prompt to think about how the use of social media will change for emergency managers. 

 by [2039], use of social media will be ubiquitous and integrated into our daily lives in a multitude of ways. It is expected social media will be integrated into wearables that track our habits, and virtual experiences will be part of the package. The challenge will be coping with the massive amounts of data that will deluge the masses. [emphasis added].

Here’s a prediction that we’ll hazard to make.  Emergency alerts will be much more effective once emergency alert systems get “connectors” signed up and enable them to easily re-post alert information.

Our thinking goes a bit like this:  most folks are not attuned to emergency warnings, but some people are.  And among the people who are, some of those are the social connectors that Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book The Tipping Point.  These are the same people who are the “active nodes” that were used in the study we referenced a few days ago.  They’re the folks that spread the word among their network of contacts.  So getting an alert to these people is especially helpful for making sure that the news is disseminated quickly and thoroughly.

And – once an alert is out – interest (assuming that the issue is sufficiently compelling to enough people) will build on its own.  Which leads to people following specific hashtags and folks who make themselves leaders on an issue.

An emergency alert is not necessary for this process to get started.  Remember  Michelle Sollicito’s “SnowedOutAtlanta” Facebook page during Winter Storm “Leon” in January?  She got over 50,000 followers in very short order.  Ms. Sollicito didn’t need an emergency alert to tell her it was snowing.  But we’d bet that getting the Michelle Sollicitos of this world signed up for alerts would make them much more effective – especially for events like tornado warnings, wildfires and hurricanes.

Relying on social media alone to spread emergency alert information seems very haphazard.  We know many people who check their Facebook and Twitter feeds only  intermittently.  And many emergency events require quick response.  (One study we’ve seen says a 15 minute warning can reduce tornado casualties by up to 45%.)

But while social media alone may not be effective, imagine a future that grabs the attention of the most prolific and effective communicators and enables them to get the word out ASAP.

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